How to Be a Bartender & Work Professionally

Embark on the journey, and learn how to be a bartender. And a good one!

Published February 11, 2023
Woman Learning How To Mix Cocktail At Lesson In Bar

Curious about what it takes to be a bartender, or how to land a job as a bartender? Being a bartender isn't for the meek, but it sure isn't for the gruff, mean ones either. The role of a bartender is for the introverts, the extroverts, the listeners, and the talkers. It's for the hard workers and the people who love the thrill of surviving a rush and the ones who love to hear a good story. Most bartenders aren't born behind the pine, and there's more than one way to get work as a bartender. Let's take a look. Grab a drink, take some notes, and get ready to shake up drinks. For money.

How to Be a Bartender: Starting Your Bartender Journey

The most common places to start a bartender journey are either as a server or a barback. Most bars won't hire a bartender with zero experience. There are exceptions, especially if they want to train someone to their exact specifications from the ground up, but those unicorns are few and far between. Oh, and you'll need to be over 18, no exceptions.

So, to take a step forward, you'll sometimes need to take a step back. It's common for bars to promote bartenders from within, although you'll still have luck applying for a bartender role and landing the gig if you have the experience to back it up.

Once you're working as a server or barback, the leap to starting your career as a bartender isn't as big a step as you think. How long does it take to be a bartender? It can take four weeks, or it can take a year or more. It comes down to how hard you want to work and how far you're willing to go to learn the ropes!

Making the Leap Behind the Pine to Be a Bartender

Once the idea takes hold that you want to be a bartender, approach your manager and let them know you're interested in making that move. It may not be an immediate yes, but let them know you're eager to train and learn the ropes! Learning how to be a bartender isn't just stirring up pretty cocktails, it's stocking a bar, learning how to use flavors together, and all while keeping up appearances to the guests sitting just a few feet away from you.

Don't Go to Bartending School

While this won't necessarily immediately make a prospective employer turn you away, bartending school doesn't prepare you for the role as a bartender as much as you would hope. Much of what school can teach you, you would learn in a few months as a server. All while making money instead of spending it on a class. There's no better school for learning how to be a bartender than a restaurant on a busy Saturday night.

Do Get a Bartender Certification - Maybe

Some states and restaurants mandate that you have certain courses under your belt, however. The most popular of these are TIPS (Training for Intervention Procedures) and ServSafe. Both help to train and inform bartenders and servers how to safely serve guests, when to cut guests off, and the best way to navigate all of those sticky situations.

What to Study to Be a Successful Bartender

Aside from a few key phrases, you'll also need some skills. You'll want to know classic cocktail recipes and, possibly yet more importantly, the house recipes for any cocktail listed on the current bar menu. You'll want to know the ins and outs of those drinks as well as the food menu so that you don't need to go in search of any information about what does or doesn't have peanuts, and if the cocktail is safe for those who are allergic to coconuts.

Accurately measuring, pouring, muddling, shaking, and stirring drinks is one of the most important skills a bartender needs to have. Accuracy and speed comes with time. It's important to be accurate more than it is to be fast. Learning recipes by heart really speeds up the process.

To bartend is to multitask. You'll be making drinks, taking drink and food orders, and cleaning throughout the night, and often doing several of those things all at once. Time maintenance and learning how to prioritize really helps.

Soft Skills as a Bartender

Think of soft skills as people skills, not just with your coworkers, but with your guests as well. Not every day is going to be a good day, but you'll still want to treat everyone with respect and courtesy. You don't need to plaster on a grin, but a good attitude goes a long way. Leave what you can at the door, and communicate what you can't with the people who can help.

Over time, you'll soon pick up regulars. If not regulars, then guests who want to keep returning to the bar. Have fun, be a good listener, and staying on top of your time goes a long way.

Advice for New Bartenders

Once you've scored your first gig, there are some things you'll need to know to look out for your own wellness.

It's a Physical Job

You're going to get in your steps as a bartender, as well as a solid workout from moving kegs, stocking bottles, and shaking drinks. Shoes with nonslip grip are your bread and butter. Those orthopedic walking shoes you giggle at in the shoe store? Those. Those are how you keep your feet, knees, and back happy after an eight-hour shift. Pay the $75 and float on a cloud.

Attend Your Physical Health

Yes, it is tempting to stay out late after a shift. But it's important to take the time for yourself and sleep, eat well when you can or as you can, and really soak in the downtime and self-care as you need it. Don't forget to head to the doctor and dentist in as regular as you can intervals, too. Remember: coffee can't be your only source of water. If you want to improve your own relationship with alcohol, there are also plenty of workers on that same path.

Your Mental Health Matters

You see and hear a lot of things as a bartender. People will tell you stories of the best day of their lives, or their lowest times. Some will come to you for guidance, and sometimes those things can be heavy. So it's important to take the time to take care of your own mental health. In fact, there are not only mental health resources, but financial, social justice, and professional development resources at your fingertips.

Make Time to Unwind

Your well-being should be a priority as a bartender. It doesn't need to be a spa day. It can be playing video games, reading a book or taking that book to a bar other than your own, hitting the gym or doing some yoga with YouTube. Make yourself a home cooked meal. Whatever it is that helps you chill, make it happen.

How to Become a Successful Bartender

As long as you're willing to put in the work, being a successful bartender will not only pay your bills, but it'll fill your savings account and fund your bucket list. If you only remember a few things, the most important bartender skills are time management with a hearty dash of organization, memorization, teamwork, friendliness, and the ability to act. It's all about composure. It gets easier with time, and you're going to master it sooner than you know.

How to Be a Bartender & Work Professionally