Photo: George Rudy

7 Life Lessons You Learn From Bartending

by Melissa Allen May 23, 2018

Bartenders spend their working lives tending to the needs of others. This nightly proximity to humanity teaches you a thing or two about how to be a well-rounded person. Here are some life lessons, we’ve picked up from working behind the bar.

1. Don’t be an asshole.

Yes, this is the most obvious of life lessons, but somehow many people seem to have missed the memo. If I could take one lesson with me from my bartending life, it would be that a little understanding goes a long way. If the bar is crowded, give your bartender an extra minute before you order. Buybacks should be greeted with appreciation, not expectation. I know that waiting for a drink at a busy bar can be frustrating, but nothing ruins a bartender’s mood faster than rude patrons.

2. If it ain’t broke, it will be soon.

Everything falls apart eventually. As soon as you fix a broken printer, the ice machine stops working. You are almost out of the weeds when a glass shatters all over your bar. The more you can anticipate potential issues, the more you can prevent being caught off guard. And when things do break, fix them immediately. Bar owners love band-aids, but we all know that the more band-aids you slap on, the more costly the wound in the long run.

3. Always be prepared.

In the service industry, there is a saying: “Always expect to be busy.” Even if it is a Monday night in the dead of winter, you must make sure you stocked properly. When you are bartending, anything can happen (see above). So any possible complications that can be avoided – i.e. warm kegs or running out of limes – should be avoided. As in life, working in a bar can be very stressful. Preparedness takes some of that stress away.

4. Do the best you can with what you got.

No one is perfect. Some nights you are underprepared. Some nights you are caught off guard. Some nights you are tired or sick or just not in the mood. In those moments, you have to take a breath and say to yourself, “I’m doing the best I can with what I got.” It might not be as good as it was yesterday. It might not be as good as it will be tomorrow, but it’s the best you’ve got today. Until the robots take over our jobs, that’s all anyone can ask for.

5. Sometimes you are the problem.

The bartender sets the vibe for the whole bar. We are the host of the party. I know I said before that customers can be assholes, but sometimes we are the bigger assholes. On those nights, when it feels like every patron is giving you a hard time, you have to take a hard look at your own energy. When we are stressed or annoyed, we give off negative vibes. Guests often, unintentionally, absorb that energy and reflect it back to us. It is vital to take a beat and try to let it go.

6. Sometimes you are the solution.

Conversely, we have the power to make a person’s day better. Sometimes, focusing on the customer experience, taking the time to really chat with a new guest or crafting a special cocktail for a regular, can both improve our mood and make someone else happy. Nothing gets you out of your own head better than being generous to another person.

7. This too shall pass.

Every night at the bar is a reminder that you can get through anything. No matter how busy or how boring, you always make it to the end of your shift. In those moments, when you are drowning in drink orders, it’s helpful to remind yourself that it won’t last forever. Last call is always on the horizon.

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