How To Take Advantage Of Your Bar Time

Editors Note: This is a guest post from Tom Blake, owner of Crafty Bartending, Tom is going to share with us the tips for being a bartender that he wishes he was told all them years ago when he first started out.

Over to you Tom…

When I was first starting out as a bartender, I wish someone had sat me down and told me exactly what I needed to do to take advantage of my time behind the stick.

It would have been amazing if someone had said…

Tom, do this, do that. Focus on this, focus on that and your life as a bartender will be incredible!

Instead, I had to figure things out on my own. And even though I got there eventually, it took longer than it needed to.

Well, I don’t want you to spend as much time as I did trying to figure out how to live an amazing life as a bartender. What’s the point?

In my eyes, it makes a lot more sense if I share with you the lessons I’ve learned from 6 years of bartending so you can start taking full advantage of your time behind the stick today.

Sounds good?

Good! 😉

This is the advice I wish I’d been given when I was starting out so hopefully, you’ll find it useful.

Choose Where You Work Wisely

Of all the things that will determine how enjoyable your time behind the stick will be, where you work is the most important.

The venue you work for will dictate the type of people you work with, the owners & managers you work for, what you’re going to learn, the hours you’ll be working, days-off, clientele, etc.

And as far as bartending jobs go, some can be amazing whilst others will be terrible.

One venue I worked for in particular didn’t pay us properly, the owner hated everyone (including himself), the managers were alcoholics/drug addicts and they treated you like shit, there was no “team-spirit’, and no-one wanted to be there…

It was an extremely depressing work environment and I almost left the industry entirely because of it…

But then you’ve got the good venues and these jobs make you want to be a bartender forever!

The owners are friendly and they treat you with respect, the managers actively encourage you to become the best you can be, you’re given free drinks, cheap food, staff parties, and the entire team goes out for drinks after work because everyone’s up for a good time.

These are the kinds of venues you want to work for and you should go out of your way to find them.

Your time as a bartender depends on it.

Your time as a bartender depends heavily on where you choose to work Click To Tweet

You also need to take into consideration why you want to be a bartender in the first place. Because that’s going to affect the type of venue you should be working for too.

For example, if you want to learn about craft beer, you enjoy working nights, and you want to work somewhere with a ‘party’ atmosphere, don’t work in a cafe! Work in a craft beer bar/pub instead.

It sounds pretty obvious (and it is), but most people don’t think about it and they take the first job they’re offered… But if you want to take advantage of your time behind the stick, you need to be different!

You need to have a think about what you’re doing this for. Then choose the venues you work for accordingly.

Here are a few questions you could ask yourself to help you figure this out:

You don’t need to know the answers to all of these questions now, but having some idea will give you a better indication of what you might enjoy. Then it’s as simple as experimenting with different jobs until you find something that you love.

Where you live matters…

There’s nothing worse than finishing your shift at 3am and then having to drive home for an hour when you’re tired, hungry, and all of your colleagues have gone out drinking.

Overtime, this becomes frustrating because you’ll find that it’s during these nights out, when everyone’s out drinking together, that you & your colleagues develop strong friendships. If you’re the bartender that never goes out, it can make you feel like an outsider.

I’ve been there before and trust me, it’s not fun!

When you’re at work, your colleagues will laugh about something that happened the night before, you’ll ask them what happened, they’ll stop laughing, stare at you blankly and say “You had to be there…

Then go back to laughing with each other and acting like you don’t exist.

That’s when you know it’s time to move out!

So living close to where you work is important. It means that you’re able to go out with your colleagues after work without having to worry about driving home or finding somewhere to crash.

You’ll simply be able to stumble home whenever you like and you’ll develop closer relationships with your colleagues because of it.

That doesn’t mean you need to live next door, a cheap uber/taxi ride home is close enough.

In any industry, employers want to hire the best people they can. From their perspective, the better their employees are, the more money their business will make and the happier their customers will be.

However, great employees are hard to come by. Especially in the hospitality industry.

For us bartenders, that’s great news for you. Because it means that the more skilled and knowledgeable you are, the more opportunities you’ll have because most venues will want/need to hire you.

Suddenly, finding great places to work becomes easy and it gives you options. You’ll be able to choose where you work instead of taking whatever you can get. And you’ll be able to make more money too because you can choose to work for the venues that bring in more tips.

Related: Bottoms Up Beer Dispenser: How It Works

This freedom, flexibility, and peace of mind (read higher pay-check) is priceless.

So work on becoming the best bartender you can be and learn as much as you can. It will take time, but it’s worth it.

So work on becoming the best bartender you can be and learn as much as you can Click To Tweet

Here are a few things you should focus on:

Hone your people skills

The most important part of a bartenders job is to make their customers happy. That requires a solid set of people skills and the ability to give outstanding customer service. So this is what you should focus on improving the most.

To start, focus on smiling, maintaining eye contact, welcoming people when they arrive, bidding them goodbye when they leave, listening to their stories, telling them stories, telling jokes, and learning how to sell.

The theory of everything

No, that doesn’t mean you have to become a physicist and figure out the meaning of life. What it means is that you should learn the theory of everything bartending related.

That includes learning about beer, wine, liquor, liqueurs, cocktail ingredients, cocktails in general, service, coffee, and tea.

Develop your senses

Finally, you need to develop your senses. In particular, your senses of taste and smell.

A bartender’s sense of taste and smell is crucial if they’re going to know much of anything they’re serving behind the bar. They need to be able to taste the cocktails they’re making to ensure that they’re balanced. And they need to be able to smell a wine to make sure it’s ok (i.e. Not oxidised or corked).

Not being able to do this will hinder your abilities as a bartender. Here’s a great article to help get you started: How to Taste Wine & Develop your Palate.

How do you learn all of this?

Read books & blogs, take courses, ask questions, listen to experts, find a mentor, visit wineries, visit breweries, watch great bartenders in action and try & emulate them, and/or work in a bunch of different bars.

But the most important thing you can do is PRACTICE. Whenever and wherever you can.

One of the best parts about being a bartender is the people you get to meet and the people you get to work with.

When you work behind the bar, you’re exposed to all sorts of characters from all over the world. Businessmen, teachers, backpackers, students, entrepreneurs, scientists, and other bartenders too.

You’ll find that the more people you get to know, the more enjoyable you’re time behind the stick will be (who doesn’t want more friends?). And it could even help your life & career as well. Whether that’s in the hospitality industry or not.

Look at it like this, let’s say you want to be an engineer but you have no idea how to get a job in this field. One day you’re chatting to a customer who just so happens to be the owner of a Fortune 500 engineering company.

If you become friends with this person and you tell him how badly you want to be an engineer, he might offer you a job.

There’s also the possibility of meeting your future husband/wife (like I did) whilst you’re at work or on a night out with your colleagues.

So take the time and get to know your customers. You never know, it could change your life. But at the very least, you’ll get a bunch of great travel ideas.

My favourite part about being a bartender is the freedom & flexibility it gives you to travel. As far as professions go, there’s no other job like it.

The hospitality industry is unique in the sense that venues don’t mind hiring people temporarily. This makes traveling as a bartender easy because you can fund your travels by picking up work as you go.

Most 9–5s don’t give you this kind of freedom. You’ll only be given 2–4 weeks in holiday time a year (it’s never enough!) and it’s almost impossible to pick up work on the road (no-one will hire you temporarily).

When you’re a bartender, you don’t need to worry about any of this. You can stay overseas for as you like and since traveling is awesome, the longer you can do it for, the better.

You could move overseas and learn a foreign language, do a ski season in the French alps, a summer season in Ibiza, or spend a few months backpacking through South America/South-East Asia.

Whatever form of travel takes your fancy, you should take advantage of it now. Because you never know how long you’ll be a bartender for and you’ll never get to experience this kind of freedom to travel again.

It’s easy to get lost in drunken escapades when you’re a bartender. Your colleagues invite you out, you’ve got friends working in late night bars, and going out is fun!

But when you wake up the following morning feeling hungover & tired, it’s very easy to waste the day by spending it in bed.

Avoid this as much as possible!

Because having your days free to do whatever you want is one of the best parts about being a bartender.

It means you can go to the beach & catch up with friends. You could go surfing, snowboarding, hiking, exploring, take a language class, learn a new skills, or spend the entire day learning as much as you can about bartending (see ‘Learn as much as you can’).

Most people don’t get to do this because they have to spend their days at work.

So take a break from drinking every now and then, wake up early and seize the day! I promise you won’t regret it ;-).

To finish, I want to leave you with one final piece of advice. If you’ve read through this article and realised that there are a few things changes you’d like to make, take a minute and think about what change would make the biggest difference in your life right now.

Whether that’s changing jobs, moving house, going traveling, becoming a better bartender, or spending your days more wisely, what change would make the biggest difference to you?

Whatever that answer may be, focus on changing that first! Because if you try and change everything at once, you’ll give up and you’ll end up changing nothing.

Focusing on changing one thing at a time gives you a fighting chance.

Focusing on changing one thing at a time makes you be the best bartender you can be! Click To Tweet

Good luck!

And let me know how you go in the comments below. Also, for the benefit of everyone, is there anything else you’d recommend doing to better take advantage of your time behind the stick or any other tips for being a bartender?

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Originally published at www.beabetterbartender.com on July 29, 2017.