Proof You Can Become a Great Bartender

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Chapter 2

Before I’d even turned 18, I knew I wanted to be a bartender. I’d always thought that bartenders looked so cool! So as soon as I was old enough, I started looking for bartending jobs.

But back then, I didn’t know how the hospitality industry worked and I certainly had no idea how to go about looking for work.

So I did what most people do. I jumped on the internet and started scouring the job sites (like craigslist, seek, etc) looking for work. But to my shock, virtually every bartending role I found required the applicant to have a minimum of 2 years experience.

I remember thinking to myself: “How on earth do you become a bartender if you don’t have any experience?

The Experience Requirement is a Myth

If you’re anything like I was, seeing that most bartending roles require you to have a minimum of 2 years experience can be unsettling. It makes you wonder whether or not you could ever become a bartender.

The first time I saw that most bartending roles have an experience requirement, I gave up on the job hunt without even bothering to apply…

That’s the WORST approach you can take!

Because the truth is, the experience requirement isn’t as important as you think. And they don’t apply everywhere for every position…

If they did, how would anyone ever become a bartender?

It took me another 3 years until I eventually worked up the courage to start applying again. But this time was different. Instead of giving up at the first sign of rejection, I persisted and applied to every bar, restaurant, cafe, and pub I could find.

And after 3 weeks of consistent effort, I did it! I landed my first hospitality job as a server in a quite golf club bar/restaurant.

My First Hospitality Job

I remember those first few weeks like it was yesterday…

I must have been one of the worst servers the golf club had ever seen!

Bartending was a mystery to me and those first few weeks felt like hell. I knew nothing about food and alcohol, I dropped trays of red wine on customers, I thought the rest of the staff hated me, and I could barely take an order without experiencing waves of anxiety!

After a month of working there, I couldn’t believe I still had a job.

But I stuck at it and after a few months, I started to get better. I felt less anxious at work, I learned how to carry 3 plates, I could talk to the customers without having a panic attack, and I befriended most of the staff.

Why am I telling you this?

To show you that if an innocent, anxious kid like me with no experience can become a great bartender, so can you.

Those first few months working as a server were essential to my success as a bartender. It gave me the experience and confidence necessary to eventually progress into a bartending position. It showed me that you don’t need to have an endless amount of experience to find a job.

And it made me realize that anyone can become a great bartender.

I’ve worked with talented bartenders who were extroverts, introverts, nerds, jocks, fighters, models, and musicians. Bartenders who were fat and thin. Some who were studying law, some who were building businesses, and others who went to the beach every day!

My point is, anyone can become a great bartender. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like. You don’t need to have insane social skills and you don’t need any special skills-sets when you’re starting out.

Everything you need can be learned.

As long as you’re willing to work at it and put up with a bit of shit, you’ll get there.

There are only 2 requirements you’ll ever need to meet if you want to become a bartender. But they’re 2 of the easiest job requirements around.

The Only 2 Requirements a Bartender Needs

One of the best things about bartending is that you don’t need any special requirements to work behind the bar. You don’t need to be born with any special abilities, you don’t need to study for years, and you don’t need to have any ‘deep’ connections within the industry.

As long as you’re old enough, and you’ve passed an alcohol awareness program, you can work behind the bar.

Age

Unless you’ve been living in a cave your whole life, you’ll know that there’s a minimum age requirement to be a bartender. It differs from country to country. And in the USA, it differs from state to state. But generally, it’s between the ages of 18-21.

In Australia, Europe, and the UK, you can start working behind the bar when you turn 18.

If you’re from the USA and you’re not sure what the minimum age requirement is in your state, here’s a great list you can check out.

Alcohol Awareness Programs

The other requirement you may need to meet is to pass an alcohol awareness program. It’s known as an Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) program in the USA.

Now, an alcohol awareness program is NOT the same as a bartending certificate/license you might receive from a bartending school. You definitely DON’T need one of these to become a bartender.

In fact, they could be detrimental. But more on that later.

An alcohol awareness program is run by the state’s government to certify that you’re aware of how to serve alcohol responsibly. You don’t receive any bartending training per se. You will simply be taken through the dangers of alcohol and how to serve it responsibly.

And at the end of it, you’ll be given a certificate.

They’re easy to pass, they’re inexpensive to get, and they take less than a day to complete. But once again, whether or not you need one depends on where you live.

In Australia, the certificate is mandatory. But in the UK and France, you don’t need one. Once again, in the USA, it’s a little more complicated. The laws vary from state to state. Some require them, others don’t.

If you’re not sure whether or not you need one, a quick google search with your state and ABC requirements in the search tab, should do the trick.

**WARNING** When you’re looking for an alcohol awareness program/ABC anywhere in the world, make sure it’s licensed by the state. Some websites aren’t certified by the state meaning that they’re not legit. They will try and sell you a fake program which doesn’t certify anything! Do your research and you’ll be fine.

What Does it Take to Become a Great Bartender?

Anyone can pass an alcohol awareness program. You don’t even need to be a bartender to pass one of these. But not everyone will become great bartenders. So what does it take to go from zero to bartending brilliance?

The right attitude and the willingness to learn.

If you want to become a bartender, you’ve got to get the job first. And to do that, you need to have the right attitude or you’ll never break into the industry.

You’ve got to be prepared to apply for as many jobs as necessary. You’ve got to be willing to work as a barback or server first. And once you’ve got the job, you’ve got to be OK with the fact that you’re going to suck in the beginning!

If you’ve got the right attitude, becoming a bartender will be easy. But, to take your game to the next level and become a great bartender, you need to be willing to learn and work at your craft as much as you possibly can.

That means learning about the different kinds of alcohol (beer, wine, liquor), memorizing different cocktail recipes, improving your people skills, using both hands whenever you can, learning from other bartenders, and paying attention to the details.

If you’re a complete beginner, there will be a learning curve. And it might seem a little daunting at first. But it’s worth it.

Because once you’re ‘great’, you’ll be more confident, you’ll be making better money, you’ll be able to work in better establishments, and you’ll never have to worry about finding a job again.

8 Qualities of a Great Bartender

I don’t care who you are or what you do. Unless you’re physically or mentally impaired, you’ve got what it takes to become a great bartender. You don’t need any sort of specialized knowledge and you don’t need to be born with a genetic advantage.

Anyone can cultivate the right attitude. And if you’re reading this article, you’re willing to learn!

So what does it mean to be a great bartender? What qualities do they possess that puts them a step above the rest?

In my experience, I’ve found that there are 8 qualities that all great bartenders have. They aren’t magical abilities that no-one else possesses.

Although at times, they may seem so.

They’re all qualities and skills that you can work on. And to really excel at this craft, you’ll need to develop every single one of them. At least to some extent.

Those 8 qualities are:

  1. Customer Service & People Skills
  2. Knowledge & Skill
  3. Hard Working
  4. Well-organised
  5. Solid Memory
  6. Multi-Taskers
  7. Personal Grooming & Cleanliness
  8. Trustworthy

1) Customer Service & People Skills

By far the most important quality a great bartender will have is outstanding customer service & people skills.

Great bartenders are always charming & personable, they serve all of their customers to the best of their ability, and they know how to handle themselves in almost any social situation.

If a fight’s about to break out, they’ll be able to diffuse the situation calmly before anything serious happens. If a drunk customer gets too rowdy, they’ll be able to talk them down without them taking offense.

And of course, they’ll be able to regale their customers with entertaining stories that keep them coming back for more!

It goes without saying, that they’ll be able to charm the pants off almost any potential mate ;-).

2) Knowledge & Skill

The second most important quality a great bartender will have is a sound knowledge of booze and an extraordinary amount of skill at what they do.

They’ll intimately know about the different types of liquor, beer, and wine they sell. They’ll be able to guide their guests through their menu and educate them on what they sell. And they’ll be great at recommending different products, for different people, on different occasions.

On top of that, they’ll possess great skill in what they do. They’ll be quick and efficient in all of their movements.

Whenever they can, they’ll use both of their hands, they’ll be able to confidently use all of the equipment behind their bar, and they’ll understand how to apply the most important cocktail/bartending techniques.

3) Hard Working

You’ll never see a great bartender standing around doing nothing. Even when the bar is empty. One of the golden rules of hospitality is:

There’s always something to do!

Great bartenders take this rule to heart. When it’s quiet, they’ll be deep-cleaning the bar, re-organising the fridges/shelves, studying their stock, learning the till system, or offering to help out in other areas of the bar/restaurant/cafe (like on the floor or in the kitchen).

And when it’s busy, they’ll be running around (read: walking fast) serving guests as quick as they can, changing kegs, replenishing stock, and helping out wherever they may be needed.

You’ll never see one of these bartenders on their phone, sitting down, or trying to get away with doing nothing. They’re always working hard.

4) Well-organised

A well-organised bartender means a well-organised bar. And a well-organised bar leads to a much better service overall.

Everything behind the bar should have its own place so that you can find things easily without having to think about it. This type of organization saves you precious time when you’re busy making it easier/quicker to serve more customers and ultimately, make more money.

Great bartenders also pay attention to the details.

They make sure customers always have a drink in their hands (unless they’ve had one too many, which they’ll of course know). They pay attention to the stock levels throughout the night (including napkins, till rolls, straws, & change) to ensure that they never run out of anything.

And finally, they clean up after themselves (and others) as they go, making sure that everything looks neat and tidy.

5) Solid Memory

Have you ever wondered how bartenders remember your whole drink order, as well as the orders of the 3 other people standing next to you?

It’s because they’ve developed great memories. They know the menu like the back of their hands and they’ve learned how to store multiple orders in their memory at once.

When someone orders a drink from them, they’re able to quickly recall the drink’s recipe, price, what it goes well with, and any relevant specials. And they’re able to systematically store those orders in their memory because they actually pay attention to what their customers want!

A solid memory vastly improves the pace and quality of service because it prevents you from having to constantly run back and forth to check prices, recipes, and what the customer’s order.

Customers quickly get frustrated if you take too long to serve them so developing a solid memory is crucial.

6) Multi-Taskers

There are so many different things that you need to be doing when you’re working behind the bar. Serving customers, cracking jokes, replenishing stock, changing kegs, making drinks, pouring beers, cleaning, cutting, stirring, shaking, etc.

It’s a huge advantage if you can tackle multiple jobs at once and all great bartenders know how to multi-task. They might be wiping down the bar whilst they’re taking an order, pouring a beer whilst they’re collecting money, or shaking & stirring 2 cocktails at once.

When they replenish stock, they’ll top up everything they can because they know it’s going to save time in the long run.

These bartenders use their time efficiently and do as much as they can with the time they’re given.

7) Personal Grooming & Cleanliness

Would you like to be served by a bartender who looks like they haven’t had a shower in a few days? How would you feel if they used their dirty hands to squeeze multiple lime wedges into your gin & tonic?

Probably not great.

A bartender should always take pride in their appearance. They should be well-groomed & dressed appropriately whenever they’re at work. They should wash their hands regularly and they should always pay attention to their own hygiene.

8) Trustworthy

Regardless of how good of a bartender you are, you’ll always be handling large amounts of cash. And you need to be trusted with it.

The hospitality world is quite small and word travels fast. If you become known as someone with ‘sticky fingers’, you’ll quickly get booted out of the industry and you’ll find it very difficult to find another job.

Can You Become a Great Bartender?

The short answer is YES, you can. Even if right now, you’re thinking ‘How on earth am I supposed to learn all of this??

What I’ve described above is the ideal bartender. It’s the kind bartender you should strive to be. But the truth is, I’ve never met a bartender that was perfect in all of these categories.

Just like anyone, great bartenders have their strengths and weaknesses. And bartending is a skill that’s developed over time.

I’ve worked with bartenders who knew a lot about booze but weren’t amazing with people. I’ve worked with bartenders who had incredible people skills but couldn’t tell you the difference between vodka and gin.

To really excel at this craft, you don’t need to be ‘perfect’ in any of these areas. You just need to be good enough. And when you’re starting out, you don’t need to be great at any of them. In fact, the chances are, you’ll be terrible in most!

But if you’ve got the right attitude and you’re willing to learn, you’ll quickly improve when you start working behind the bar. That’s why you should be aiming to get a job as soon as possible.

Remember Being a Bartender is Fun!

Photo of people dancing

I know, I know. I’ve just made bartending sound a lot more serious than you’ve anticipated. But the reality is, it’s not. Sure, there will be times when you’ll need to act responsibly and professionally at work. And there will be times when you won’t want to be there at all, just like any job.

But the majority of the time, you’ll be laughing with your colleagues, entertaining your guests, making great money, and genuinely enjoying yourself.

Bartending is a lot of fun, especially when you get good at it.

So don’t settle for mediocrity. Commit yourself to becoming a great bartender.

That’s when things start to get interesting.

How did you stack up in the ‘8 qualities of a great bartender’? Let me know in the comments section below!

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Click here to Go to Chapter 3: Bartending School – Everything You Need to Know

 

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.

9 thoughts on “Proof You Can Become a Great Bartender

  1. Hmm, I read those 7 and thought – it is pretty easy. And tehn I read it is supposedly very hard and none of the bartenders you met had all 7?
    Looks like I am an ideal one 🙂

    • I believe that to be great in all these areas is very difficult. Even if you’ve been working in the industry for years. But I’m sure there are bartenders out there that are. And you may be one of them 🙂
      Thanks for the comments babajus, I appreciate the engagement!

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