Whether you know it or not, bartender skills are valuable. And I often think about how useful they are in other areas of life. There are 2 main reasons for this.
The first is because I’m well aware that working in the hospitality industry has made me a more interesting & well-rounded person. Being a bartender taught me humility, confidence, social acuity, and the value of work hard, just to name a few.
I also know that I’m not the only one who’s experienced this kind of transformation.
To give you an example, Long-term bartender & server Alex Spinelli says, “Everyone should work in a restaurant at some point in their life. It teaches you a lot about humility, empathy, the human condition, social standards, and most importantly, hard work and how to treat customers and co-workers.”
Even world-renowned businessmen & investors, Tim Ferriss & Chris Sacca, talk about how their experiences in hospitality shaped who they are today (for the better). Check out this podcast episode here for more details.
The second reason why I think about the usefulness of bartender skills is because I know that bartending isn’t a long-term career for everyone.
Despite my love for bartending, I recognise that some people don’t want to do it forever. And there are a lot of bartenders out there looking to move into something else but they’re unsure of how their skills relate to other professions.
So that’s what I want to explore today. Firstly, I want to make it abundantly clear just how valuable bartender skills are and how bartending makes you a better person! And secondly, I want to give you veteran bartenders an idea of the kind of careers you can pursue after a life of bartending.
Let’s get to it.
Disclaimer – These skills are NOT Guaranteed
Before we get to the specific skill-sets, it’s important to realise that these skills are NOT guaranteed. Theoretically, it’s possible for someone to work as a bartender for a decade and NOT develop any of them.
Although that’s extremely unlikely, it’s possible.
Because at the end of the day, it’s up to you. Just because you’re a bartender doesn’t mean you’re going to develop ninja-like social skills or an insane work ethic.
If you want to develop these skills, you’ve got to put in the work. Being a bartender gives you the perfect platform to learn and develop these skills, but YOU still have to make a conscious effort to improve.
So don’t be lazy!
Now, with that being said, the chances are you will naturally develop these skills to some extent anyway. Even if you don’t consciously work on them. Because when you’re behind the bar, you’ll be exposed to certain situations that force you to improve.
However, consciously working on them will help you develop these bartender skills much faster and to a much higher degree of expertise. And of course, that kind of expertise will serve you better as you move forward with your life.
Keep that in mind and I’m sure you’ll do well.
The Big 4
After talking with several other hospitality professionals about the skills bartending teaches you and how these skills transfer to other areas of life, I realised that there tends to be 4 prominent areas that people develop the most.
Those skills are:
- People skills
- Work Ethic
- Organisation skills
Within these 4 skill-sets, there are many other sub-skills that we’ll talk about below. But these ‘big 4’ should give you a general idea of what you can expect to learn as a bartender and how they relate to other professions/careers.
On a personal note, I attribute almost all of my competencies in these areas because of the time I spent bartending. Before I stepped behind the stick, my people skills were abysmal, I was lazy, disorganised, and I knew very little about anything.
Becoming a bartender changed that and these skill sets have served me well ever since.
Among the ‘Big 4’ bartender skills, people skills are the most practical and obvious. Bartenders are surrounded by people every single day/night and the main purpose of their job is to serve customers to the best of their ability.
This requires a certain level of competency in communicating & dealing with others. This skill category is quite broad, so there are a lot of other sub-skills that you learn with it.
- Communication skills (making conversation with others),
- Customers service skills,
- Sales skills (persuasion, up-selling, recommendations, etc),
- Diplomacy (the art of dealing with people in a sensitive way – think about dealing with rowdy drunks or unhappy customers),
- Humility (Dealing with unhappy & rude customers teaches you how to not take yourself too seriously – HUGE lesson for me ;-))
- The ability to work within a team (bartending is a team sport and it’s essential that you work together for a busy night to be successful),
- Teaching/training skills (guess who has to train the new guy when you have a decent amount of bartending experience?).
As you would expect, these skills aren’t just valuable in a professional sense. They’re useful in most areas of our life because most of what we do requires us to interact with others.
Whether that’s going grocery shopping, hitting the gym, catching up with friends, or starting a business. The chances are you’ll be dealing with people… And the better you are with people, the more likeable you become, and the more opportunities you’ll be presented.
As bartenders, we get paid to develop these skills and it’s one of the best and most useful parts of the job.
“You got time to lean, you got time to clean.” I love this quote from Shannon Sweeney’s article at monster.com. Because it’s exactly what I was taught when I first got started in the industry only said in a different way, “There’s always something to do…”
It’s no secret that bartenders work hard.
Long hours, late nights, standing on your feet all night, managing stress, cleaning (constantly cleaning!), dealing with customer complaints, rude customers, etc. Yes, hospitality professionals work hard!
I’m not telling you this to deter you from bartending. I’m telling you this because learning how to work hard is an important life lesson. You might not want to learn it (I definitely didn’t), but hard work is an essential ingredient to all forms of achievement.
If it wasn’t, everyone could/would achieve everything.
So the sooner you develop a strong work ethic, the better. Bartending and the hospitality industry will teach (almost force) you to learn the value of hard work. And you’ll become a more successful person for it.
In particular, you’ll develop resilience, you’ll learn how to take the initiative and do things without being told, you’ll develop the mental fortitude to get shit done even when you don’t want to do them, and you’ll learn how to perform your duties under pressure & stress.
This was an area bartending helped me out A LOT. Before I became a bartender I was a lazy slob and I’m sure my first boss outside of hospitality would attest to that!
But talk to any of my hospitality employers and they’ll tell you how hard of a worker I am because my first job in the industry drilled “hard work” into me.
I’ve never forgotten this lesson and I never will.
When it comes to working efficiently behind the bar, organisation skills are the name of the game. If you’re disorganised, the night can go to shit VERY quickly.
Organisation refers to a few things. It includes organising the bar equipment, bottles, and other products behind the bar neatly & efficiently so they’re easy to find, easy to keep clean, and quick to grab when you’re busy. It includes managing one’s own time and prioritising the most important tasks first when there are a million & 1 things to do.
It also includes making quick & decisive decisions under pressure, and multi-tasking whenever/wherever possible.
This is what bartenders must do when they’re working in high-volume, high-intensity bars. If they don’t, the bar will crash and burn. I’ve seen it happen before, it’s happened to me, and the only way to prevent it is by being obsessively organised with everything that you & your colleagues do.
Unsurprisingly, organisations skills are valuable in both a personal and professional sense. The more organised you are, the more you can get done and prioritisation will help you get the more important tasks done first. Combine this with a strong work-ethic and you’ll become an absolute weapon in any arena!
**Note** It’s unlikely that you’ll learn to be this organised unless you’re working somewhere that’s high-intensity and high-volume. Mainly because in low-intensity, low-volume bars, you don’t have to be unbelievably organised.
But if you work as a bartender in the high-intensity environment, you’ll be forced to develop strong organisation skills. And that’s the fastest way to learn anything…
This kind of knowledge makes you a great candidate for a number of professions outside of bartending but still within the food & beverage industry.
I’ll talk more about specific professions below but it’s good to keep that in mind when you’re learning about these things because it gives you another good reason why you should learn them in the first place.
On a side note, teaching your friends about food & alcohol is fun to do in social situations. People love learning about their senses and what they’re actually drinking/eating so at the very least, this knowledge makes for great conversation topics.
How ‘Transferable’ are these Skills?
In a traditional sense, the skills I’ve mentioned above don’t directly transfer into other professions. For example, it would be hard to convince a hospital that you’re ready to be a doctor on these skills alone.
Regardless of how good you are with people, you still need a medical degree to become a doctor…
But from a more general sense, it’s easy to see how useful these skills are no matter what you do. At its core, bartending teaches you ‘life skills’ because you learn about people, yourself, hard-work, how to organise yourself & your environment, and you learn about the world around you.
This is one of the reasons why people recommend bartending so highly because you learn a set of skills that apply to most aspects of life.
But as far as careers go, what does this experience actually allow you to do?
Let’s talk about these things now.
When you’re looking for a job after bartending, you can either look for a job within the industry or you can look for something outside the industry.
Between the two, you’ve got more options when you look for something within the industry because you can use the knowledge you’ve accumulated as a bartender in your new position. (For more information on why this is a great idea, check out Cal Newport’s book, ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’ as it talks about this concept in detail.)
That being said, a lot of the time people get sick of the industry altogether and want to move onto something different.
Unfortunately, the hospitality industry can do that to you. Burn-out is a real thing… And if that’s you, I highly recommend that you try something else.
You might find a new profession that you fall in love with or you might just realise that’s hospitality isn’t as bad as you thought it was. But in order to get to either of those points, you have to experiment with different jobs. It’s not going to happen working a job that you hate…
I’ve included some professions outside of the industry for that very reason.
Becoming the bar or venue manager is the most logical progression bartenders usually make. Obviously, bartending prepares you superbly for this kind of position because you’re already working behind the bar, learning how it operates, and you’re working with managers who you can teach you how to do it.
Tired of the bar, love wine, and love providing exceptional customer service? Becoming a sommelier might just be for you. This is great position if you love serving tables and you love wine because that’s all you’re going to be doing.
Moving onto the floor as a waiter or sommelier can also be a refreshing change when you’re sick of working behind the bar but you still like the industry. You’ll be able to walk around the venue more often and you won’t have to do as much cleaning!
A brand ambassador/rep is a sales person. They represent a brand/company and their products within the industry by looking after the bars & restaurants who stock their products. They also try and “sell” their products to bars & restaurants that aren’t currently stocking their products.
This is one of the best jobs available to bartenders who are feeling burned out by the service industry. You’re no longer a part of the “hospitality” side of things, but you still work within the food & beverage community meaning that you get to put the knowledge you’ve accumulated to work.
You can represent spirit brands, beer brands, wine brands, coffee brands, tea brands, etc. You’ve got options here.
If you’ve ever seen the reality T.V. series Bar Rescue, starring Jon Taffer, you know what a bar consultant is. Jon Taffer is a bar consultant and what that basically means is that he helps bars that aren’t doing so well get their act together and become more successful.
Your experience as a bartender can clearly be put to use here and it can become quite a profitable venture if you work hard at it. If you’re looking to do something more entrepreneurial/work for yourself, this is a great option.
**Note** If you’ve had experience managing bars, this is a lot more likely to work. You might not have the expertise to make a bar more successful if you’ve only been a bartender.
This is the dream for most of us bartenders, to one day own our own bar and decide how everything should be done & organised! Of course, this is what we all want but you need money to open up a bar…
A way around this is to partner up with someone rich where they supply the capital and you do the work. Of course, that means you’ll be sharing the ownership with someone else (in most cases, you’ll have less than 50%). But it’s a start and at least you’ll be in charge and working for yourself!
If you’re looking to leave the industry entirely, a job in sales is the most obvious option. People skills are what sales is all about and as mentioned above, bartenders usually have strong people skills.
By sales, I’m talking about any people orientated position where you’re essentially selling something. That could be over the phone or in-person. You could work in a call centre, as a stockbroker, real-estate representative, recruiter, insurance, tech sales, etc.
There are loads of sales positions out there and bartending prepares you remarkably well for them. This is the job tonnes of bartenders migrate to after they’re done with bartending.
My personal favourite. Bar owner & bar consultant technically come under this umbrella term too. There are no requirements to be an entrepreneur which is the best part about it. All you need is the will to want to try and make it on your own.
Similarly to sales, bartending prepares you well for the life of an entrepreneur. It helps you develop the resilience necessary to make it through the tough times, the people skills to sell your ideas, and the work ethic necessary to pull it all off.
You could start a business within the industry (brewing your own beer, selling t-shirts, sell pre-mixed cocktails, cocktail-catering company, etc). Or you could start something completely different.
Learn Other Skills
Finally, I want to point out that just because you’re a bartender who hasn’t gone to uni or worked in a different industry before, doesn’t mean that you have to lock yourself into hospitality related professions… Or sales…
Nowadays, it’s easy to learn professional skills online. You can take world-class courses that are affordable and possible to take from the comfort of your own home. And you can become reasonably competent in certain skills within a short period of time.
For example, if you want to become a programmer, you can learn how to code in 6 months to the point where you’re good enough to land a programming job. That’s pretty incredible!
So don’t use your lack of education or experience as an excuse. It’s not as valid as it used to be…
If you want something bad enough and you put in the work, you can achieve almost anything. And since you’ve been bartending for so long, I’m sure you’ve developed the work ethic to make something happen ;-).
Good luck and let me know if you’ve got any other job recommendations or transferable bartending skills in the comments section below!