There is this saying that a theory that you can’t explain to a bartender is probably no damn good. Truth be told, I agree with it 100%. When you are in a bar, the liquid courage can drive you to say whatever you want, from your plan for the night to stock market investment tips. With enough alcohol, you might even let out your frustration and have a good cry, just like this man in Rehab’s song. That’s not something I often recommend people to do, though:
“Bartender I really did it this time
Broke my parole to have a good time
When I got home it was 6 am
The door was locked so I kicked it in
She was trippin’ on the bills
I think she was high on some pills
She threw my shit out into the yard
Then she called me a bum and slapped me real hard
And in my drunken’ stuper I did what I shoulda’ never done
And now I’m sittin’ here, talkin’ to you, drunk and on the run”
Rehab – Bartender Song (Sittin’ At A Bar)
That’s right, bartenders understand the basics of small talks just as much as they know how to mix a great drink. They will happily engage in a conversation with you about almost every topic – it’s a part of their job. Still, there are things that they won’t randomly unfold, like how much do bartenders make. These are a bit too complicated to bring up with a Jack & Coke in hand. If you are finding your way to become one of them, reading this article is probably more comfortable than asking a bartender.
Table of Contents
A Job Outlook For Anyone Who Wants To Become Bartenders
What’s the future of bartending? – Source: Unsplash
According to surveys from study.com in 2019, the future of bartending was bright, mainly thanks to a high job turnover rate. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic, many American drinkers had a chance to refine their bartending skills. Does the rise of home bartenders impact the bar industry?
As seen on the U.S Bureau Of Labor Statistics, the demand for bartenders is likely to grow 32% from 2020 to 2030. This projection is much faster than the average for all occupations. Furthermore, over the next ten years, an average of 111,300 bartender openings are expected. This is highly possible due to the need to replace workers who change occupations or leave the workforce for different reasons, such as retirement.
Looking at statistics, the rising interest in home bartending doesn’t seem to pose a threat to the bar industry. To explain this, Adam Robinson, owner of Portland cocktail bar Deadshot, said that the sense of community is something customers can’t create at home. Kellie Thorn, Hugh Acheson Restaurant’s beverage director agreed. According to her, drinks are not the only reason consumers come to bars. They also seek the atmosphere and social interactions with bartenders and other patrons.
How Much Do Bartenders Make?
Let’s move on to the next question, ‘How much do bartenders make?”. As I previously mentioned, that’s a complicated question. Unlike office jobs, a bartender’s income consists of two things: Wages and tips. It is easy to calculate the average wage, but tips can vary excessively depending on many factors. Therefore, figuring out how much a bartender earns is quite a challenge.
How much do bartenders make? – Source: Unsplash
If you are looking for a bartender job here in the U.S., you are lucky. In recent years, society has started acknowledging bartending as a genuine career path (and it is!). Moreover, Americans have a long-standing tipping culture, so most bartenders’ incomes are from tips. This also means their incomes vary greatly based on where they are from, the venues they work for, the shifts they work, and how skilled they are.
As seen on the Bureau Of Labour Statistics, the average hourly salary for a bartender (including tips) is roughly $12.30, which means $25,580 per year. The top earners can earn up to $19.34 per hour and $40,230 per year.
However, the BLS can’t track how much bartenders can earn from tips. The only way to find out is to examine the factors mentioned above.
Where Do You Work?
If you work in a bigger and more prosperous city/area, you will have more chances to raise your income. There are more people for you to serve, and those people will be more generous with their money.
Let’s take a look at this photo from the BLS and find out the highest-paying areas in the country. Please note that since the BLS can’t calculate the exact amount bartenders make from tips, these statistics are not 100% accurate. You should only use this image to grab a general idea.
How much do bartenders make depending on states? – Source: Bureau Of Labour Statistics
And below are some highest-paying metropolitan areas:
Highest-paying metropolitan areas – Source: Crafty Bartending
So, if you want to make a decent amount of money as a bartender, you can start your career at the coast or go to metropolitans like San Francisco, Boston, or New York.
Shifts And Venues
Of course, your income increases as you work busier shifts. You make more money when you serve more drinks, it’s that simple. Generally, the ideal shifts to work are Friday and Saturday evenings. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights are considered slow shifts. Most often, bartenders can choose their swing shifts.
Even in the same venue, the amount you make varies greatly based on the shifts you work. To be more specific, I will divide venues into three categories based on how much a bartender might earn from tips. The categories are lower, middle, and upper.
In lower-class bars, bartenders earn the least amount of money from tips. Dive bars and lower-class restaurants are among them. A bartender may not receive any tips on a quiet night. On slow nights, they can make at least $40 on average. Busy nights will bring them up to $200, but that’s the highest amount they can get.
Sports bars, well-attended music venues, decent restaurants, and nice pubs are examples of middle-class bars. On slow nights, bartenders will earn around $40. On busy nights, though, they can get up to $250. Once in a while, some really good nights will bring as much as $500. The key difference between middle-class and lower-class bars is that the former will have more good nights.
For the upper-class bars, we have high-end nightclubs, fine-dining restaurants, and specialty bars. Bartenders working in these venues can earn a significant amount of money: At least $150 on slow nights and $400 – $600 on good nights.
How Far Can You Go?
Perhaps you have heard about bartenders who make 6 figure incomes. They do exist. However, you need to have the expertise to be one of them (over 5 years). You will also be required to work long hours at some of the city’s most prestigious businesses.
It is possible to reach a 6-figure income as a bartender – Source: Unsplash
Of course, it will be a long way until you can reach these positions. Nonetheless, it is still possible. If you can train yourself to become the finest bartender and stay in the field for 3 – 5 years at least, you can get there.
A survey from “The Real Barman” shows that the average income of bartenders is around $25 – $ 35 per hour. That makes $50,000 – $70,000 per year.
Rob Doherty, aka ‘The Tipsy Bartender’, stated that he’d make between $100 and $300 every night. Sometimes, he could make up to $600. By now, the Tipsy Bartender net worth is around $450.73 thousand, according to Net Worth Spot.
These are typical incomes for bartenders with little experience. From my perspective, it’s quite a good salary. Also, being a bartender is an excellent stepping stone to learn the skill of a sommelier master, which further increases your earning.
What Exactly Does A Bartender Do?
Close your eyes and try to picture a bartender. What you have in mind is probably a glamorous guy or girl leaning on the bar with a towel thrown over their shoulders and a charming smile. They spin the tin in their hands with ease, shake up Martinis and pour draft beer while chatting with flocks of good-looking people without a drop of sweat. They simply nod when you ask for your favorite cocktail – it’s just one of the countless recipes they can instantly summon. After all, they are human encyclopedias of hundreds of drink recipes.
There is no surprise that a bartender is someone all the girls (or guys) want to go home with. Just like Jim Meehan wrote, they know the art of hiding all the work and serving up the pleasure. Behind the bar counter, though, their duties are so much more than what you see.
Bartenders reveal secrets about bars
Setting Up And Keeping The Bar Area Clean
At the beginning of a shift, bartenders are responsible for setting up the bar area. Filling glassware closets, loading ice machines, cleaning up after the previous shift, setting out ashtrays and munchies, or organizing tools like shakers, pitchers, bottle openers, and cutlery are all part of this.
While bar managers have to write bar cleaning checklists, bartenders are also in charge of keeping the bar spotless. Keeping a tidy workstation can be second nature to bartenders. If the bar is not well-organized, it will soon become a disaster. Aside from efficiency, bartenders need to keep it clean for hygiene purposes.
Keeping the bar clean is a priority throughout the shift, not only during opening and closing. Bartenders have to pay special attention to any unwanted stain or dirt while serving customers and making drinks. Additionally, they manage cleaning equipment and delegate much of the cleaning in the barback job description.
Serving Customers At The Bar
As a bartender, your very first responsibility is to greet and serve. It is people’s nature to seek reasons for things. What should they order for tonight? Should they order that? Bartenders will be the ones to give recommendations and push customers over the edge of indecision. There is a huge difference between the winter cocktail on your menu and a bartender sincerely suggesting the winter cocktail on your menu just because he thinks it suits you.
After a few questions, bartenders should give drink suggestions that can turn a standard experience into an unforgettable one. They can also use their socializing skills and knowledge to upsell cocktails and wrap up the night with some extra money in their pocket.
Bartenders also play the role of social confidante. It is an informal yet crucial role and often portrayed in Hollywood movies. As a part of customer service, they need to interact with patrons and create a comfortable atmosphere. Some go to the bar to relieve stress and escape from their everyday routines. Because bartenders are considered non-judgmental, customers might share their stories with them. Keep a cheerful, friendly attitude and be a good listener can boost your chances of receiving good tips.
Making & Serving Drinks
After giving recommendations and getting orders from customers, bartenders shall get to their main duty: Making and serving drinks. Regarding this, there are two levels. First and foremost, they need to be well-versed in all the classic drinks. Second, they have to familiarize themselves with the basic ingredients so that they can play around with them and create new drinks.
Having a deep understanding of the liquors is crucial for bartenders – Source: Unsplash
Take a look at all the “most popular cocktails” list of any year, and you will see that they are almost the same. If a bartender acquires around 30 cocktails recipes, they shall fulfill 75% of customers’ requests. Aside from that, they need to remember the standard pour for each drink to create the perfect blend and maximize profits. Some of the classic cocktails every bartender knows are Margarita, Martini, Old Fashioned, and Moscow Mule.
Sometimes, though, customers want to get something special. That’s when having a deep understanding of the primary liquors (Brandy, Rum, Gin, Whiskey, Vodka, or Tequila) brings huge benefits. If a bartender has a good taste for the main liquor family and the way each interacts with mixers and juices, they can free their inner mixologist. This satisfies guests and helps bars develop signature cocktails, which can turn out to be enormous moneymakers.
Of course, all the bartenders out there know how to pour a beer, but it doesn’t sound so impressive. You may also be required to take alcohol server training, depending on your state.
If you think being a bartender will save you from dealing with numbers, sorry for disappointing you. For any retail sales business (including the bar), having a balanced drawer at the end of each shift is critical. The problem with bars is that their environment is much frantic than other retail.
Maintaining correct records, processing payments quickly, and keeping a balanced drawer becomes more challenging. To fulfill this task, bartenders need to pay close attention to every detail. As a customer, you might forget about this, but it is one of the most important responsibilities.
This is optional since managing bar inventory is the duty of bar managers in most cases. However, a competent bar manager will rely on the expertise of their bartenders to manage the beverage program’s inventory. This consists of alcoholic products, mixers, and even bar supplies such as cocktail napkins, glassware, and other items.
Managing the inventory is a part of bartending job – Source: Unsplash
Most often, bartenders will assist in counting the inventory. That means they will go through all the bottles of alcohol and take note of their levels on a spreadsheet. In some bars, bartenders find out the levels by using beverage inventory management software such as BinWise Pro to scan labels on each bottle. Some bartenders, on the other hand, will be fully in charge of the bar inventory management.
Design The Menu
Menu engineering is based on the idea that your menu is a tool. Your most profitable beverage will turn into the most popular one and vice versa. You can do this by taking advantage of how people interact with menus, where they turn their attention to first, and what attracts them.
Most people would not expect this when it comes to a bartender’s duties, but bartenders can design a menu for bars. They know what drinks are profitable, what drinks are guests’ favorites, and how customers react to the menu. Most importantly, they can create signature cocktails. Therefore, they hold the recipes for money-making drinks they know for sure will sell.
Placing Food Orders
Finally, don’t forget that bartenders will have to take food orders. That means they have to master the food menu aside from understanding drinks. Then they can use the same flexibility and suggestiveness on the food menu as they would on the drink menu.
So, How To Become A Bartender?
If you are thinking of becoming a bartender but don’t know where to start, these tips can be your road map:
Get The Right Certificate
A bartending license or certificate is not compulsory in all states. Still, you need to pay attention to your local bartending law. Moreover, having a certificate might make you stand out when competing with other candidates for the position.
To get a certificate, you must be of the legal age for serving alcohol. This might vary from state to state. A bartender license course will familiarize you with the following subjects:
- A thorough understanding of the laws and penalties regarding minors
- How to tell when a customer intoxicated
- Ways to deal with and prevent commotions
Kickstart Your Career As A Barback Or Server
Being a barback or server can help you kickstart your bartending career – Source: Unsplash
Many choose to attend bartending schools as a quick way to reach the goal. There are many skills you can learn, such as how to pour and practice mixology. Still, bartending schools won’t teach you how to deal with a tough crowd or impatient guests.
Therefore, it would be unwise to rely on bartending schools alone. If you ask successful bartenders, the most specific advice you get is to begin your career as a barback. This position does not require any experience. All you need to do is working hard.
As a barback, you will familiarize yourself with almost all the manual works behind the bar, such as cleaning, refilling, and even heavy lifting. Since the barback is a bartender’s assistant, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to pick up tips and gain experience.
Being a waiter or waitress in a restaurant is also a good way to learn from experienced bartenders. Restaurants that offer alcoholic beverages have positions for bartenders, and you can even get promoted if you stay long enough and prove yourself to be an efficient server.
Learn From Your Bartending Mentor
When you start as a barback or server, it is best to look for a bartender to be your mentor. These tips shall be useful along the way:
- Treat your bartenders with decency.
- Keep the bar well-stocked and anticipate their needs.
- When it’s a busy hour, don’t disturb them with questions.
- Wait for a slow night if you want to start a conversation.
- Find a bartender who is happy to share his or her experience with you.
Sharpen Your Soft Skills
Since you have gone through all the tasks and duties of a bartender, you know that soft skills are a big part of the job. After all, a bartender doesn’t only prepare drinks but also chat with customers and maintain a friendly, approachable atmosphere.
Here are some of the soft skills to develop:
- Socializing. You have more chances to boost your income if you know how to interact and build a connection with your guests.
- Multitasking. The ability to fulfill many tasks under pressure is the key to success as a bartender. You will have to handle many drink requests at once while interacting with customers and keeping the bar environment tidy.
- Paying attention to detail. Being accurate and precise doesn’t only help you excel as a bartender but also saves you from a lot of unwanted troubles. You need to make drinks in the shortest time and deliver the best quality. Moreover, don’t forget that you are also in charge of processing payments!
- Team-working. Bartending has never been a solo endeavor. You are going to work with many people, including hosts, barbacks, and managers. Get ready to be a team player.
‘Always Be Yourself, Or You Can’t Be A Bartender’
Being a bartender is not always romantic. There are many things off-screen that you might not see, including stocking the bar, cleaning stations, and even checking IDs of your guests. Still, it is a uniquely rewarding career for many people. If you think you are the one to meet all kinds of interesting people, hear their stories, and put a smile on their faces, the place behind the bar is just right!
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