How to Nail Your Bartending Job Interview

Photo of guy nailing his bartending job interview

Other chapters in the series ‘The ULTIMATE Guide to Becoming a Bartender’:

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Chapter 6

So you've hit the streets (or the internet) and handed out your resume... Now, what?

Well, there are 3 things that could happen. First of all, your application might not be successful. Unfortunately, you need to be prepared for that because it’s going to happen more often than not.

It’s not a big deal though because there are hundreds of reasons why your application might not work out. And most of them are outside of your control. So don’t be too hard on yourself.

Secondly, you might be asked to come in for a bartending job interview. If you've got a solid bartender resume, this is the most likely outcome. And this is what we'll be focusing on today.

But there’s also a possible third outcome. You could skip the interview completely, and be asked to come in for a trial. Believe it or not, this happens more often than you would think. And this is your ideal outcome.

Why? Because no-one likes interviews, including the person that’s interviewing you! And skipping the interview stage will save you time and ultimately get you a job faster.

That being said, bartending job interviews are common practice. Especially in the more professional establishments. So you can’t just hope for the best and assume you won’t be interviewed.

You need to be prepared. Which is why we’re going to go through exactly what you need to know and do, to nail your bartending job interview.

Let’s get to it.

Preparation is KEY to Your Success

If there was only one piece of advice I could give you on how to nail your interview. It would be that preparation is KEY to your success.

I know, I know. Preparing for interviews is boring. It’s almost as bad as writing up your resume. But you don’t need to spend days studying a venue’s wine list to prepare for a bartending job interview…

Generally, a couple of hours of intentional preparation is more than enough. Which isn’t that much when you consider that being well prepared could be the difference between you getting hired, or not.

For example, what if your interviewer asks you why you want to work there? (A common interview question they’ll likely ask you.)

If you’re well prepared and you’ve done your research, you’ll be able to respond with an intelligent answer. It could be as simple as something like this,

I’m passionate about the hospitality industry and I love the craft behind great cocktails, which is why I want to learn as much as I can. [Insert name of venue] has a great reputation for its professional bar staff and creative cocktail list. So I know that working here will teach me a lot and help me hone my skills as a bartender.

Finish it off with a bit of humor and you’ve got yourself a well-prepared answer that will go down a treat in an interview.

On the other hand, if you’re unprepared and you haven’t done your research. You’ll struggle to put together an intelligent response.

Ummmmm… It’s got a cool atmosphere and the staff seem nice.

Who would you rather hire?

Don’t just think you can go into an interview, wing it, and come out successful. It’s a lot harder to pull off than you think.

Sure, it can work. But it’s risky. And when you’re looking for a bartending job, you want to eliminate as much risk as you can. Being well-prepared will eliminate a lot of that risk.

It's OK to be Nervous

Unless you’ve been to hundreds of bartending job interviews, the chances are you’re going to be nervous. And guess what?

That’s OK!

Almost everyone gets nervous before job interviews. It’s normal and it’s nothing to worry about.

As long as you can still have a conversation, occasionally smile, and answer the interviewer’s questions, you’re going to be OK.

And if you do happen to screw up an interview because you were too nervous, don’t be too hard on yourself. Because believe me. It can happen!

Try and remember that interviewing is just like any other skill. The more you do them, the better you get at them. So if you do screw one up, get back out there and go do another one. The next one you do will be easier.

How a Bartending Job Interview Works

There is no stock standard way job interviews work in the hospitality industry. Every bartending job interview you go to will be different.

Some interviews will be really serious, whilst others will be a lot more casual. Some interviewers might ask you about your strengths and weaknesses. Whilst others will prefer to talk about what you got up to over the weekend!

It can be hard to predict how an interview will pan out. But in general, the more professional the venue is, and the more advanced the position you’re applying for is, the more likely the interview process will be taken seriously.

On the other hand, if you’re applying for a job at the local pub down the road, the chances are they’ll just get you in for a ‘casual chat.

But at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. Because you never know how serious an interview will be until you get there. So make sure you’re well-prepared regardless. Because that will put you in the best position possible to nail those interviews.

And besides, that preparation will still help you enormously during those ‘casual chats.

What Managers are Looking For

Despite every bartending job interview being different, they’re all designed to look for the same thing. Managers will be looking for applicants who possess (or have the potential to possess) the qualities of a great bartender.

How does this help you?

It helps you because knowing what managers are looking for means that you’ll be able to prepare for the interviews much more effectively. Instead of preparing answers that have no real purpose. You’ll be able to tailor your answers to specifically highlight exactly what they want in an employee.

For instance, let’s say you know that managers are looking for hard workers, solid communicators, and someone who wants to learn. When you’re asked about your strengths, you’ll be able to say,

My number one strength is that I’m great with people. I enjoy being around them, I love meeting them and I like making them happy. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve always been drawn to bartending. Because at the end of the day, bartending is about making people happy. One drink at a time! On top of that, I take great pride in what I do. Bartending is more than just a job for me. I enjoy it, so I work hard and I’m always looking to learn and improve. On & off the job.

If you can come across as someone who possesses the exact qualities your potential employer is looking for, it almost guarantees that you’ll be hired. At the very least, you’ll get a trial.

Here are the qualities that managers will be looking for:

  • People Skills
  • Hard Workers & Willingness to Learn
  • Experience, Knowledge, & Skill
  • Appearance

People Skills

Communication skills, personality, charisma, being likable, whatever you choose to call it, is the number one quality managers will be looking for in a candidate.

The better you are with people, the more likely you are to be hired.

It’s as simple as that.

At the end of the day, hospitality is about people. It’s about giving the customers an enjoyable experience so that they want to come back again, and again, and again. That’s not going to happen if you’re the negative bartender who doesn’t feel like talking to anyone.

Don't be that guy…

On top of that, managers want to work with someone that they like. They don't want someone in their team that's going to ruin the vibe behind their bar. And poor people skills will do that.

So of course, managers will be looking for people who already possess solid people skills.

Now, does that mean you need to be 'Casanova' to get a bartending job? No, it doesn't.

When I started out, my people skills were terrible. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to become a bartender in the first place. I knew that working behind the bar would force me to talk to all sorts of people and ultimately develop these much-needed skills in my life. And it did!

So no, you don't need to start off being great with people. It's not the only thing managers will be looking for. This is particularly true if you're applying for barback positions or bartending positions in a dispense bar (bars that don't require you to serve customers. E.g. a restaurant).

But if you think your people skills need some work, be prepared to work on them. Because it will be very difficult to do anything interesting in this industry if you don't.

Hard Working, Willingness to Learn

No one likes working with lazy people. Especially behind the bar. There’s no sympathy for lazy colleagues among bartenders. Because if lazy colleagues aren’t doing enough, it means that everyone else will have to pick up their slack.

The same goes with having the willingness to learn. If you’re not sure about something and you have to constantly ask your colleagues questions, they’ll have more work to do.

And over time, it’s going to get annoying.

That’s why hard workers and having the willingness to learn are the second set of qualities managers will be looking for. They almost trump people skills. But not quite…

The truth is, it’s hard to show that you’re a hard worker and that you want to learn during an interview. Coming well-prepared and tailoring your preparation to emphasize these qualities will help. But the only way you can really show them that you possess these qualities is during the trial shift and once you’ve started working with them.

If you’re someone who’s currently lacking in people skills right now, this set of qualities is particularly important. Because this is where you’ll be able to make up ground and convince them that you’re worthy of the job.

It’s how I got started in the industry and it’s also one of the reasons why I’ve done so well. I worked hard and I learned as much as I could (that includes working on my people skills by the way!).

Experience, Knowledge, and Skill

Experience, knowledge, and skill is the third set of qualities that managers will be looking for in a potential candidate.

Unfortunately, experience does matter for bartending positions. Especially when you’re applying for more advanced roles. But it’s overrated.

The only time experience isn’t overrated is when it translates into knowledge and skill. But that doesn’t happen as much as you would think. More often than not, you see ‘experienced’ bartenders with bad habits, big egos, and a sense of entitlement that doesn’t sit very well with new managers.

If you're a great bartender and you have the experience to back it up, then perfect. That experience will go a long way throughout the hiring process. But you don't need to stress if you're lacking in that experience.

Relevant experience can go a long way in an interview. Especially when you’re applying for entry-level bartending, server, or barback positions.

What is relevant experience?

Relevant experience is any kind of work experience (including volunteer work) that you have that requires a similar sort of skill-set you would need as a bartender, barback, or server. And since you already know what managers are looking for (people skills, hard workers, and the willingness to learn), describing your relevant experience shouldn’t be too difficult.

For example, let’s say you’ve worked in retail before and you’re asked, “So, you don’t have any bartending experience… What makes you think you would be a good bartender?

Your answer could look something like this,

Sure, my hospitality experience is currently lacking right now. There’s no doubt about it. But I know that I possess some of the most important qualities that make a great bartender. And I’ve used these qualities throughout my previous work experience.

When I was working in retail, I was serving people out every single day and giving them the best experience possible. And I loved it. I’m a people person and at the end of the day, bartending and retail seek to achieve the same thing. To make people happy.

But retail has never appealed to me as much as bartending has. There’s a craft behind bartending that I really want to learn. And I’m willing to work hard to get good at it. So to answer your original question, I would be a great bartender because I’m already good with people, I want to learn as much as I can, and I’m willing to work hard to get good at it.

That’s how you could relate seemingly unrelated work experience in a bartending job interview.

Appearance

I’ve put this last because I believe that it’s the least important factor with the majority of managers when they’re hiring.

The way I look at it is simple. Your appearance matters to the point that you can control it. Which means that you need to be well-groomed, appropriately dressed, clean, and hygienic.

You don’t need to be a professional model or a fitness fanatic to work behind the bar. In most places, at least…

Great bartenders come in all different shapes, sizes, genders, and facial asymmetries. The qualities above are much more important than your appearance. Trust me on this. No sane manager wants to work with a group of good-looking bartenders who don’t do anything.

The Interview Process

Diagram of the Interview Process

Now that you know what managers are looking for, you need to learn what to do in order to succeed in your bartending job interview.

For simplicity, I’ve broken down the interview process into four stages.

Here’s what it looks like:

  1. Preparing for the interview
  2. When you arrive
  3. During the interview
  4. After the interview
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1) Preparing for the Interview

As I mentioned earlier, preparation is KEY to a successful bartending job interview.

There are 3 different kinds of preparation you’re going to need to do:

  • Research on the Venue
  • Questions They’ll Ask
  • Questions to Ask

The good news here is that you only need to do the preparation for the ‘questions they’ll ask’ and ‘questions to ask’ once. Because, in most cases, they’re going to be the same for every bartending job interview you go to.

On the other hand, you’ll have to do the ‘research on the venue’ preparation for every venue you get an interview to.

How long should you spend preparing?

In general, an hour is enough for venue related research. And then 2-3 hours should be enough for the ‘questions they’ll ask’ and ‘questions to ask’ preparation.

The more you do the better. But you don’t need to go too crazy. At the end of the day, it’s still a bartending job interview and the interview process isn’t that serious.

Research on the Venue

The best research you can do on a venue is on-the-ground research. That basically means going into the venue and checking it out. By doing this, you’ll be able to see the staff live in action, check out the menus, see what kind of service they provide, and get a feel for what the venue is like.

However, I know that most of the time, you’re not going to do that. And to be honest, you don’t need to.

Unless you’re applying for a more advanced position, this kind of in-depth research is unnecessary. Most of the time, browsing the internet is more than enough to get an idea of what the venue is like.

So your first point of call is their website. And your second point of call is Tripadvisor.

Take a look at both of these locations and figure out the answers to the following questions:

  • What type of venue is it? (cafe, pub, restaurant, nightclub, cocktail bar?)
  • What kind of clientele do they have? (uni students, corporate, tradies, families?)
  • Do they specialize in anything? (types of food, trivia nights, cocktails, coffee, wine, beer, whiskey?)
  • How long have they been open for?
  • What do they sell on their menus?
  • What are their reviews like on Tripadvisor?

Write down your answers to these question in whatever form you like (i.e. dot points, longer sentences, mind map, etc), and keep them close. Because we’ll be using these answers for some of the ‘Questions they’ll ask’ preparation.

Questions They'll Ask

Once you know about the kind of establishment you’re applying to, you’ll need to do some specific job question preparation. Basically, that means you’ll need to have an idea of what you’re going to say when they ask you personal and situational specific questions.

I recommend that you be completely honest with all of your answers because honesty goes a long way in the hospitality industry.

Here is a list of questions I recommend you prepare for:

  • Tell me about yourself. (Have a brief story to tell about your history, what you do, and what you enjoy)
  • How long have you been bartending for?
  • Why do you like bartending? (if you have no experience, the question will be: why do you want to be a bartender/server/work in hospitality?)
  • Why do you want to work here? (Tailor your answer to this question based on the research you’ve done. I.e. if they specialize in wine, you could say how interested you are in wine, and that by working here, you wish to study up on your wine knowledge.)
  • Why did you leave your last job? (Don’t blame the venue you left. Be as respectful as you possibly can to your previous employers - even if you hated them…)
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses? (Hint: Think about the ‘what managers are looking for section’ and relate it to that. As far as weaknesses go, it’s hard to answer this question well. I suggest you mention a couple of weaknesses you may have that aren’t in conflict with the qualities of a great bartender.)
  • What experience do you have? (If you don’t have any hospitality experience, use the power of relevant experience as I did in the section ‘Experience, Knowledge and Skill.’)
  • What’s your favorite drink?
  • How would you make an x-cocktail? (only relevant if you’re applying for a more advanced bartending position. If that’s the case, make sure you brush up on your cocktail knowledge.)
  • How would you cut someone off? (Here's a great article on the subject if you're unsure.)
  • What is your definition of great customer service? (Short answer: To make customers happy so that they keep coming back.)

They may ask you questions outside of this list, but preparing for these questions will be more than enough. This preparation will give you a solid foundation so that regardless of the questions they throw at you, you’ll have an idea of what to say.

Questions to Ask

At the end of every bartending job interview, your potential employer is going to ask you if you have any questions. Whatever you do, don't say no!

Having a list of questions is a great way to demonstrate that you've come well-prepared and that you're actually interested in the job. This is also your chance to get some clarity about the position you're applying for.

Here's a solid list of questions you could ask:

  • How long have you been working here for/ how long have you been the manager? (I love starting off with a question about them. Because everyone like it when you show interest in them. And you want this person to like you.)
  • How many bartenders work at the same time? 
  • Do you have any barbacks on the weekend?
  • Do you have security?
  • How many shifts per week are you looking to cover?

Should you ask how much you'll be paid?

That's a tough one. And at the end of the day, it's a personal choice. Some people don't think you should because it can come off as presumptuous. They think you should wait until after you've been offered a job.

But personally, I like to get clarification. I want to know how much I'll be getting paid before I commit myself to a trial. And since I've been in a hiring manager's shoes, I know that the majority of the time, they won't be offended if I ask.

2) When You Arrive

First things first. You should assume that the interview starts as soon as you walk through the front door. Because your potential employer and the staff working there will be sizing you up from the minute you arrive.

First impressions count, and first impressions last. So you want to make a good one.

How do you make a good first impression?

Arrive 10 minutes early, dress appropriately (see below), bring a copy of your resume (see below), greet the other staff members, shake their hands, introduce yourself, engage in some small talk, and smile.

Most of the time, you’ll speak with one of the staff members first. And they’ll ask what they can do for you. Just let them know that you’re there to see the hiring manager (ideally you would know their name) in regards to a job interview. And then politely wait until the manager is ready to see you.

Dressing appropriately doesn’t mean wearing a suit and tie. In general, it means that you should wear something similar to what you would be wearing if you worked there.

If you’re not sure what that is, a safe outfit choice would be black or navy blue jeans, black shoes, and a dress shirt. Remember, you should also be looking clean, showered, and well-groomed.

You should also bring a spare copy of your resume. Resumes get lost quite easily so it’s always good to have one on hand just in case the manager wishes to refer to it. Bringing in a spare resume also shows that you’re well-organised and well-prepared.

When the manager is finally ready to see you, shake their hand, introduce yourself, engage in some small talk (nice to meet you, how’s has your day been?), and smile! Sound familiar??

After you’ve exchanged pleasantries, they’ll take you to a quieter area of the venue so you can get started with the interview.

This is when the nerves start to kick in…

3) During the Interview

Providing that you’ve done the preparation, this part of the hiring process isn’t very complicated - The manager is going to do is ask you a bunch of questions that you’ve already prepared for.

Be friendly, smile, act as confident as you can, show an interest in them, show an interest in the position you’re applying for, and you’ll be fine.

As I mentioned earlier, honesty goes a LONG way in the hospitality industry. And that’s especially true for interviews.

So if you don’t know the answer to something, don’t lie. Be honest about your experience and your knowledge. If they ask you something you’re not sure about. Tell them you’re not sure, and why you’re not sure. But always try and put a good spin on it.

For example, if you don’t know much about wine and they ask you, how’s your wine knowledge? Simply say,

Unfortunately, wine isn’t something that I’ve had time to study in detail yet. I’ve been focusing on craft beer lately. But now that I’ve learned a lot about beer, I plan on tackling the wine world next.

That answer is a lot better than pretending to know about something you don’t. Because if they choose to dig any deeper, they’ll find out straight away that you’re bullshitting. And catching you lie during an interview is a deal breaker.

Are they going to ask questions you haven't prepared for?

Probably. But it’s not a big deal. If you’ve done most of the preparation above, you’ll know more than enough to succeed throughout the interview process. You’ll just have to wing a couple of answers on the fly!

Unless you want to spend days studying, you can’t prepare yourself for every single interview question. And nor would I recommend you to…

4) After the Interview

Thank the manager for their time, shake their hand, smile, and say that you look forward to hearing from them. As you leave, say goodbye to the other staff members and exit the venue.

Then search for the nearest bar, order a shot of Jaeger and a beer to calm those nerves!

If the interview went well, then great! That beer is going to be delicious. But if it didn’t go as well as you would have liked it too, don’t stress out about it.

Interviewing is a skill that you get better at over time. So just keep on going to those interviews. And besides, you never know. You could have done a lot better than you thought.

Follow-up

Regardless of how you think your interview went, you MUST follow-up. This is something that most people don’t do. But it’s really dumb if you don’t because the manager may have lost your contact details or they could have simply been too busy to call.

It’s happened to me before and following-up got me the job.

Anywhere from 3 days to 1 week after the interview is a good time to follow-up. And you should call them directly so you can find out how you went straight away.

Emailing can be a little unreliable with bar managers.

If they still haven’t made a decision. Say ‘no problem’ and politely ask them to get in touch when they’ve made up their mind. Then follow-up again 1 week later.

If your bartending job interview was successful, they’ll either hire you straight away (doesn’t happen very often) or they’ll ask you to come in for a trial (much more likely). They could ask you to do a trial straight after the interview (so be prepared!), but it’s more likely that they’ll ask you to come back a few days later.

And finally, if you’re interview was unsuccessful, ask for some feedback!

I know it’s hard to do, especially after you’ve been told you suck. But this is KEY if you want to improve your interview skills and eventually land a job.

Ask them why they chose not to proceed forward with your application and ask them for some recommendations on what you could do better in the future. This type of feedback will do wonders for your future interviews.

Conclusion

If I could only give you one piece of advice with your bartending job interviews, it would be that preparation is KEY to your success. It’s the difference between you being able to nail those interview questions, and being so nervous that you struggle to put together coherent responses.

Throughout the interview process, you want to keep in mind that managers are looking for candidates with strong people skills, hard workers, the willingness to learn, experience that translate to knowledge or skill, and people who are well-presented.

You want to tailor your answers as best you can to highlight these qualities.

Also, remember that as soon as you walk through the front door, the interview has started. Your employer and future colleagues will be sizing you up from minute one. So make sure you walk in with your game face on.

Finally, remember that interviewing is like any other skill. They can take time to get good at and the more you go to, the better you’ll get.

So get there and go get some interviews!

The quicker you start this process, the sooner you’ll land a job ;-).

Good luck and let me know how you go in the comments section below!

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Click here to Go to Chapter 7: How to Smash Your Bartending Trial Shift

About The Author

Tom Blake

Founder of Crafty Bartending, Tom is passionate about the hospitality industry. For the past 5 years, he has traveled around Europe, Asia, & Australia working as a professional bartender & bar manager. He loves consuming cookies, big macs, beer and wine.

8 Comments

  • Lewi

    Reply Reply November 7, 2016

    Nice one Crafty!

  • Wendy

    Reply Reply November 10, 2016

    I’m in!

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