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How to Become a Bartender (Even if You Don’t Have Experience)

Freshly mixed cocktail sitting on bar

Looking to become a bartender? Bartending can be a competitive industry. Even servers with years of experience sometimes have a tough time getting hired.

The good news, you can find a great bartending gig—even without experience. You just have to take the right steps.

It is possible to get a job bartending with little to no experience.

You should know about cocktails and you’re great at customer service, including how to lay on the charm to receive those much-desired tips. You know how to deal with drunks, higher-ups, and how the cash register works.

If you are not acquainted with these things, learn them.

This is a no-brainer. If you don’t have experience and want the job, you will have to be confident about your skills. This means knowing how to present your acquisitions and how to convince your potential employer that you are the best thing to walk through the door since their latest software update, which allows customers to order drinks electronically from their iPhone. You have to be tech-savvy these days.

Assuming that you have all the above under your belt and you’re ready to roll, here is a bit of basic info to help ease any leftover anxieties.

How to Become a Bartender

Whether you’ve been mixing drinks for years or you’re just getting started, read on for a foolproof strategy to getting hired.

There are three key steps.

  1. Get a License
  2. Get Certified
  3. Start Networking

Let’s take a closer look at each step

1. Get a License

The most important certification you may need is a license to serve alcohol, and this is a “big” might. Alcohol certification laws vary from location to location. The primary rule they all have in common is that you should be certified within one, two, or three months of being hired as a bartender. In some areas, a license is not required at all. You simply have to do your homework as the variations are broad. Some districts won’t allow you an alcohol license if you are under the age of 21, others feel that the age 18 is enough as long as the individual is properly supervised by a manager. You can find all the information you need with a good Internet search.

If certification is required, you will have to take a class of one to six hours, where you will learn all about serving alcohol in the area you will be employed. Your course will include information such as drink limits, prices, and a concoction of additional information from someone that know-the-ropes, which will usually be another bartender. You can also often take these classes online.

2. Get Certified

To the uninitiated, getting into bartending may seem like a call to join some type of exclusive training operation. Let’s be clear, alcohol is no joke! In the wrong hands, or body, it can awaken the most docile personality and ignite untold difficulties. Imagine yourself, the barkeeper of a lady’s night out or the latest rap video, either one could easily get out of hand. Therefore, it would be best to have some type of certification that will backup your skills and give you “props,” so to speak. Many people commonly think that you must attend bartending school in order to earn certification; however, credentials required to work as a bartender are few, and those you do need can be acquired at very little cost.

The question whether to attend bartending school or not should not bother you too much. In fact, there is no state in the United States that requires you to attend an educational institution in order to tend bar. Schools specifically designed around bartending are independently owned and basically cater to individuals who hope to “catch a break” in the bartending trade.

The cost is approximately several hundred dollars, last up to two-weeks, and instructs hopefuls on the fundamentals of bartending. Mixing drinks, the various tools used to mix them, and an assortment of other information will be included in the course. Overall, the importance of bartending school is a personal decision and not so much due to pressure from the industry.

3. Start Networking

The world has become much smaller thanks to the Internet; however, there’s nothing like person-to-person contact. Though you can go online and find information about every bar in your area or the world, if you are looking for work in the field, you will have to do your “field work.” Many professional bartenders from various websites offer profound and helpful advice whether you have experience in the trade or not. Here is some of what they have to say about the business.

Don’t Believe Everything Bartender Schools Tell You

Take it with a “grain of salt” when people, especially bartending schools, tell you they have the 411 on all bartending jobs in town or they known precisely who is hiring. If they are directly associated with the bar, brush it off and keep it moving. According to the pros; bars, especially the most popular ones, have individuals literally dropping by every day asking for bartending work. Most managers of these bars/restaurants have no interests in staying in contact with learning centers in order to keep a “good supply” of potential employees waiting in the wings. Keep in mind, they have prospects dropping by consistently and applications are filled out on a daily basis!

It’s Easier Once You Have a Foot in the Door

Most bars prefer to promote from within the establishment. It’s a noble gesture and it’s obvious that people trust those they know more than they do strangers. In addition, it helps to keep staff trustworthy and motivated. Even if there is no one within the business to carry the torch, there are plenty to choose from those walking in on a daily basis. Therefore, don’t depend on schools or others to find bartending work for you.

Networking is the Best Thing You Can Do

So, what’s the best way to land a bartending job? The old fashioned way of course, word of mouth, meeting people, and acquainting yourself with those in the business within the district you wish to work. Now you should be ready for the next stage, which is how to get into the good graces of the bar managers.

How to Win Over Bar Managers

Winning the hiring manager is important, but it’s not difficult. There are a few keys to stand out.

Make Friends

Let it be known that you are available by “hanging out.” Yep, you will have to pay your dues by being consistent, but not arty. Just be a laid-back, comfortable-in-your-own-skin type of person. Though you want a job at a certain establishment, don’t make it seem as if that’s all you are there for. People will pick this up and you will be viewed as a groupie! This will give the manager an opportunity to get to know you a bit, and observe how you interact with others. Bar managers want to feel that you “get-it” when it comes to their business, which to them, is all that matters at the end of the day.

Ask for an Introduction

After you’ve appeared on the scene and done your homework, don’t let the opportunity pass you by. If the staff takes a liking to you, they will introduce you to the hiring manager/managers. Word-of-mouth is still important. If they put in a good word for you, don’t forget to check from time-to-time if anything is available. You won’t be forgotten and you may be the first person that comes to mind when an opening does materialize. This is because few people ever follow up, so you will be a few steps ahead of the game.

Be Persistent

Remember to “stay on the case,” especially if you found a place that you would love to bartend. Follow up, hit the pavement, knock on doors, and get yourself acquainted. Become part of the scene. Who knows? You could get hired at the first place you walk into. However, in most instances, you will have to do a bit of footwork before getting your break. In any case, you have nothing to lose by being persistent.

What to Do After You Get Hired

Great! Everything has paid off and you got your dream bartending job. Just a bit of advice:

1. Keep in mind that you are working for someone else. Sure, you have every right to feel good about yourself. You got your dream job with little to no experience, but don’t let it go through your head. As the saying goes; be cool, calm, and collected. Remain approachable!

2. Be “in-the-know” about your work. If you work at a wine bar, stay up-to-date about the best beers, the latest wines, the hottest cocktails what foods they work best with, the whole-nine-yards. You gain respect and possibly great tips too!

3. Dress to complement your job and the establishment. Don’t wear sportswear unless you’re working at a sports bar!

4. Stay on top of your environment. Your customers want to feel comfortable. If the music is too loud, turn it down. Is the bar-top kept clean on a regular basis after each customer leaves? What about the temperature, is it too hot or too cold? Make sure you keep your bar tidy. Bottles should be turned face-forward, keep the bar-top wiped, and so on.

5. Be exceptional at what you do. People will pay for their drinks, but they tip for good service.

That’s it. You now know how become a bartender and be successful at it. So, what are you waiting for? Go out there and show them what you’ve got!

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