Starting out in any career can be intimidating when you have no experience, but everyone has to start somewhere. Here are some helpful steps you can take to become a professional bartender. Good luck!
Step 1: Memorize Classic Cocktails
Start by looking up recipes for popular cocktails, and memorize them. Some examples are the Old Fashioned, Martini, Margarita, Long Island Iced Tea, Bloody Mary, Whiskey Sour, and the Manhattan. Of course there are hundreds of drinks you could memorize (and many bars like to put their own spin on them), but having a good base knowledge of some classic cocktails will make you look well informed and eager to learn the ropes when it comes time to learn how to pour.
Step 2: Learn Basic Bartending Lingo
There are important terms that every bartender should know, and although you can learn these while you are being trained, it looks good to have an understanding of them beforehand. Some of these terms are words people use when they are ordering a drink, like “on the rocks”, “up”, “neat”, or “with a twist”. Other terms refer to they way a drink is made, like muddling, shaking, or stirring.
Step 3: Spend Some *Sober* Time in a Bar
Hang out at a bar where you can order food and watch bartenders while they work. Watching a bartender’s movements and actions while they make drinks can actually be very informative. If the bartender is friendly you could tell them about your interest in becoming a bartender and ask for some tips.
Step 4: Apply for a Barback Job
Now that you are familiar with some bartender lingo and classic cocktail recipes it is time to find a job as a barback. You can look for jobs online or go into restaurants and ask for the manager in person. Make sure you come off as outgoing and personable, and that you look professional. If you are a people person, you shouldn’t have a problem making a good first impression. An important part of being a bartender is talking and listening to people – so make sure it is known that you are excited about that part of the job.
Step 5: Put Your Best Foot Forward
Once you land a barback job, make sure you take it seriously. At some bars and restaurants, this position can be seen as a “tryout” for eventually moving up to a bartending position. Make sure you always get to work on time, dress well, and offer your assistance.
Step 6: Become Friendly With the Bartending Staff
Although you want to make sure that you don’t get in the bartender’s way while they are busy, you should be friendly and try to develop a good relationship with them. Always ask if they need extra help and chat with them when the bar isn’t busy. Developing a good rapport with your higher ups will be instrumental when you ask to be more involved.
Step 7: Ask to Be More Involved and Learn How to Pour
Once you have established that you are a good employee and have made some connections with the bartenders that you work under, you should start to be vocal about your desire to be more involved. Tell the bartenders you work with that you would like to start learning more, and that you eventually want to become a bartender yourself. In most cases, if you have developed a good relationship, they will take you under their wing and teach you the basics during off hours. Learn everything you can about different liquors, beers, garnishes, glasses, and techniques.
Step 8: Practice Makes Perfect
Once you have learned the basics from your co-workers, you should invest in some bartending tools and start practicing on your own. Throw a get together with your friends (as long as they are all over 21) or offer to bartend at someone’s party to get more experience on your own. Getting your friend’s honest opinions can help you adjust your technique and can also help you develop a thick skin because some customers won’t be so pleasant when they are unhappy with your service.
Step 9: Talk to Management About Moving Up and Become a Bartender
Unless you ask to move up, you’ll never get the opportunity. A manager can’t read your mind even though you are always working above and beyond. You can talk to the bartenders and ask their opinion on how to move up or go straight to management depending on the atmosphere at work. If the bar you work at doesn’t want to move you up or has no openings, consider applying at other bars. If you are going around to new restaurants or bars, it is a good idea to get friendly with some bartenders because this will give you a better in. Be outgoing and confident whenever you talk to a manager, and let them know about all your experience and your commitment to the craft. Show your interest and determination by being persistent and check back to make sure hiring managers haven’t forgotten you.
Step 10: You Did It!
Finally you are a bartender and have perfected the craft! Now it’s your turn to give back and to take a newbie under your wing.