Whether you want to show off your superior mixing skills to more of an audience than just your closest friends or feel like making a career transition to a fun, flexible role, breaking into bartending can be a daunting task.
Switching careers or launching yourself as a professional in a new field, in general, can be stressful, but the bartending industry definitely has its barriers to entry for those without experience. However, just because it can be challenging to get your foot in the door–or, in this case, behind the bar counter–doesn’t mean that it is an impossible task.
While you may need to take some small steps to set yourself up for the ultimate goal of becoming a bartender, persistence and strategic planning can help you reach your dreams of professional bartending.
Can you get hired as a bartender with no experience?
While it’s not impossible to get hired as a bartender with no experience, it is a little unlikely that a bar will be willing to take a chance on someone who has never mixed a drink before.
And before you ask, no, mixing your own vodka and orange juice with a personal screwdriver does not count as bartending experience. It might have meant something to your fellow students at college parties, but that kind of experience is unlikely to attract the attention of a hiring bar manager. Bartending is a professional role with certain considerations, standards, and expectations.
Using house party punch mixing on your resume might count against you rather than for you, depending on the bar where you are seeking employment. If anything, it might just encourage a hiring manager to take a deep dive into researching your college antics and finding regrettable moments on social media.
Take our word for it–relevant professional experience will look much better to a hiring manager than the questionable choices you made in your younger years.
If you want to become a bartender, the first step to getting behind a bar counter might be getting in front of a textbook (or computer, for online learners) for bartending school. That’s right–even bartenders go to school to sharpen their skills before they start with hands-on practice.
Bartending school alone isn’t enough to stand out among the stiff competition, though. Especially in a competitive market such as the downtown area of a major city or the most popular bar in town, bartending school is the bare minimum requirement.
If you are looking into bartending schools, make sure that they are accredited by the state. While there are plenty of places that claim to be bartending schools online, some might provide all the necessary materials without qualifying you from a state’s accreditation perspective.
Doing a little extra research now can save you the trouble of spending time and money learning to bartend without anything worthwhile to show for it.
Additionally, you may want to research whether your state or region requires a bartending license to begin bartending. Although many states do not require a bartending license, a bartending license will give you an extra boost of credibility when employers are reviewing your application.
Also, a bartending license certifies that you know the laws that surround bartending and the basics of bartending on paper.
While mixing delicious cocktails or getting a good sight of your favorite sports game while cheering along with the regulars might sound like living the dream, bartending is a serious business. If you don’t know how to avoid serving minors, identify stages of intoxication in patrons, and have the skills to deescalate a disturbance, you may find yourself in sticky situations as a new bartender.
Alcohol is a legal substance, but it is regulated for a reason. Bartending might be enjoyable for those who like chatting up customers, working late nights, raking in tips, and creating new drink recipes, but there are a lot of problems that bartenders need to handle on a daily basis.
If you want to become a bartender, it may help to start nudging your career in that direction with roles that are adjacent to bartending but have a lower barrier to entry.
Barbacking isn’t for the faint of heart, though. It takes a lot of grit and a hard work ethic to succeed and sustain working as a barback. To get the most out of your time barbacking, there are a few tips to remember.
As webstaurantstore.com shares on their website, “As you stock beer and liquor for the bar, make a point to learn the different brand names. Watch the bartender as they make cocktails and make note of the most popular drinks. Get comfortable behind the bar and helping with customer requests.
Memorize bartending terms like straight up and on the rocks. Learn when to prepare for the busy rushes and stock up accordingly. Become familiar with the different types of barware and garnishes. Provide support for your bartenders and in return they may teach you how to bartend.”
If you do decide to bar back and get worn down by the demands of the job, just remember that bartenders have a similar workload. Bartenders spend the entire shift on their feet mixing drinks, putting out potential disturbances before they start, and moving heavy items related to the job. It’s physically and emotionally a very demanding career, but it can be equally rewarding for the right person.
By trying out barbacking first, you can see if you have what it takes to do this job. You can also see if you have the desire to pursue bartending once you know what it’s actually like.
Another good idea for those who want to break into bartending is to find a mentor who can show you the ropes and guide you as a new bartender. If you get a job as a barback and your bartender agrees to mentor you, then this is a perfect opportunity.
If not, you can ask friends who are working in the field or see if a bar manager would be willing to pair you with a bartender as an assistant while you are in bartending school.
If you really want to become a bartender, the best path to success is working hard, studying hard, and being ready and willing to do whatever it takes to get your foot in the door (within reason).
If you can keep your attitude positive, your availability open (especially on nights and weekends when bars are busiest), and stay humble while you are still learning, you can go a long way in getting your first bartending position.
According to localwise.com, “Bartenders really earn their keep on weekend nights, so being able to work those shifts is part and parcel of the industry. Demonstrate your reliability by responding to communication from potential employers and by showing up on time to your interview — and by following up after you’ve spoken to reiterate your interest in the job.”
Even if you aren’t officially interviewed, being prompt, professional, and friendly in communications can overcome some objections surrounding your lack of experience. People are more likely to want to train someone who is likable and easy to work with than someone who seems off-putting and unresponsive.
The best way to get started in bartending (or really any new field) is to ask current managers what they are looking for in a candidate. Ask a bar manager what bartending school they prefer, if they prefer that a bartender has a license, or if they have a set path to becoming a bartender.
This way, you will not only look like a proactive, enthusiastic applicant, but you will also have a better chance of getting the job down the road.
If you do show up at a bar to speak with the manager about how to break into bartending, be courteous and considerate of their time. Try to call ahead and see when they would be most available to speak and least busy. Don’t even bother showing up on a Friday night or casually asking the bartender about a fun night out.
Dress professionally for the meeting like you would for an interview and keep your meeting briefly to the point. With these tips, you might just be able to get your first job bartending without any experience.