“Maybe I should quit the rat race and get a job tending bar on the beach in Mexico.”
I hear variations on this fantasy all the time — especially from corporate refugees under 35. From a cramped cubicle in Corporate America, the life of a bartender can seem pretty sweet and carefree. Especially if you’ve just watched a late-night TBS screening of Tom Cruise in Cocktail.
And if you happen to be between jobs right now and looking to make a few bucks, you might be thinking that you could do worse than get paid to make cocktails.
This thought might have occurred to you while crying into your beer and watching your favorite barkeep work the crowd and pocket plenty of large bills and phone numbers.
At a hot club, you could earn $1,000 in a single night behind the bar.
So let’s look at the realities of that bartending fantasy. Is it really possible for a corporate escapee to make a living behind the bar? Are you cut out for the bartending life?
I asked Rocco Romito, experienced bartender and founder of bartending job site Mybarlink.com, to share some expert advice for aspiring bartenders:
Pam: Is bartending a good way to make money during a recession?
Rocco: Bartending is a great way for someone to make extra cash during a recession. People normally drink more than usual during two types of situations in life. When you’re celebrating something, there is almost always liquor involved.
Unfortunately (or fortunately for us bartenders) , people also drink excessively when they are depressed. Every night, there are people out there drowning their sorrows in cocktails after losing a job, leaving a relationship, or just having a bad day. I think we’ve all been in this boat at one time or another. The way our economy is right now, I’d say this is happening even more than in times past.
Pam: What kind of training/experience do you need to get a bartending job?
Rocco: A lot depends on where you want to work. There really is no minimum experience required to get a job as a bartender. You can go a long way with a great personality and people skills.
Many establishments will actually train you on the job if they think you have potential. To learn basic bartending skills, most people start out at an establishment that is not very busy (so they have time to learn and get comfortable) or they go to a bartending school.
Bartending school is absolutely NOT required to get hired behind a bar, but it can help you get familiar with the different liquors, pouring techniques, etc. If you have NO experience and don’t know anyone who is or was a bartender, then it may not be a bad idea to go to school and get comfortable behind the bar (they actually teach you with colored water).
The best way to get a bartending job, though, is to ask around at some of your local bars, restaurants, and clubs. Whenever inquiring about a job as a bartender, always show up in person. Be sure to look presentable, smile, and demonstrate a good sense of humor. Managers want to see that you’re comfortable around people and will be able to interact well with patrons.
Pam: How much can you expect to make as a bartender?
Rocco: Most establishments pay a very small salary (could be $3.00 per hour or up to $40.00 per shift depending on the place). The good news is that this is only about 5-10% of what you can expect to earn for the night.
In New York City, for example, there are many different types of places that need bartenders. Realistically, with no experience, a beginner bartender could expect to make between $125-$200 per night. With a little more experience, you could make $300-$400 tending bar at a smaller pub or tavern (depending on the night of the week and w hat’s gong on).
In most high-end NYC nightclubs and lounges, a bartender averages $800-$1000 on a good night. To make the big money at a popular cub, you will need to be an experienced bartender. However, it doesn’t take very long to get to that point if you’re motivated. For example, if a bartender has 8-12 months experience, has a great personality, a great attitude, and interviews well, they have a great shot at landing a job at one of these “high profile” establishments.
Have you ever worked as a bartender? Do you have additional advice for those who fantasize about taking a career break to mix margaritas? Please share.