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7 Differences Between Being a Bartender in NYC and Anywhere Else

by Melissa Allen Mar 28, 2019

To paraphrase Sinatra, “If I can bartend there, I can bartend anywhere.” Bartending in NYC versus bartending in other cities is like the difference between playing for the NFL and throwing a football back and forth with friends in the park. From the expected level of expertise and experience to the cachet that comes with that, here are seven key differences between being a bartender in NYC and anywhere else.

1. The expectations

When you’re looking for a bar job in New York, most job listings will stipulate at least one year of NYC bar experience, regardless of how much bartending experience you have. Working at a TGI Fridays in Sarasota may be challenging, but it won’t necessarily prepare you for what is expected of you in the New York bar and restaurant market. Extensive knowledge of wine, spirits, and various cuisines is taken as a given. On top of that, you must possess the ability to handle a high volume of guests with professionalism and accuracy with brownie points for good looks and an engaging personality.

2. The sense of urgency

New York City is known for its fast pace, and bartending here requires that same hustle. Servers and bartenders often hang back until their service is requested, while in NYC, it’s all about anticipating the needs of your guests. It’s a much more proactive approach to serving drinks. If you can’t shift into high gear, you won’t last long at an NYC bar.

3. The cachet

The biggest difference between bartending in NYC and any other city is the cultural capital it gives you. Of course, there are always people who look down on those who work in the service industry or who insist “that it’s not a real job.” But in New York, bartending is mostly seen as a cool, respectable way to make ends meet, as well as a lifestyle choice.

4. The money

The cost of living in NYC is a bit of a trade-off, but many bartenders can earn white collar-level wages working behind the bar. Career bartenders can pull in six-figure salaries with benefits if they find the right gig. Of course, not all bar jobs are that lucrative, but in a town with so many wealthy people, the tips can be huge. Plus, it’s easy to pick up work with so many bars and restaurants looking for good staff.

5. The hours

The hours are not for the faint of heart. Working at a bar that closes at 4:00 AM means you’ll be getting home from work as your roommates are heading to the office. Working double shifts that last 12-16 hours is the norm. Being able to handle the long hours is like a badge of honor for NYC bartenders, especially newbies cutting their teeth.

6. The lifestyle

The best part of being a bartender in NYC is the lifestyle it affords you. Weekdays off to explore the city are a great perk. Depending on where you work, work itself can be a party. And, by and large, your fellow bartenders are personable, creative, hardworking, fun-loving types. Bartending in NYC is more than just a job — you become part of a community.

7. The options

Other than bar owner, there isn’t much of a ladder to climb when it comes to the bar industry. In NYC, the options for career advancement are much greater. Liquor companies and distributors are always looking for reps, spirits specialists, and educators. Bars and restaurants often hire bartenders to consult on beverage programs and to design new cocktail menus. The opportunities in NYC keep talented bartenders here.

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