Whether you realize it or not, bartender skills can be valuable life skills. There are two main reasons for this.
The first is that I’m well aware that working in the hospitality industry has made me a more interesting and well-rounded person. Being a bartender taught me humility, confidence, social acuity, and the value of hard work, to name a few.
And I’m not the only one who’s experienced this kind of transformation.
Long-term bartender & server Alex Spinelli for example 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 and investors, Tim Ferriss & Chris Sacca discuss 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 bartender skills can be valuable in life is because bartending isn’t a long-term career for everyone.
Despite my love for bartending, I recognize that some people don’t want to do it forever. There are a lot of bartenders out there looking to move into a new career, but are unsure of how their skills relate to other professions.
So that’s what I want to explore today.
First, I want to prove just how valuable bartender skills are and how bartending makes you a better person!
Second, I want to give 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 realize that these skills are NOT guaranteed. Theoretically, someone could 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!
With that established, 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 encounter 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 realized that there tend to be four prominent areas that people develop the most.
Those skills are:
- People skills
- Work Ethic
- Organization skills
Within these four skill-sets, there are many other sub-skills that we’ll discuss 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 nearly all of my social skills to bartending. Before I stepped behind the stick, my social skills were abysmal, I was lazy, and disorganized.
Becoming a bartender changed my life, and these skillsets 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 day and 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 not to 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)
- Management 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 helpful in most areas of our life. In both bartending and everyday life, what we do requires us to interact with others.
Whether that’s grocery shopping, hitting the gym, catching up with friends, or starting a business, chances are you’ll be dealing with people. And the better you are with people, the more opportunities you’ll be presented in life.
As a bartender, you will be literally paid to develop these skills.
When I first got started in the industry I was taught an important lesson: 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 how to work hard(I definitely didn’t), but hard work is an essential ingredient to all forms of achievement.
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. 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 things done even when you don’t want to do them, and you’ll learn how to perform your duties under pressure and stress.
Bartending helped me out A LOT when it came to learning to work hard. 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, organization skills are the name of the game. If you’re disorganized, the night can go haywire VERY quickly.
Organization refers to a few things including:
- Organizing the bar equipment, bottles, and other products behind the bar neatly and efficiently so each is easy to find, clean, and grab when you’re busy.
- Managing one’s own time and prioritizing the most important tasks first when there are an overwhelming amount of things to do.
- Making quick and decisive decisions under pressure, and multi-tasking whenever/wherever possible.
All of these are 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 organized.
Unsurprisingly, organizations skills are valuable in both a personal and professional sense. The more organized you are, the more you can get done and prioritization 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 organized 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 organized.
But if you work as a bartender in a high-intensity environment, you’ll be forced to develop strong organization 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 later in this article.
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?
Now, I should mention that the skills I’ve mentioned above don’t always 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 in a more general sense, it’s easy to see how useful these skills are in most careers. At its core, bartending teaches you life skills. You learn about people, yourself, hard-work, how to organize yourself & your environment, and you learn about the world around you.
But as far as careers go, what does this experience actually allow you to do?
Let’s talk about these things now.
Specific Professions For After Bartending
When you’re looking for a job after bartending, you can either look inside or outside of 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.)
With that said, an unfortunate reality of the bartending industry is that people will often get sick of the industry altogether and will want to move on to 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 realize that hospitality isn’t as bad as you thought it was. In order to get to either of those points though, you’ll have to experiment with different jobs.
I’ve included some professions outside of the industry for that very reason.
Becoming a bar or venue manager is the most logical progression bartenders usually make. 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 can teach you how to do it.
Love wine and providing exceptional customer service? Becoming a sommelier might just be for you.
A sommelier, also known as a wine steward, is someone who is proficiently knowledgable about wine and its pairing with food. Sommelier’s are usually employed at finer-dining restaurants to help customers find the perfect wine for their dining experience. It isn’t easy becoming accredited as a sommelier, but the work put in can be rewarding.
A brand ambassador/rep is a sales person. They represent a brand/company and their products within the industry by looking after the bars and restaurants who stock their products. They also try and sell their products into bars and 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 giving you the ability to put the knowledge you’ve accumulated to work.
If you’ve ever seen the reality T.V. series Bar Rescue, starring Jon Taffer, you know what a bar consultant is. Simply put, bar consultants help bars become more successful. You’ll help a bar with everything from recipe and ingredient selection to lighting and decor.
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.
Owning a bar is the dream for most bartenders. You get to control and decide how everything should be done, and nobody can tell you what to do.
Of course, you’ll need a lot of money to open a bar, but a way around this is to partner up with someone who supplies 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.
Becoming an entrepreneur is my personal favorite on the list. Technically, being a bar owner or a bar consultant 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.
Similar 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, doesn’t mean that you have to lock yourself into hospitality related professions.
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 six 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!