Every great bartender has a long and storied history on how they became a successful bartender. Some of those stories start as 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 off behind the bar, but we aim to point you in the right direction. With a little education and some great tips from our instructors you can start your bartending career on the right path.
How to Become a Successful Bartender
1. Start with Training at a 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. To start, don’t be picky about things like location, and the type of music the place plays. Chances are 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.
Lots of Opportunities out there
Recent graduates have been hired as bartenders at Boston Pizza, White Spot, and Moxies. Family restaurants also hire regularly. 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 also need bartenders. When you are out there applying to places with resume in hand. Check out 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.
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. Your chances are way higher than they would be where your competing with the 20 other resumes that have been dropped off that week.
Image courtesy of A Lemasson-Theobald
3. The Successful Bartender Always is Seeking 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, you now have some experience! The successful bartender knows what kind of job they want. You are now in a better position to go get one too.
KEEP YOUR CURRENT BARTENDING JOB!
You do not have to quit one job before you start applying around for a better job. Put resumes out at the better places you could see yourself working at for a couple of years. Like before, this doesn’t have to be the greatest job in the universe where you see yourself retiring. Make it 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.
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, connect with them! The best jobs are not advertised, they come from referrals. 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. 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. Don’t order obscure drinks to trip them up & show off how knowledgeable you are. Say to the bartender, “I graduated from a bartending school last fall, and I have been bartending at Boston Pizza for 6 months. 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. The successful bartender starts humble, and builds a network of contacts.
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. Any successful bartender will go to seminars, build their networks, and go to industry events. This is where those that are serious about bartending start to pull away from the others working at chain restaurant. There’s nothing wrong with working at a chain restaurant, you make good cash.
Craft Cocktail Scene
If you enjoy making super high quality cocktails, then the craft cocktail scene is the place for you. Create interesting flavoured syrups. Infuse different spirits. Make your own bitters. Go to the bars where craft cocktails are number one, and network. The Keefer Bar, The Diamond, Boneta, Chambar, Market, Uva, The Union & George to name a few. Subscribe to Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s blog, attend cocktail competitions like Made with Love go to the Hopscotch festival in the fall
Learn about Wine
If wine service and fine dining is your thing, get out into Vancouver’s Wine World. Attend 1 day seminars, maybe just start working towards your WSET / sommelier certification 1 night a week. Go to wineries. Tour The Okanagan and check out the wineries. Taste different wines! 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!
Check out the Clubs
If nightclubs are your thing, then start networking with nightclub staff when you are out partying. Again, be humble. Opportunities come from networking, so keep at it. If you are serious about ending up bartending in a nightclub specifically, a big thing you want to focus on is building your contact list. Get fast behind the bar and know every shooter in town.
When I was running a nightclub, and I needed to hire 1 bartender, I would usually hire the bartender I thought could bring in the most customers. The candidate with less experience and 1000 friends on Instagram was 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 training institution 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 a career in bartending 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 was at Cafe Crepe on Granville street. There he mostly serving pitchers of cheap beer to students, and serving the occasional crepe. We all know it’s 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 was interested in flair bartending, so he took our flair seminar at Fine Art Vancouver. He stayed at Cafe Crepe for 6 months and practiced 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. You can also search for Luca Corradini on Youtube! He now has his own restaurant and bar.
The Successful Bartender is Eager and Knowledgeable
Luca’s path to success was due to his eagerness. His interest in flair also helped. He took a few specialty seminars and spent lots of time practicing. In addition, Luca was good about building up his contacts and that networking took him all over the world. We have lots of successful grads that went down the wine route. Others started in the craft cocktail scene and moved to a busy high volume nightclub. We have lots of grads in different bartending jobs, in different areas of the world; Caribbean, Australia, Europe, Asia, etc… You just have to start somewhere by getting your foot in the door. After that, network and take advantage of opportunities when they come your way.