I’ve been fortunate enough to hold perhaps a dozen or so bartending gigs over the last 18 years. Some of those gigs have lasted several years. Other seasonal or event spots lasted just a few days. Some – well – have fallen somewhere in between, for whatever reason. I’ve also had the opportunity to manage; being on the other side of the interview table. I’ve spoken to hundreds of candidates and reviewed their requisite resumes. Like all hiring managers – I’ve consciously and intuitively made attempts to judge them up and down on everything from the lettuce in their teeth, to their odor, to which shoes they’re wearing, the hesitation to answering certain questions, and the speed and ease which with they fashion cocktails when I’ve told them to get behind the bar to prepare drinks X, Y and Z.
I started yet another bartending gig a couple of weeks ago after being out of work for nearly two freaking months. Being unable to find acceptable employment and blowing through savings for that long is, how shall we say… unnerving? I’m sure many of you can relate. It’s not as if I wasn’t looking or wasn’t utterly over-qualified in the venues I was applying to. There has been an unusual seismic shift in the New York City bartending air recently – one which I’m far from accustomed to. In my experience, I’ve never, ever gone more than 2 or 3 interviews without getting hired. To get my latest gig, I swear I’d been through about 20 or so interviews as well as 5 or 6 callbacks (second interviews) in about 6 weeks. For me, that’s downright shocking and unacceptable given my (1) extensive NYC experience (2) always-on game face (3) interview knowledge and skills and (4) forgive my audacity… appearance.
After my seasonal gig ended in October, I did manage to find a seemingly great gig in another Meatpacking spot right away, albeit in another mega-corporate, mega-conglomerate establishment with their hard and fast rule-book. It didn’t last only because we could not come to a consensus on schedule even though I had clearly stated my availability during the application process. Basically, I can’t fucking work repeated opening shifts due to my other obligations (read: day job). That little tidbit really puts a damper on finding a great bartending position as the majority of hiring managers are seeking nearly complete flexibility. Restaurant bars are essentially out of the question, in my case. Unless you have seniority, or are sexing the G.M., you really can’t demand only night shifts. That basically left me nightclubs and some pubs as only options. So be it.
I mean look… I’m old and experienced enough to know that interviewing in this industry is often akin to an acting/modeling cattle-call from several perspectives. You do not get excited and put your proverbial eggs in one bartending/serving basket. That’s simply stupid. However, I’ve managed to sometimes break my own rules as a result of a particular interview or two where I’ve really bonded with the owners/managers, sometimes going so far as to have them engage me in highly personal, salacious speak – laughing and joking as if we had known each other for years.
If you haven’t noticed, this town is uber-competitive in every calling – even McDonald’s piss-boy positions. The higher-paying, easier, and more prestigious the job, the more difficult getting hired becomes (again, unless you’re blessed enough look like bobble-head, trophy-GF Kate Upton, Bar Rafaeli or some reasonable facsimile).
That said, for your reading pleasure, I’ve compiled a list of why you may not be getting the job your heart so desires, tho you swear up and down the dude/chick loved you to pieces during the interview:
1. The Numbers Game: Far and away, the number one reason why you haven’t been called back: 10 million+ fucking people. Show up at just about any Craigslist Hospitality ad, and expect to find 20, 30 or even 50 of your fellow bartenders/servers, looking every bit as hot as you do, and with similar qualifications. Holy Christ! Folks looking for jobs in this town are like cockroaches – seemingly crawling out of every hole and garbage can. Even if you show up 15 minutes before interview time, expect a half-dozen of your competitors to have had the same thought. Without eliminating or reducing the competition somehow, it becomes much more of the luck of the draw than anything else. Then again, as my old boiler-room, Branch Manager used to say “no matter how bad a salesman you may be, knock on enough doors, and someone will bite.” Persistence pays. Most hiring managers are veterans of the industry. A few in power, in contrast, are utter morons when it comes to Hospitality Management and have zero F.O.H. experience in certain cases. Usually, these folks are “friend hires” or became empowered by odd circumstance like temporary owner desperation due to a departure. Other times, the interviewers may be owners themselves coming off stints in other businesses, but who have no business judging folks in the Hospitality game. Opportunity is everywhere and is occasionally based on blind luck. Basically, if you’re not getting hired at even the crumiest bar, you’re not putting yourself out there in sufficient numbers.
2. Resume or Writing Failures: You may not be a professional journalist with a Harvard or Dartmouth post-graduate pedigree, but even a schmuck with a G.E.D. knows you can’t walk into to an interview with typos, misspelled words, grammatical anomalies, over-use of “big” words, piss-poor handwriting, etc. on your resume and/or application. It’s not rocket science. As an interviewer, you’d be absolutely shocked by the frequency of such mistakes. Taking your time to write a professional resume for a professional position, and have it proof-read speaks miles about your dedication, ability, experience, demeanor and the like.
3. Lack of Writing Implement: About 30% of candidates I’ve sat across from and next to have failed this most simple test of ineptitude. You haven’t brought a fucking pen to the interview. What’s worse, is that these dumbasses have the cojones to ask someone that works there for a pen to complete an application or other paperwork. Really? Not only did you fail to adequately prepare for the opportunity of a job, but you want to admit it? Bring at least 2 functional pens to every interview. I’ve refused to even speak to candidates that haven’t brought a pen.
4. Appropriate Attire: This one can be a little tricky, particularly if you’re interviewing at multiple bars on the same day, in the same outfit. Neglecting mega-dive bars like Hogs and Heifers, on one side of the spectrum, and black-tie affairs such as Le Cirque on the other – where specific attire can be expected – it’s tricky to judge what exactly to wear at the majority of bartending interviews. Best advice: do a little legwork before you head in there. Perform a bit of reconnaissance the night before, noting what the staff are wearing. Do your darnedest to mimic the look, but be professional and polished. You want to portray yourself to the management as someone they can envision behind the bar. Needless to say, hair and makeup should also reflect the establishment’s vibe.
When in doubt, guys can’t really go wrong with dark trousers, or plain dark jeans, a pressed button shirt, and dark shoes (never sneakers). Girls, if you have no clue what to wear, a mid-length snug skirt or dark jeans, snug (but not slutty) slightly revealing blouse and earth-tone wedges or low heals will suffice.
I’ve seen idiots go gaga, getting all Amish, Hipster’ish, and Bohemian, “expressing” themselves wildly or even not showering or “doing something” with their hair. Worse, I’ve been nauseated, to the point of passing out, from mentally deficient job-seekers bathing in Patchouli or similar odiferous, noxious substances. I’ve seen candidates with with boogies dripping, lettuce in their teeth,
5. Lack of Experience: Unless, as mentioned ad nauseum, you’re a “special case,” you simply can’t walk into a busy bar in L.E.S, M.P.D, Chelsea, The Theater District, Times Square, Mid-Town, or any other number of extremely populous bars, expecting to get a $500/night gig when you’re only experience is barbacking at The Olive Garden in Nutley, NJ. You’ve done lost your mind if you think otherwise. The experience you document, must be (mostly) verifiable and reflective of the job to which you’re applying. Hiring managers are also looking for what you know and who you might know. Do you have a following you can migrate to their bar? Are you intimately familiar with some of the staff with whom you might be working? If so, will that affect your employment one way or another? Why did you leave or get terminated from your previous gig? These are all things you must dwell on and be able to respond like Johnny-on-the-Spot when asked – all without conveying a face of discontent or worse, panic. Interviewers are looking to break you. They look for odd facial expressions, hesitation, stumbling, stuttering, inability to focus primarily on the eyes, etc.
6. Mr. Personality: If you’re a couch-sitting, FPS game playing, no-friends-having, no-sense-of-humor-exhibiting dud of a human being, you might as well just go ahead and commit to enrolling in the Chubb Institute of Technology instead of pursuing a career as a Front of the House hospitality associate. There’s simply no place for you. You can’t be a quiet-ass nobody and be a bartender – lest you relish working only a Back-of-House, Las Vegas type service bar. Your job is not simply slinging drinks. You are the entertainment the facilitator, the “inebriator,” the hook-up artist, the problem solver, the fight referee, the porter, the joke machine, and the flare magician – at least while you’re punched in. If you can’t convey a clue about your personality traits during the interview, something attractive which uniquely distinguishes from the other 20 hotties waiting to be interviewed, you come across as just another one of the sheeple – something which is not bankable. On the flip side, no one wants an over-the-top limelight queen who doesn’t ever shut the fuck up or is “always on.” There is indeed a happy medium type of person who knows how to act and when – a barkeep who manages to always know the proper level of engagement with varied customer personalities. It’s quite easy to 86 your chances of getting hired during an interview by simply never smiling or coming across as a depressing kind of person.
7. Sex: No, not that you’re expected to get busy with the interviewer or anything (at least not until you get hired). But, there are many establishments that are looking only for female bartenders. To a lesser degree, some are looking only for men (mostly, gay bars). Some of those bars have the decency to say as much in their online advertisements. Personally, I appreciate it and prefer not to waste my time preparing for and heading down to an interview for which I have zero chance of getting hired simply because I was born with a third member. On the other hand, I suspect that such advertisements are highly illegal due to obvious discrimination. I’ve had the misfortune of walking into Coyote Ugly / Hogs and Heifers type dive bars downtown with bras and panties hanging on the wall, a dozen rugged hardhats chugging nothing but Jack shots and Bud, and an expected “Hooters” type chick entertaining them. I walked right back out pretty upset only because I could have used my time, energy and transportation costs more efficiently looking elsewhere.
8. Timing: Get to the interview 15 minutes before call time. The reason? Again, most interviews are heavily crowded. Don’t be surprised if you’re waiting 1 to 2 hours to be seen. Yeah, really. If you’re number 20 and there have been 19 stellar candidates before you, your chances of getting a call-back are significantly reduced. I you make an early impression, things may sometimes be vastly different – to your advantage. Interviewing tired, frustrated, and having to pee is of no help to your mission objective. Similarly, showing up at 3:45 for a 2:00pm to 4:00pm call time, rarely results in a positive outcome.
9. Square Peg, Round Hole: Just as with the male/female factors mentioned above, there are other factors which may be affecting your inability to land that proper bartending gig. For example, a 22-year old, strip-club bartender, probably doesn’t stand a very good chance of getting hired at Il Mulino (old school, West Village, Italian restaurant). Similarly, a portly, grey-haired barkeep with 35 years in the biz, doesn’t stand much of a chance snagging that job at Lavo (midtown nightclub) much less knowing how to make Surfer on Acid shots. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve showed up to cattle-calls at trendy Chelsea and Meatpacking bars/restaurants and endured an hour of some 50′ish year old, patched tweed jacket and New Balance sneaker-wearing dude from New Jersey’s tirade about how he’s been looking for a job for 6 months with no luck. You’ve got to level-set your expectations.
10: Failure to Feed: You’ve done or said something, not obvious to you – until later quite often, which ranges from confusing to utterly inappropriate during the interview process. Uttering inappropriate personal details, citing prior hookups, launching into a diatribe about some stealing situation and your prior bar all come to mind. Interviewers will often throw out some fairly expected questions in an attempt to throw you off your game. Some of them are expected – such as “make up a floral cocktail for me” or “what do you like about our establishment?” or “why do you see yourself working here?” or “name two grapes grown in the Loire Valley.” Others are often made up as a simple test of your mental fortitude. Folks want to see how you react to stress and the unexpected – zingers like “what’s your favorite restaurant, when did you last eat there, and what did you have?” or worse, “…name all three Teenage Mutant Turtles.” Yep, seriously. Make some shit up quickly if you don’t know what to say. Often, how you respond, your mental stability, and facial expression are far more important than what you actually say. This is Salesmanship 101.
11. Boobs: The best for last, I always say. The dominance, pervasiveness, and influence of a young, attractive, female bartender (especially one with experience) pretty much trumps all other qualifications and candidates. Even female hiring managers understand the power of sexuality in terms of the draw of female barkeeps can muster. Most men tend to be overtly sexual and extremely loose with money – on a far greater scale and with much greater frequency than most female patrons. Most experienced male bartenders run circles around most attractive female bartenders. That manifests itself in volume sales, speed of cocktail preparation, higher number of covers. You’ll rarely see anything but a dude doing heavy lifting (kegs, cases, etc.) and extensive cleaning duties – frequently part of the job .What we cannot do is make boob-money. That’s all for naught because generally speaking, an attractive female bartender will have a far greater ability to draw regular customers, and will earn far greater gratuities per transaction. That’s not me being a pompous misogynist That’s simply the truth but again at mostly trendy, packed bars. That situation doesn’t apply to every bar in every neighborhood. There are exceptions.