The Harsh Realities of Bartending

So you want to be a bartender, huh? Reality is not the movies. Tom Cruise you are not. Review this checklist then let me know if you’re still up for the job.

1. Relationships. Check your commitments at the door. Working a bar is no place for people who value committed relationships. If you have a GF, BF, wife, husband – whatever, with certain “expectations,” each and every shift and all of your co-worker outings will be a strength test of the greatest magnitude. That’s cuz bartenders have to deal with “Ass Everywhere.” Easy pickin’s is de rigueur – a known occupational hazard.

2. You Can’t Remember 3 or 4 Drink orders. You can’t function as a proper bartender if you memory sucks balls. You don’t get to roll up to customers with a Dupe Pad, noting down their drink orders.

3. You’re Hard of Hearing. You must become a grand master at lip reading and body language. Loud music, loud people, foreign accents, a bar 3-deep, staff barking orders in the background all conspire to torpedo normal customer communication.

4. Hours and Friends. You’ll work Wednesday through Saturday nights (eventually) – until late hours of the morning. You’ll get home when the sun is coming up and sleep until the afternoon. Holidays? Forget about it. You’ll be working all of them. When your college buddies are off crushing cans of Busch beer on their Lake Havesu boats, you’ll be working. Eventually, you won’t have “normal” friends. You’ll surround yourself with the new crew – bartenders, cooks, runners, waitresses and managers.

5. New Directions. If you have other ambitions in life, be ready to put them on the back burner because months then years will flash by like in no other profession due to your incessant nightly “partying” at work. Bartending is a trap of relatively “easy” cash, easy ass, sleeping late, and constant partying. It’s a job like no other.

6. Endless Hounding by Your Parents and Family. “When are you getting a real job, honey?” Your old school parents, who toiled endlessly at mundane office jobs, hoping that you would graduate magna lum laude from Harvard Business School will never stop giving you shit for “wasting” your talent. Be warned.

7. Bartender Slop. It’s not all drinking, getting laid, and making pretty drinks. The operations side of the house isn’t particularly pretty. There is ton of sidework and slop to deal with. Refilling nasty ketchup bottles, salt/pepper shakers, coffee cups, etc., and bussing dirty dishes are often job requirements. Washing down the bar and equipment, wading through murky, grey, disgusting puddles of dirty water, and restocking beer/liquor are par for the course too. Your bar may or may not have porters responsible for trash handling. If not, you’re going to have to get used to dumpster sports.

9. Counting Money. If you have a problem with it, look for work elsewhere. You’ll be counting thousands of dollars a night – mostly, someone else’s. You’ll be responsible for thousands of dollars – often, hundreds of individual transactions. It’s easy as hell to goof up. If you’re short, guess who’s making up the difference? If you’re routinely over, it will be interpreted as attempted thievery and be dealt with accordingly.

10. Skin Problems. If you value dainty hands with super-soft, unmarred skin and enjoy weekly trips to the salon for touchups, find another job. Your hands will get torn up from a never-ending cycle of touching wet/dry, soap, commercial solvents, dirty money, acidic citrus fruit, dirty bar rags, etc. You will routinely get nicks and cuts from broken glass, metal pourers, and bar knives. Bar Rot is common.

11. You’re Problem Drinker. If you’re the type who likes to frequent the Drunk Tank, 12-step meetings, or has taken a liking to the local E.R.’s stomach pump on the regular, surrounding yourself with free Liquid Courage is probably not a good idea. You will be exepected to drink and drink often.

12. You don’t drink Alcohol At All. You won’t survive in this business. You’ll be ostracized by both your customers and your co-workers. Drinking is part of bartending. You have be be able to drink while working without getting completely shit-faced – a tough balancing act for many.

13. You’re the Inattentive, Laid Back Type. Find another profession. Being a bartender is not unlike being an on-duty cop. You need to be focused on a multitude of goings on, simultaneously, in order to get the job done and keep everyone safe. You must incessantly pay attention to many guests, where they are with their meal or drinks, whether they’re acting bat shit crazy, who they’re with and what their body language is telling you (often contrary to the bullshit coming out of their mouths). You must be able to discern fact from fiction and “read” minds. You must be able to make ballpark accurate suggestions based on many variables. If you’re the non-observant, non-OCD type who can’t efficiently multi-task – constantly scanning your environment and all of your customers whilst simultaneously flirting with the hot-ass of the hour – find another profession.

14. Physical Endurance. I’m a relative grandpa in my field. Yet, I’m still required to stand on my feet for up to 10 or 11 hours straight. I have to literally sprint up and down staircases all night long, sometimes carrying numerous cases of booze/beer and fully-filled ice buckets. If you’re whiney, out-of-shape, and frequently need to “take a break,” you’ll never survive behind the bar. Your feet, legs, and back will often hurt. Deal with it or go be an Excel data entry guru in a nice, comfy office chair.

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3 thoughts on “The Harsh Realities of Bartending

  1. Right on many of them (at least in my case, some of them don’t match up). Luckily my family understands. :) In fact, my dad is proud of me (granted he likes to drink…so that may factor in.)

    The physical endurance part is the only one that I myself worry about on this (and maybe number 1 once I get into shape… :/ ). But I’m hoping the new shoes help out there, turns out I have been wearing the wrong size all my life, cause most stores don’t have the width I need. Hoping that helps my feet/knee issues…if not, I will have to find something else. But I can handle it till the new shoes come in.

    Love your stuff. Still working my way back.

  2. My husband bar tends and I’m thirty and wasting my body away at home alone from wed to Monday. the fact that I’m reading this in the first place says it all.

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