Career Path of a Successful Bartender
How to Create a Successful Career as a Bartender
Every good bartender has a long and storied history on how they came to be behind the bar. Some of those stories are only tales of woe. Others seem to have just lucked into the position because they were in the right place at the right time. There is likely a wrong way to go about kicking off your career as a bartender, but we aim to point you in the right direction. With a little education and some great tips from our bartending instructors you can start your bartending career on the right path.
1. Bartending School
Everyone has to start somewhere. If you have been a Busboy, Waiter, or a Hostess and you want to move into bartending, or if you have no experience in the hospitality industry whatsoever, a good bartending school is the place to start.
2. Apply For Jobs
Your first bartending job doesn’t have to be your last. The hospitality industry is very transient. People don’t usually stay in their bartending jobs for years and years. Your first bartending job doesn’t have to be perfect, it is just a place to start. At Fine Art Bartending School we encourage our students to go out and just get hired somewhere and start working. Don’t be too fussy. You don’t have to stay there forever, so it doesn’t have to be the EXACT place you can see yourself working for 10 years. Maybe it is 30 minutes away from your place by transit, and you would prefer something closer. Maybe they play rock music & you like hip hop. Maybe it is only a seasonal bartending job and you want something more permanent. Maybe the crowd is a little older than you. We would encourage you to jump on whatever opportunity comes your way & get working as a bartender at whatever kind of place is hiring. Chances are, other than obvious things like location, and the type of music the place plays etc.. you really aren’t going to know what kind of bartending suits you best until you start working as a bartender. There are lots of different types of bartending jobs out there.
Recent graduates have been hired as bartenders at Boston Pizza, White Spot, Moxies, a Persian restaurant on Denman Street, a Korean Karaoke lounge on Broadway. Some of those students have also been lucky enough to land jobs at the revolving tourist restaurant downtown, golf courses, catering companies, and a harbor cruise boat company. When you are out there applying to places with resume in hand, that Mexican place on Robson street, an Italian restaurant in North Van, or random pub in New Westminster might be your best bet for getting that bartending career started. Keep in mind that although these might not be ideal bartending jobs, but probably not somewhere you are going to work for 10 years. They are also not the 1st place you would think of when you are looking for a job. They are off the beaten path. Most places on Granville Street, Yaletown, and the big chain restaurants have stacks of resumes on the managers desk. Everyone goes to Granville street, Yaletown, Cactus Club, Earls & Joeys. We have had students get hired on Granville, or at Cactus Club as a bartender right away. But the easier path, is to get off the beaten path, think outside the box and go drop some resumes off where people don’t apply every day. They will be glad to see you, and your chances are way higher than they would be where your competing with the 20 other resumes that have been dropped off that week.
3. Get a Better Job
So you have been bartending for 3-6 months now, congrats to you. Nice making cash every night isn’t it? What do you like about your job? Do you like serving waitresses only? Serving food at the bar? High volume? Or a slower pace where you can connect with the customer? Late shifts, or day shifts? Whatever it is that you enjoy about bartending, or would like to avoid, now you have some experience, you know what kind of job you want, and you are in a better position to go after it. KEEP YOUR CURRENT BARTENDING JOB! You do not have to quit one job before you start applying around for a better job. But start to put resumes out again, at the better places you could see yourself working at for a couple of years. Same as above, this doesn’t have to be the greatest job in the universe where you see yourself retiring, just a step up from your current job, however you define that. It could just be that its closer to your house, the hours are better, you think the money will be better, the crowd is more your style. Whatever you like about it, its a step up. Don’t get stuck in your first bartending job just because its comfortable. There are plenty of awesome jobs out there, where you can have more fun, and make more money.
Network! Now you are in the hospitality industry, you are not on the outside anymore. This is a big deal. When you are out with friends, or you meet someone who works in the industry, make sure to connect with them. The best jobs are not advertised, they come from referrals, so put the word out that you are looking for a job. You might be surprised by a friend telling you his uncle owns a pub, and would give you an interview. When your networking, be humble. Bartenders that work in great places don’t want to hear about how you could do their job better than them (seriously, this has happened to me a few times with cocky drunk bartending school graduates while I was working at a top nightclub in Vancouver, and its always young dudes : ). Or ordering obscure drinks to trip them up & show off how knowledgeable you are. But if you were to say to the bartender, “I graduated from a bartending school last fall, and I have been bartending at Boston Pizza for 6 months, but I would love to get into a place like this, how do you think I could make that happen?” you will be amazed at the opportunities that open up for you. So be humble, and network.
4. Figure out what part of bartending you really like & study up
If you want to make the big dollars, at the awesome places, you are probably going to have to do some work on your own time. Going to seminars, networking, going to industry events. This is where the bartenders that are serious about bartending start to pull away from the average bartenders working at a chain restaurant (nothing wrong with working at a chain restaurant, you make good cash$$, I just wouldn’t consider it the top of the bartending profession). Now that you have been behind the bar for a while, certain parts of your job probably appeal to you more than others.
If you enjoy making super high quality cocktails, creating interesting flavor combinations, infusing alcohols, making bitters etc.. the craft cocktail scene is the place for you. Go to the bars where craft cocktails are number 1 & network. The Keefer Bar, The Diamond, Boneta, Chambar, Market, Uva, The Union & George to name a few. Follow https://twitter.com/CanBartenders on Twitter, subscribe to Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s blog, attend cocktail competitions like https://www.facebook.com/enjoymadewithlove go to the Hopscotch festival in the fall
If wine / fine dining are your thing, get out into Vancouvers wine world. Attend 1 day seminars, maybe just start working towards your WSET / sommelier certification 1 night a week. Go to wineries. The Okanagan is packed with wineries you can tour and also taste wine. If you cant get out of town, head to Township 7 in Langley, or Vancouver Urban winery. Go to tastings at Legacy Liquor Store, or Everything Wine. Follow them on twitter and get down to those tastings! If your passionate about wine, dive into the wine world, network, and get down to some restaurants where wine is the focus & apply!
If flair bartending intrigues you, then get yourself to a flair bartending seminar! Fine Art offers a 1 day seminar about once a month, so come on out, we hope to see you. Then start practicing… a lot! Then get out into the flair scene. Check out other flair bartenders on youtube, post your own video on youtube. Connect with other flair bartenders, post on flair bartending pages in Vancouver that your looking to meet up & do some practicing on the beach. Sounds kind of dorky to put yourself out there, but its how you get ahead. Let us know at the school office if you are getting good at flair, because we get specific calls looking for flair bartenders occasionally, and if we don’t know your out there, we cant send you to those jobs. And keep practicing, there is no substitute.
If nightclubs are your thing, then start networking with nightclub staff when you are out partying. Preferably earlier on in the evening, when they are not so busy & before you get super drunk. Again, be humble. Not everyone is going to want to tell you all the secrets of how to get hired at the bar they work at, but opportunities come from networking, so keep at it. If your serious about ending up bartending in a nightclub specifically, besides getting fast behind the bar, and knowing every shooter in town, a big thing you want to focus on is building your contact list. When I was running a nightclub, and I needed to hire 1 bartender, and I was choosing between several candidates, I would usually hire the bartender I thought could bring in the most customers. Even if a candidate was slightly less experienced, if they had 1000 friends on facebook, they were hired. Nightclubs are always struggling to bring in customers. During weeknights, and early on the weekend nights, most clubs struggle to fill the room. so just a tip if your looking to work in a club, build that contact list. Twitter, Facebook, BBM, whatever, just bring people in the door.
In summary, a good reputable bartending school is a great place to start. You can come out of bartending school, get a decent bartending job, & make decent money. Not everyone has to go to the top of the profession. Maybe you just need some extra cash while you go to school, and its a short term thing. But if you want to move up from a decent job, to create a bartending career at an amazing establishment, you are going to have to put in some extra hours on your own time.
Example of a students progression from Fine Art Bartending School to a dream job & world travel.
Case Study: Luca Corradini
Luca took the Fine Art Bartending School Vancouver program in March 2011. Luca’s first bartending job after graduating is at Cafe Crepe on Granville street, he’s mostly serving pitchers of cheap beer to students, and serving the occasional crepe (bet you didn’t think you would come out of bartending school & end up serving french crepes did ya Luca!!) Not the most amazing bartending job in the world, but he’s making decent money$$, his bills are paid, and he’s learning the industry.
Luca is interested in flair bartending, so he takes the 1 day flair seminar at Fine Art Vancouver. Luca stays at Cafe Crepe for 6 months, and practices his flair moves in his spare time. Luca always wanted to work abroad, so he got a permit & moved to London, England, and got a job in a pub there. He started going to flair bartending competitions, and competing. He networked with other flair bartenders, and after a few months at the pub, he got a job at a hot nightclub. A few months later, he was offered a bartending job in Dubai at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel’s nightclub (google the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, its pretty awesome). You can also search for Luca Corradini on youtube if your curious about how great he turned out to be at flipping bottles.
Luca was interested in flair, and a few seminars, lots of practice, and lots of networking, it took him all over the world. But we have lots of successful grads that went down the wine route, or into the craft cocktail scene, or to a busy high volume nightclub. And lots of grad’s in different bartending jobs, in different areas of the world; Caribbean, Australia, Europe, Asia, etc… You just have to start somewhere, get your foot in the door, network, and take advantage of opportunities when they come your way.