Underpaid, and loving it!
According to a 2012 handbook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, bartenders make $9.09 per hour on average (including tips). Fine by me – if they want to believe that... It’ll look perfectly good on a tax-return. Less unlikely is the fact that between 2012 and 2022 growth in the industry is expected to manage 12% or about 66,000 new bartenders. Another source for 2013 says wages are in the $21,770 per year range. There is no reason in the world that you can’t hold a Ph.D. and be a bartender, but the requirements of the job don’t even stipulate having finished high school. On the whole, it’s a pretty good gig.
Part of the reason there are plenty of opportunities in bartending is the high turnover rate. People drop into the profession for a few years at college to pay tuition fees, buy books, and all the associated costs, but then they graduate and become a professional of some sort and never bartend again. But I bet they have tons of really cool stories about monster tips, incredibly busy nights, people, and celebrities they’ve met.
Now let’s say you have a “normal” job and earn $10 per hour and work a 40 hour week. $400 right? Pretty easy calculation.
How is that going to differ if you serve 400 drinks and everyone gives you a $1 tip? Well, for one thing you’d only have to work one night a week to make the same money (plus your wage, beyond your tips). Granted not everyone will give you a buck, but some will give you $20 just because they like you.
The key is to find a good place to work. Weekend support work as an auxiliary bartender in a nightclub will get you started, giving you a chance to solidify your skills and build your confidence. If there are 15 bartenders and several hundred people dancing, you’ll be busy all night. Maybe you’ll start on garbage and garnish detail and not interact with many customers or get very many tips. Ah, the price of fame… Keep it up. You’ll get your chance.
Often bartender jobs at fine hotels, country clubs, and restaurants are more coveted because of higher salaries and greater earnings potential from tips. It might not be a good idea to hit those places until you can make 50 different drinks without looking at a book. These places are for skill-players – they need to have a level of aplomb and confidence far beyond what a newbie can bring to the table. Don’t think the person in charge won’t test you. Just saying you’re a good bartender isn’t enough. They might ask you to make ten different drinks and taste them all just to prove you know your stuff...
A good place to start is the Second bar (the Lounge), usually a smaller, intimate bar in the larger hotel chains. Quiet, dark with overstuffed chairs and a fireplace. It’s not as profitable, but the wage is the same as working the main bar, and it’s a slower pace so you can get your sea-legs.
If the main bar is busy, they can close the Second bar and move you to the front to help out. As well, you can be drafted to work private functions within the hotel. Just to sweeten the pot, they’ll often have a benefits package just like any other employee, and in many cases it’s up to you whether you work full-time or part-time. You could do Monday to Thursday at the hotel lounge, and then your main gig Friday and Saturday at the Night Club.
If you want to travel, you can try to work the cruise lines. That pays well with built-in tips on all the drinks. And there are more bars on one of those ships than you can throw sticks at… That is a skill-slot too since you’ll meet people from all over the world, and they’ll all have their little peccadillos and preferences. But try not to admit you don’t know a drink. Say: “White-water Rapids? … Gee, I know about three different ways to make that… What ingredients do you prefer?”
If you’re the chatty type, you might want to try the pub circuit. Lots of chatter there and a good chance to build up rapport with “regulars”. Sometimes they’ll treat you like family and give you birthday presents and Christmas presents or whatever the season brings.
Restaurant bars are good if your mixing for seated patrons and wait staff deliver the drinks. You can look up obscure drinks with no one watching you. It’s often a slower paced job, ideally suited to newbies. Some come equipped with stools or chairs so you can interact directly with people who are waiting for a table.
Liquid Catering is a further option. These are private companies with portable bars that come fully stocked to supply drinks for weddings, parties, corporate summits, or whatever can be imagined. The menus are customized according to preferences or needs. All glassware is supplied, as well as uniformed bartenders, servers, and staff. They can often even provide an attended children’s refreshment center. Bars are generally decorated appropriately for the event, and staff clothing can even be themed to match the event.
You might even get on the festival and event circuit. Working a beer tent can actually be fairly profitable in the tip department. You might not always have work, but it can pay for a few luxury items over the course of a year.
And just like anywhere else, there are theme parks and similar venues. They’ll have all-year staff, or seasonal employment depending on where they’re located. Ski resorts are nice with healthy, active people that don’t often get wildly drunk. Better yet, they’re often reasonably well-off and capable of tipping nicely.
So there you have it. There are lots of places you could work, including little hole-in-the-wall bars, all the way up to cruise ships if you’re willing to sign on for a six month stint. It might be cheaper to put your stuff in storage and get rid of the apartment for half a year, or sublet it to someone.
There are lots of choices, and they can be made to fit your lifestyle, whatever it is. So let’s get you up to speed with some proper training so you can hit the good stops-along-the-way!