Every job has a learning curve and bartending is no exception. There’s a multitude of tips and knowledge about the industry that, if written down, would make one hell of a dummies guide — and a serious deterrent to many aspiring bartenders. If you’ve been working as a bartender for some time and are nostalgic about your humble beginnings, or if you’re new to the industry and need to know what you’re in for, here are our top nine things that every one of us wishes we had known before becoming bartenders.
1. Every shift is an eight-hour arm workout.
Of course, bartending is a physical job, but you don’t realize just how tiresome it is until you’ve had your first proper week behind the bar. Between hauling kegs, restocking booze, and shaking cocktails, your body will be sore. If you work several shifts in a row, you may need to spend a day in bed to physically recover — but your biceps will thank you.
2. It’s all about multitasking.
When I first started bartending, my greatest concern was remembering all the cocktail recipes — and that turned out to actually be the easy part. The hard part of bartending is the multitasking. You must make drinks, take orders, settle tabs, and engage patrons, all at the same time. Learning how to handle the rush while remaining calm is what makes a great bartender.
3. There’s a difference between a bar friend and real friend.
As a barkeep, you tend to spend more time with your regulars than your real friends. While you do develop close bonds with your bar friends, some element of your relationship is still transactional. I’ve often heard the sentiment, “I’m not his friend, I’m his bartender.” While some bar friends do become real friends, it’s usually more like a barbershop-style friendship with most regulars.
4. Your hands will be destroyed.
All aspiring hand models — bartending is not the career for you. With building cocktails, hand-washing glassware, and dealing with lots of liquids, your hands go through the ringer every shift. Manicures don’t last, and some bartenders even develop fungal infections like bar rot on their hands. At the very least, you have to invest in some quality hand moisturizer to counteract your work environment.
5. You will have awkward run-ins with acquaintances and exes.
Bars are public places and, eventually, someone you don’t want to see will walk through the door. The fact that it’s your job to serve them compounds the awkwardness. When that guy who ghosted you brings his Tinder date in or that frenemy from college stops by to celebrate her engagement, the best strategy is usually to kill them with kindness. A round of shots and a quick hello should be enough to prove you’re the bigger person.
6. You will begin to resent free booze.
At the start of your career, one of the perks of bartending is the access to free alcohol. But as time goes by, you’ll start to feel like you have to drink at work, more than you want to drink at work.
7. Bartending comes with responsibility.
Being a bartender means that you’re responsible for “your bar.” That often means inventory, cleaning, maintenance, and making sure all of the necessary prep work is completed each night. Depending on the bar, it can be quite a list of responsibilities. It gives you a sense of ownership over your space, which is fulfilling, but it means you can’t really phone it in.
8. There’s always something to do.
Contrary to popular opinion, bartending is not a job for slackers. Because there are so many elements to maintaining a bar, there are always tasks to be done, even if the bar is empty. It can be thankless work, but someone’s gotta do it.
9. You’re the janitor.
As much as we get to be the life of the party, at the end of the day, bartending is not a glamorous job. You’re also the one taking out the trash, sweeping up broken glass, and mopping up vomit at the end of the night. Every shift ends with a humbling experience.
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