When I first wanted to be a bartender, I never thought I’d enjoy it as much as I have. I thought that I’d enjoy a brief fling with it whilst studying at uni or while I was traveling. I certainly never thought that I’d end up being the bar manager of a nightclub in the French alps, let alone considering it as a potential career.
But, by the time I’d finished being the bar manager at the restaurant in Melbourne, everything had changed. I loved bartending and I was reading everything I could find on the subject. I remember reading one book in particular called the ‘Joy of Mixology’ by Gary Raegan, who pointed out that “if you find a job you love, you’ll never work another day in your life.”
When I moved to London, that’s how I felt about bartending.
Bartending Vs Bar Management
There is a huge difference between being a bartender and being the bar manager. Being a bartender is a lot more hands on and your job description is much more simple. You make drinks, serve customers, change kegs, prep the bar, etc. It doesn’t get too complicated regardless of where you work. You still work hard, but once you get the hang of it, bartending is pretty simple.
When you progress into management, you’re still expected to do everything you did as a bartender plus a lot more. Being the bar manager means you could be doing anything from training the staff, to cleaning the beer lines, to visiting wineries in search of great products!
Of course, the extra work means you have to do extra hours. It depends on what country you live in, but in general, full-time bartenders will work on average 40 hours per week. Bar managers will work from anywhere between 50-80 hours per week. When I was managing the bar in Melbourne, I was averaging 60 hours a week.
On Being the Bar Manager
First of all, you get paid more. That can be a huge incentive depending on who you are. You will also get guaranteed hours. That can be an even bigger incentive for some people. Unfortunately, some bartending gigs can be very temperamental. You may have 40 hours one week, but then 15 hours the next. This fluctuation of hours can be very frustrating and stressful when you’re struggling to pay rent.
Secondly, you have a lot more freedom and control at work. You won’t have someone constantly on your back telling you what to do. In fact, you get to be that guy. It’s your call if you want Luke on the dishes Friday night. And if you feel like a beer after a busy shift, you only need to ask yourself if its ok.
Finally, being the bar manager teaches you a lot of valuable skills. You learn how to effectively delegate tasks, resolve customer complaints, lead a team, hire & train staff, fire staff, appropriately discipline staff, deal with abuse from upper management/the owner, and you’ll develop excellent organisation and time management skills.
I found that there were 2 big disadvantages that came with being the bar manager. The first one was the sheer number of hours you have to be at work. When I was managing, I didn’t have time for anything else. I barely had enough time to cook! Being a bartender gives you a lot more time to spend on other things, like socialising.
The second one is that you can’t get as close to the people you work with. At the end of the day, you’re their manager. And to get the job done, sometimes you’ll have to be an arsehole. Unless you’re managing some extremely enlightened bartenders, you’ll have fewer friends at work than you would have had as a fellow bartender.
Is management worth it?
Definitely. If you have the opportunity to progress into a management position, take it. Even if you only do it temporarily, you’ll learn so many valuable skills. And if you decide that after you’ve done it, you want to go back to being a bartender, you’ll be much better off.
Back to My Story
Setting the Scene
It was early September 2014 and my time in Melbourne was up. I had just finished managing an extremely busy restaurant bar in Melbourne, called Rococo, and I absolutely loved it. But it was time to move on. I was moving back to Val D’isere to manage the bar at one of the most popular nightclubs in the French alps: Dick’s Tea Bar. And after my first experience working there, I was pumped.
But before flying to France, I needed to stop off in the UK to organise some paperwork for my Visa. So I decided to move to London and stay with a friend for a couple of months. I needed to find work if I wanted to survive over there. But now that I had management, advanced cocktail, and barista experience behind me, I wasn’t exactly worried.
Living in London
One of the best aspects of being an experienced bartender is that you can find work almost everywhere you go. If you enjoy travelling, that knowledge is liberating. It means that if you want to live overseas for a year, it’s not a problem. You know that at the very least, you’ll be able to survive, if not thrive.
When I arrived in London, it took me less than a week before I was offered 3 bartending gigs. In the end, I took a job that offered relatively easy work in comparison to what I was doing in Melbourne. But that was one of the reasons why I chose it. I wanted to enjoy my time in London and that meant spending time doing things outside of work!
So that’s exactly what I did.
I visited London’s best tourist attractions, went to the theatre, caught up with friends, took a train to Liverpool, took a flight to Amsterdam, and experienced London’s nightlife whenever I got the chance. I loved living in London, but my time there didn’t last very long.
After less than 2 months, I was already moving on. With my Visa sorted and my backpack packed, I grabbed my snowboard and took a flight to Geneva airport, Switzerland.
The French Alps Part 2
I was venturing up into the mountains on my own this time. Being the bar manager meant that I was required in resort a few days earlier than the rest of the team. There was no point in organising a bus for one person, so I ended up taking a train and a taxi to get to Val D’Isere.
I don’t know what it is, but there’s something very surreal about making your way up into the alps, especially when you know you’ll be spending the next 5 months living there. Whether it’s nostalgia, excitement, anxiety, or nervousness … I’m not sure. But the trips are hard to forget.
I remember driving through tiny villages, lively pubs, ancient buildings, stunning nature, and watching the sun disappear behind the mountain ranges. And when I finally arrived in Val D’Isere, I remember being greeted like an old friend by some of the returning seasonaires.
I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be back.
Welcome Back to Val D’Isere
When my manager and the owner of Dick’s Tea Bar invited me back at the end of my first ski season, they told me that your second ski season is always the best. Now that I’ve been through both, I can confidently say they were right. For some reason, there’s a different vibe around town when you come back a second time.
One of the main reasons my second season was better, was because I already knew people around the resort. The friends you make during a ski season is one of the best parts about being up there. So starting out with a few close friends made a huge difference. Unlike my first season, where I spent the first couple of months settling in and awkwardly trying to make friends, I was already settled in and I already had friends. So I got to skip that part.
My living situation also had an influence on how enjoyable my second season was. Instead of living with a couple of guys from the security team, I was crammed into a tiny apartment with 8 of The Dick’s Tea Bar bar staff. Staff that I would be managing and 7 of them were girls.
I’ll leave that up to you as to whether or not that’s an improvement from the previous season…
But I will say this, Ollie, the other guy I was living with, is now one of my best friends. And Talia, one of the girls I was living with, is now my fiance. So something good definitely came out of it. And it wasn’t mine and Ollie’s victory in the argument over who stole our ketchup!
Of course, my living situation and having close friends already there made a difference on how my season turned out. But the biggest difference was by far, coming back as Dick’s Tea Bar’s bar manager.
Being the Bar Manager
Being the bar manager meant that I had a lot more responsibility than I did as a bartender. I was responsible for training the staff, resolving customer complaints, communicating any serious issues with security, product selection, counting the tills, counting the stock, and the list goes on. Like I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot more to bar management than there is to bartending.
But the responsibility I took on came with a lot more freedom and being the bar manager was a lot of fun once I got the hang of it. After the owner and the venue manager, I was next in charge. That meant that as long as I did my job and everything was running smoothly, I could pretty much do what I wanted. I could spend time chatting with customers, I was allowed to give away free drinks, I could drink whatever I wanted, and if I got bored, I could hang out in the DJ booth or light the bar on fire.
Being the bar manager also gave me a lot more respect around the resort. It took a while to get used to and I’m sure I developed an ego around it. But once I did get used to it, it was great! It was like being a celebrity around town.
When I’d rock up to different venues, I’d be greeted with shots of Jaeger and pints of beer, and I’d almost never have to pay. Everyone knew who I was and almost all of them wanted to be my friend. Whether that was because they thought I was cool, or they just wanted free drinks, I’ll never know. I hope it was at least a combination of both…
The One Downside
But the job also came with its downsides and there was one in particular that I couldn’t seem to get over. It sucks having to manage your friends, especially when you live with them… It was one of those things I had to learn the hard way.
On several occasions, I pissed people off by telling them what to do or disciplining them in a certain way. The worst part about it was that after I pissed them off, I had to go back home and sleep under the same roof as them… I even had to send Ollie (my roommate) home one night after he got too drunk on shift.
It’s a credit to his character that we’re still good friends.
Life in the Mountains
It’s a shame but I spent a lot less time snowboarding my second ski season. I guess it’s not that surprising when you consider how much more time I spent socialising and partying. But alcohol was a lot cheaper the second time around. In fact, most of the time it was free!
I still managed to hit the slopes 2 or 3 times a week. I just didn’t go as much as I did in my first season. So whenever I did go out, my friends and I made sure we took advantage of it.
Easily, my most memorable day was when my friend Jimmy and I, landed our first backflips. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and there was powder snow everywhere. So one of our veteran ski friends took us to the best spot in Val D’Isere to attempt our first backflip.
It was one of the scariest experience I’ve ever had in my life, let alone on my snowboard. When I was riding towards the jump at speed, I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins. And when I was shot up into the air, I was terrified. But when my body came around and I landed flat on my board, it was one of the most adrenaline pumping experiences I’ve had in my life!
End of an Era
When my second ski season come to an end, it felt like it was the end of an era. I’d lived in France for almost 2 years and I wouldn’t be living there again. My visa situation had put an end to that.
But I wasn’t too bothered by it. Despite ski seasons being an incredible experience, they have their downsides. Not only are they guaranteed to be an emotional roller coaster, but you don’t get paid well, you’re isolated from the rest of the world, and the rest of your life is put on hold.
After going through it twice, I was ready to move onto something different.
But life was a little more complicated at the end the season. I’d fallen in love with an English girl called Talia and we wanted to make it work. So instead of rushing back to Australia, I decided to follow her to the UK.
I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. But the fact that we’re now engaged and living happily in Australia, reassures me that it was a good decision.