First: Prepare Yourself
First, ask yourself a few questions. Are you new to bartending or a seasoned pro? What type of venues have you bartended? Perhaps you worked at a beer-n-shot bar or for the latest hotspot on Saturday nights. Your mindset of previous experience is something to take into account when beginning a freelance career or just adding freelance bartending to your resume.
If you are new to bartending, did you go to school to be certified? If you have, that’s a great start! I suggest all bartenders to get a T.I.P.S. certification. This is an online course for about $40 that covers the safety aspect of bartending. If your new freelance gig is at a catering hall or larger venue, they may require you to have this or a certification like it. Being prepared is key and shows confidence and professionalism to your prospective clients.
Getting the Gig
Let’s get this out of the way: in starting your new freelance career, I would steer away from using Craigslist. There are so many ads there and you don’t know who may contact you.
Start with Catering Halls
What I do recommend is to start by contacting catering halls and asking if they are looking for freelance bartenders for their events. Unlike caterers or catering facilities who only supply food, catering halls host a variety of events. The larger halls are always hopping on the weekends with parties of all types and sizes.
You certainly can get work from caterers, but typically you will meet them onsite at a party or event you both happen to be working. So it makes sense to start at the catering halls. If you do a great job, they will ask for your number directly after observing your work. Wedding and event planners are also an avenue to pursue – and also great to connect with at your catering hall events.
While some of catering halls have independent freelancers to contact, others will contact a hospitality staffing company.
Hospitality Staffing Companies
This brings us to researching hospitality staffing agencies in your area. These agencies will do the upfront work for you in terms of booking the events plus handling all the details. In turn, you will forfeit a nominal fee to the staffing company.
Finding Staffing Companies:
Start by researching online. Make a list of each company you plan to call and make notes after each phone call. If you are told to call back after 5 o’clock and speak to Jack, make sure to write that down and follow through with the call!
Making notes of what facilities you have called (or visited in person), who you spoke with and the sum of the conversation. This will ensure you don’t waste your time in repeating a phone call and making notes on who you prefer to avoid.
You will get a lot of ‘we’re not looking for anyone right now’ replies. Do not let that discourage you. You only need ONE yes in order to begin your freelance career.
Paying your Dues
For new bartenders, with only a new bartender certification and no working experience, my suggestion is to accept any party that comes your way, for any pay scale. Unfortunately, in the world of bartending, there is the Catch-22: You can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job. You will pay your dues for a certain amount of parties at a lower rate, however, this experience is invaluable.
Once you feel you have a better understanding of how the freelance game works (let’s say about 4-5 parties/events), you can create a bartending resume (if needed) and go after better paying gigs. The gigs get better as you go and you will have an understanding of what types of parties you are willing to work or not.
My personal experience as a freelance bartender, just out of bartending school, took me about 4 months to get my first gig, and not for a lack of trying. Granted, it was the slow season (Jan – April).
My first gig was for an engagement party at the client’s mansion with 190 guests. I was offered $15/hour (instead of $12) since I ‘was told’ I would be the head bartender, of three, at the party. I was shaking in my shoes the entire ten hours I worked, but I faked it til I made it. The next party was on a boat for a Sweet 16 birthday, again, one of three bartenders. The next was at a Museum where it was rented out for a dance recital. They were all different set-ups and different events, but I was able to learn as I went.
You will begin to learn what you need to be ready for in your future gigs as a freelance bartender. You may have to take some harder, lower-paying gigs in the beginning, but it will be worth it. Always remember to keep smiling, no matter what, it increases your tips more than you know!