I get a lot of seriously dumb-shit questions. Many genius customers throw unabashed inquiries out there with such ease and candor, you would think I’d known them for decades. I incessantly get questions like : (a) gay or straight (b) do you have a girlfriend [really stupid question - just go for it dumbass] (c) what should I drink (d) do you know how to make a Tuscaloosa Screaming Cucumber Reach-Around shot [or some other obscure restaurant's house special] and finally (e) it’s my birthday – buy me a drink? There is one subject of interrogation however, which irks me something terrible. That is: “so, how much money do you make?”
Well, Douchebag (greatest word in the English language), “How much money do you make?” Do I show up at your options and swaps trading desk and ask you about your big fat commissions? Do I ask if you’ve met your target December bonus thresholds and what you’ll be doing with said bonus? Are you struggling to decide which convertible Porsche 911 variant you’ll be leasing this year to match what’s left of your corn-row Bosley hair plugs, Havana Cohibas, and crisp Thomas Pink collection? Why do you feel the need to dig into my personal financial business? For the sake of all things holy, I’m going to spell it out for you below and hope you read my post. Maybe, I can finally put to this question to bed and duck the topic (and fake smile) at work at little less… you know – the place where I have little leverage to tell you what a retarded question you’re asking lest I be shit-canned for directly telling you like it is.
I live and work in New York City – downtown Manhattan specifically. I’m throwing that out there because experiences of other bartenders in other ‘hoods can and will be different. Heck, they’ll even vary from neighborhood to neighborhood within this very City. That said, I’ll get more specific. I work high-end, high-volume venues with nightclub-like atmospheres – mostly, restaurant bars. I have kids and fat-ass mortgage to cover. Combine all that with 18 or so years of bartending experience, let’s just say my financial expectations are not on par with a newbie 23-year old, living at home or in an $800/mo share, working at his/her first bartending gig in some dive bar down in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.
I won’t work in a bar where I can’t expect to walk with at least $300 on a bad night. At most places I’ve worked, I can usually double that number and more on busy nights. Question answered? I hope so. So, as you can see, with significant experience, a lot of luck, and a good deal of time pounding the pavement for the right gig, earning a six figure salary in this business – even working only 3 or 4 nights a week – is not out of the question.
Sure, there are bartenders making more – such as at straight-up nightclubs or bikini-clad barkeeps at strip clubs. Those gigs are unusual however. In the case of the nightclub bartender, job risks include (1) loss of hearing (2) increased risk of violence (3) routine layoffs and (4) being subject to termination for any or no reason at any time for the mere suspicion of knowing how to efficiently steal. The strip club bartender falls into (or out of =P) her own category altogether. I can’t compete with boob money. But she can easily make thousands a night. It’s a terribly sexist business – skewed in favor of hot females.
As I’ve alluded to here and mentioned in other articles, you likely will not be making big-money when you first start out at most bars – that is unless you have really big tits and are otherwise a hot piece of ass. The other opportunity of making beaucoup cash from the get-go arises when you have an angle – an in somewhere that most bartending job-seekers simply do not. For example: you’re a relative of the owner or manager. Or, you just happened to step in a pile of shit – walking into a bar in need at the exact time a veteran has experienced some inexplicable anomaly like a sudden broken his leg or has moved to the Wrong Coast. Seniority doesn’t play as much into the money making equation as some may believe. It’s more about ability, charm, experience, sales, connections and of course – appearance.
In any case, like in just about every other profession on the planet, there are dues to be paid before you make the big-time. Almost no trendy bar in this City will interview you until you have literally years of verifiable, New York City bartending experience documented on your resume. Until such time, I suggest honing your speed, knowledge, memory, multi-tasking abilities, psychiatry skills, and the like at shitty little bars on the outskirts of the City. You may have to eat crow for a while, working your way up from let’s say, $100/night. Busting your ass at a variety of establishments will provide you with all kinds of immeasurable and extremely valuable experience. Most importantly, and I kid you not, your time in the hole will well prepare you to do mental battle with an ever increasing number problem/needy/high-maintenance characters – the frequency of which, seems to increase in lock-step with apparent “affluence” and volume of the bar you’re moving up to.
Slug away – make that paper.