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I’ve heard lots of stories of how people got started bartending. They often start with…

“I needed some extra money, so I decided to try Bartending…”

They then go on to talk about their first bartending gig in college, or struggling through shifts as a barback before earning their place behind the stick. But then the story will go one of two ways: they will either say they gave up Bartending and now they create cocktails at home for friends and parties.

On the other hand, a select few say something like this:

“And then (something happened) that made me realizing Bartending was more than a job. I knew at that moment that it was going to be my career.”

Bartending can be an extremely rewarding (and in some cities, very lucrative) career. For the right person, it is the perfect career. But if you’ve only been behind the bar for a few months – or even if you haven’t started yet – how do you know if you are the right person?

Bartending May be a Good Career for you If…

You’re Physically Fit.

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Let’s start with the basics: bartending is an extremely physical job.

You’ll be liftingcrouchingtwistingkneelingstandingwalking and standing for long shifts (and sometimes doubles!) As much as I hate to say it, if you have back problems or bad knees, it maybe difficult to work behind the bar for years on end. We’ve talked about doing the job safely, but at the end of the day you just can’t get around the fact that it’s hard, physical work.

You’re Good with Numbers

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Hate to break it to you, but good bartenders are great at math and bartenders that grow into managers and owners need math skills even more. Whether it’s doubling a cocktail recipe with weird fractions of ounces to running monthly reports from your POS, math is part of running a business.

If you want to make bartending a career, brush up on your fractions. If you want to get into management, be prepared to spend some time in spreadsheets analyzing cost of goods, margins, revenue, profits, etc. These are the numbers that will make or break your bar.

You Have Thick Skin

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Ever had a drunk guy scream at you, or a crowd shouting that you’re taking too long to do your job? How about a customer who treats you like you’re an inferior person, or (sadly) a manager or coworker that doesn’t give you any respect? I wish I could say Bartending is a job that garners respect and praise, but we’re just not there yet as an industry. Bartenders see the worst of humanity and have to do it with a smile on their face.

If you’re going to make a career behind the bar, you’re going to need thick skin. You’ll need to treat every customer as a guest, even if they don’t return the favor. The good news is that usually it’s not that bad – and depending on the type of bar where you work, you should be able to avoid screaming crowds (if that’s not your thing.) But between the good shifts, bartending can be a thankless job – so make sure it’s worth it to you, and that you have the strength to show up tomorrow anyway.

You Love Hospitality and Service

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You can’t get around it – bartending is a service job. That means your job is to be in service to others.

I think the word definition of the word “Hospitality” puts it best:

Hospitality Definition

Do you love making strangers feel like friends? Are you happy when given the chance to make someone’s day? Do you get a kick from remembering someone’s drink order before they even ask – and having it ready for them as they sit down at the bar?

For some people, the “little things” associated with hospitality feel like a chore. But for others they are a little thrill – knowing you made someone feel important and welcome. Consider how you feel about hosting guests and going the extra mile – if you love this stuff, this might just be a good career option for you.

You Care about the Creativity and the Craft of Cocktails

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This one may be a bit specific to cocktail bars, but if you’re the type, you know what I mean. You’re the guy who double-strains your cocktails. You somehow amassed a collection of 26 barspoons. You spritz lemon oil across your glass of water. You walk through the grocery store and think “I could make a cocktail with that.” (Even if you’re looking at a sponge)

If you can work your way up to lead bartender or bar manager, you may have the opportunity to start designing unique drinks for your cocktail menu. At that point you can leverage your knowledge and start playing creatively with ingredients and techniques to make drinks that are completely unique and different. If you love designing drinks, you may just belong behind a bar.

When You Know, You Know.

If you’re not sure yet whether you want to stay behind the bar, that’s OK too – take your time. Another great thing about it is that you can work at a bar on the side while trying other things as well. But if you find yourself hooked, we get it!

When did you know Bartending was the career for you? Was it a moment or a gradual process? Let us know in the comments, I’d love to hear your stories!

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.