How to Break into Bartending


Certification and Training Are Key

If you want to work for a national chain, a bartending certificate is a must, emphasizes Chad Ryan, manager of New York City-based nightclub Therapy.

At Vintage Wine Bar & Restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota, drink servers and pourers are expected to learn 20 wines served by the glass and mix all of the martinis on its extensive list. Fortunately for servers with limited experience, menus can serve as cheat sheets. And the restaurant provides beverage training to exceptional candidates, according to general manager Dan Nelsen.

Mixing Drinks Is Just One Part of the Job

Bars and clubs across the country are looking for a key element in potential employees: Talent. Ryan believes only 25% of bartending is about making drinks. Other skills he seeks include an ability to handle large amounts of money, confidence with clients, intelligence and wit.

"We also look for candidates who are more willing and flexible [to work when needed] but not desperate, and we consider the size and notoriety of their previous employer," Ryan said.

Check Out the Bar Before Applying

If you don't have experience serving drinks at a popular venue, fear not. You can get a jump on the competition if you know something about the establishment you'd like to work for and its clientele before walking through the door.

For example, the granite tabletops and elegance of the Vintage Wine Bar & Restaurant's old mansion suggests an upscale ambience, but Nelsen describes the horseshoe-shaped bar on the first floor as cozy and says the clientele varies as much as the drink list. We'd like to think we're serving everyone who lives in the neighborhood, as well as people who are coming out for a special evening, he says. It's casual elegance.

To find out what look and attitude are expected, hang out at the bar and talk to the staff before you apply for the job. You can also peruse reviews of the venue.

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Presentation Counts

If you're afraid you're not sassy enough to be successful in big-city venues, Ryan recommends making your look more contemporary to get noticed.

"The look is always important," Ryan said. "If someone is approached by an overwhelming presence behind the bar, the customer's focus shifts away from what [she is paying to] eat or drink."

Nelsen says bartenders "have to present themselves neatly and look good. We want someone who looks professional."

Some hot spots commonly hire based on looks alone. Staff who hire drink servers at trendy 10,000-square-foot SBNY Splash Bar New York, a dance club and bar that boasts performances by Britney Spears and Cyndi Lauper, say better-looking bartenders sell more drinks. Rather than expecting potential job applicants to have bar experience, the club teaches new employees pouring and serving techniques on the job.

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