20130516 Speed Rack-16 by marniejoyce licensed under Creative commons 5
It’s only a matter of time. You’re a bartender, great at your job – providing great drinks, good service and generally keeping the bar moving. Then a customer (maybe a regular) turns to you and asks:

“So, What’s your Real job?”

This question comes in many forms, such as:

  • “Is this your night job?”
  • “What do you really want to do?”
  • “What did you do before this?”
  • “Are you in school?”

But all in all, this question means one thing: What the person asking is really saying is: “Bartending isn’t worthwhile, long-term career choice – so you must be here temporarily while you work your way up to something better.”

On the one hand, the person is probably not trying to be rude at all – they often are trying to complement you, saying you are better than bartending. And maybe you really are a student, or working part time while building a different career elsewhere – that’s great too. But for bartenders who have chosen hospitality as a career, the question can be frustrating and demoralizing. The guest is implying that your job is not worthwhile or valuable – a pretty deep insult if you’ve chosen this career because you love what you do.

So how do you respond?

When the question is popped, you may want to ball up into a fit of range and explain your knowledge of bitters, your love of creativity and craft cocktails, your knowledge of various degrees of beers’ hoppiness, the amount of work you’re able to complete on your novel during the day, or the amount of time you can spend with loved ones while the sun is out.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), no matter how frustrating the question is, a customer is still a customer – so even if you’d like to start a lecture on how great your job is (flexible hours, creative license, etc. etc. etc.) it’s important to keep your reply professional and not too snarky.

I asked around within our community and got a few great responses for “What’s your real job?”

  • “a Dad” – Scott S.
  • “I make people happy for a living” – Anonymous
  • “Worlds Lowest Paid psychologist” – Stephen H.

A Great Opportunity

Of course, if you have another job or career you’re working towards, feel free to discuss that – (but on behalf of the career bartenders, please don’t answer in a way that belittles the trade.) And if you are a career bartender, I think this is a great opportunity to highlight the best parts of your job:

“I make people happy for a living” is probably my favorite start, but if you’re not buried, feel free to let this start the conversation. This  can be a great opportunity to encourage a beer drinker to try a cocktail, or (maybe better yet) get a vodka drinker to try a gin cocktail.

“I get to introduce people to great cocktails they wouldn’t otherwise know about – have you ever had a White Lady?” or “I get to be creative and design my own cocktails for guests like you – can I make you something?”

What do YOU say?

After being asked a few times, I suspect most bartenders have a few standard answers for this question – let me know yours in the comments! 

At the end of the day, guests who ask this question probably aren’t trying to be rude – since it is common to bartend while in school or working on another career during the day. That said, we get it – it’s frustrating. Try to take the opportunity to bring the guest along and see the great, creative and culinary side of bartending. You might just convert someone for good!

… as a side note, I have no suggestions for what to day when your Girlfriend / Boyfriend’s mother asks this question. That’s a whole different can of worms!

Julia Tunstall

Julia Tunstall is the co-founder of A Bar Above and Chief Cocktail Taster. She's in charge of keeping things running smoothly around here, but you'll also find her stopping by on the Mixology Talk Podcast or hanging around the Craft Cocktail Club.