So What Else Do you Do?

Money Stacks


Dude. I’m a bartender. Get it? Bartending is “what else” I do. This summer, I’ll (celebrate?) my 20th year since I first got behind the stick. Wow! At this point in my life, it’s clearly a profession, lifestyle choice, and environment that suits me – I think. However, a continued life of pseudo-Indentured Servitude – for that enigma called “The Man” (read: rich boss man) – is something that no longer agrees with me. I’ve grown into too much of an obsessive perfectionist, too knowledgeable for my own good, and sometimes, too bitter to accept idiocy or swallow stupidity. For those reasons, I’m working to complete my Business Plan, save more money and open my own bar. My bartending stint has introduced me to a seemingly endless string of wanna-be investors all itching to pull the proverbial trigger. They’re simply awaiting an extensive, qualified plan, and for that plan to be put into action.

I’ve witnessed far dumber (albeit, determined) folks – many with little grasp on the English language – achieve stupendous success and wealth in this business. In each instance, I’m left scratching my head, pondering: “how?” Regardless of how they obtained the Seed Money, how they navigated the dozen or so onerous permit processes, how they managed to flourish despite having abysmal operational efficiencies, etc., the point is: they did it. I consider myself far more knowledgeable about most aspects of the bar/restaurant business then they; so much so that I find myself being tapped for consulting engagements with increasing frequency. As much as I’m occasionally entertained by Bar Rescue, I tend to think Taffer is a smart man who’s much more of a master marketer (with cheesy taste), and less of the “genius” barman the entertainment business portrays him to be. Anyway, I tend to believe there’s no reason I wouldn’t be uber-successful running my own shop.

What you’re looking at in the above picture, is a bartending job hazard – cash money accumulation. I’ve failed miserably at getting my ass to the bank and making a deposit. I’ve been far too busy recovering from various bar ailments including (but not limited to): nicks, scrapes, broken nails, lack of adequate sleep, hangovers, bruised knees, newly infected cuts, and hemorrhoids (both literal and figurative). At the top of the article, you’ll note a photo of a tad over $1900 dollars. That’s 4 shift’s earnings in my NYC pub (minus maybe $100 worth of meals and transportation).

Based on service skills and how most guests reciprocate with consistent generosity, I guess I’m doing a little something right. The “trollish” calls for me to be publicly hung, and branded Douchebag Bartender of the Year, are for naught. Unfortunately, many folks fail to discern fact from fiction, Hollywood from reality, and an outlet for ranting from actual, on-the-job service requirements. I’m a professional and act as such 99.9% of the time. I wouldn’t have lasted this long otherwise. On those rare occasions I do royally screw up some guest interaction (I’m as human as anyone else is), it’s usually followed a few minutes later by a heartfelt apology, a sincere handshake, a round of free drinks, and a gentle smile. Go figure.

Those earnings are not unusual in this town. Nor are they at the top of the pay scale. As mentioned previously, night-club, strip-club and most notably, H.P.O.A. barmaids can earn substantially more. I’m not complaining though. It’s a reasonable 6-figure income. Not a bad living I guess particularly since it was earned in 1 week in January, the slowest bar/restaurant month of the year. Keep in mind though, that NYC is not rural Alabama. For what I pay for the mortgage on my “average” house (yes I own my own private home in NYC), I can rent probably 5 houses, or buy a 6-bedroom, 3-car garage mansion on 10 acres of land in other parts of the country. So yes, while NYC income in bartending, and most other fields, may be substantially higher than that of Hoot Owl, Oklahoma, you’ve got to take the cost of living, population density, and competition factors in to account.

I’ve worked at several establishments which gross $100,000 – $150,000 a week, just at the bar. Calculating the average profit margin on alcohol, taking into account steady-state, run-rate items like rent, labor, insurance, trash collection, utilities, “spoilage,” etc, I don’t think it’s far-fetched to consider a 20% net profit margin reasonable. Let’s say there are three business partners. $7,000  a week each (pre-tax) ain’t bad for standing by and soaking in the atmosphere is it? Let’s dial it down a little bit. In a Sole Proprietorship, a small bar (say under 2000 sq. ft., I don’t think it’s exceedingly difficult to ring an average of $1,000 day in any trafficked area of NYC. That’s $30,000 a month – gross or $6,000 a month net. In my book, that’d be a very good living for not having to report to anyone but your guests. Throw in a couple of bartending shifts a week and it’s not hard to imagine making more than $200,000 a year. I think that’s a “good” living in any U.S., metropolitan area and one at the low-end of entrepreneurship.

There are a few mechanical keys to making this all happen, as well as maintaining a successful operation: (1) seed money (2) operating capital (3) business plan (4) minimizing spoilage and (5) exceptional service, which encompasses many aspects. But by far the biggest reason why bartenders (and other ambitious business folks) don’t put their dreams into action isn’t any of the requirements I just mentioned. It’s just sheer terror. Most folks only ever talk about opening their own businesses, and wind up dying average, penniless, or perish the thought: regretful. It’s not for lack of money or ambition or ability. It’s just that most people are crippled by fear. That’s not entirely our fault. It’s how we’re raised and schooled unfortunately. Few parents and educational systems (save for folks like Robert Kyosaki, the Wharton MBA program and apparently, life lessons learned while raised and tortured in distant third-world regimes) train the average citizen to hope to be anything more than “average.”  Unfortunately, I’m just as guilty of being fearful as the next person. But shit… I’m doing my damned best to take action and break that cycle of mediocrity, panic, and what my parents (God forgive them) raised me to aspire to be – average. They’re life lessons like: (a) get your ass through college (b) make a decent living working and average office job for someone else and (c) “look forward” to that pension and Social Security, are downright depressing! Yuk!

I was raised Catholic but – gulp – now am basically, a nearly non-practicing nothing. I mention that because I’m going to leave you with the following thoughts. They’re not links to business plan templates, small business loan applications, nor compound interest calculators. It this thought: DREAM BIG – PRAY BIG. They’re the thoughts of that dude Joel Osteen. Every once in a blue moon, when flipping through Billy Mays infomercials and TLC reality shows after a long Saturday night shift, I catch The Lakewood Church flaco on the boob tube. Somehow, this sinner and near non-believer (me) is occasionally, and annoyingly, captivated by his sermons. Ok. it’s not the prayers and religious voodoo I’m necessarily referring to. It’s the dreams – the goal setting. Dare not to be average, plagued by average ambition. That’s my plan anyway. I’m dreaming and shooting big.

Stay tuned.

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3 thoughts on “So What Else Do you Do?

  1. I can relate to so much of this. I’ve lost count of the number of employers I’ve worked for that really dont have a daily grasp on their own business. The reason they are able to maintain is bc they have the money & have some very involved & experienced staff who are counting on this business to succeed. Employee’s withthat much dedication & passion for the business deserve to own their own place best of luck. Well written article.

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