Bartending can be a fun, fast-paced way to pay the bills. But it certainly isn’t glamorous. You’re not a true bartender until…
1. You can multitask like a motherfucker.
Working at a bar or restaurant is a lot like being a parent. You have a constant to-do list cycling through your brain while surrounded by people seeking your attention. At first, it is overwhelming. But you know you are getting the hang of bartending when you can make drinks, take orders, run credit cards, and flirt with the cutie at the bar, all at the same time.
2. You can put aside your basic human needs for food, water, and bathroom breaks.
If you are a working a busy shift, it can be almost impossible to sneak in a break. Sometimes you just have to dig deep, snack on some cocktail olives, and coast off adrenaline until the rush has passed and you can use “restocking” as an excuse to eat a snack in the keg room.
3. You can build at least four cocktails at the same time.
Some cocktail bartenders may argue about this one, saying it’s better to focus on one or two drinks at a time, but when you are slammed, and you have to pump out the martinis as fast as you can, it’s all about efficiency. You know you are really good when you are making drinks faster than the servers can run them.
4. You learn to like the tingle of lemon juice burrowing into every little cut on your hand.
No matter how careful you are when prepping fruit, you will constantly have tiny cuts on your hands. Whenever you grab a lemon to garnish a whiskey sour or spill a bit of lime juice when making a margarita, you will feel the burn. Eventually, you just accept that citrus is nature’s disinfectant and get on with your day.
5. You learn to love the look of Danskos.
As anyone who works in a field where they are on their feet all day can attest, comfort trumps fashion. Once you find a pair of shoes that you can wear all day without pain (bonus points if you can hose them off at the end of the night), you don’t look back. My most fulfilling long-term relationship has been with a pair of Dansko clogs (four years and counting!).
6. You’ve cried in front of the prep cook after spilling a vat of Bloody Mary mix.
At some point in your bartending career, you will likely have to work brunch, especially if you work in a large US city. It’s a rite of passage: pumping out pitchers of mimosas, perfecting your cappuccino foam, learning how to diplomatically cut off drunken customers after a two-hour unlimited boozy brunch. But at some point, usually on a Saturday morning when running behind on set-up, you will have a nervous breakdown.
7. You can work through a hangover.
One of the key skills you acquire as a bartender is the ability to power through a shift no matter how hungover you are. Sometimes, a hangover makes you better at your job; you become pure muscle memory. Yes, making pre-noon old-fashioneds for the brunch crowd will make you feel slightly nauseous, but you are a professional, dammit! Sneak a mini michelada and power through.
8. You can pull off a fourteen-hour shift on three hours of sleep.
Whether because you pissed off the scheduling manager or you are covering someone’s vacation time, you will have to work a closing shift followed by a double at some point. Often this means getting home at 3 or 4 AM and returning to work at 8 or 9 AM. Luckily, the fear of oversleeping will cause “wait-mares” or waiter/bartender stress dreams that keep you tossing and turning until you force yourself out of bed. At the end of your shift, you will collapse into the nearest bar stool, too tired to even drink. You will promise yourself, “Never again.” But there is always a next time.
9. Your boyfriend/girlfriend kicks you out of bed for smelling like scotch.
There are certain smells that linger on a person. When your final bar guests close out with a round of peaty scotch, your hands will smell like whiskey and gym socks for at least a few hours afterward, even with a vigorous hand-washing. Your best bet? Take a post-shift shower to wash off the stale beer and eau de tequila. Or relegate yourself to sleeping on the couch.
10. You’ve developed a system of hand creams, manicures, and moisturizing to keep bartender hands at bay.
As a bartender, your hands become collateral damage. Stained fingernails, callouses, and the dreaded bar rot are all potential side effects. For the sake of your poor hands, it becomes imperative to find the right lotions and nightly rituals to keep your hands and nails healthy. Springing for a weekly manicure goes from luxury to necessity.
11. No matter how shit you feel, you can make someone else’s day.
The best and worst part of working in the service industry is that, at the end of the day, it is not about you. No matter how tired you are, how crappy your day was, how annoying your coworkers are, your job is to help someone else forget their troubles.
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