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How Do I Get a Bartending Job?

A reader of Alcademics wrote to ask about getting a bartending job.

Bartender42belowcomp2008small  I'm interested in becoming a bartender, but as someone who doesn't work in the service industry, and never has, I'm unsure where to begin. All the bartenders I speak to say that bartending school is a waste of time, but as I mentioned because I don't work in the service industry, I can't try to transition from waiter to bartender, or from doorman to bar back. I have taken and passed the BAR Smarts WIRED course, gone to classes at Bourbon and Branch, and I mix drinks for myself and friends. 

The advice on this subject that has made the most sense to came from a friend, who said I should go to the bar I want to work at, and make myself a fixture there, and eventually work myself into the role of a bar back, and then to bartender.

I would greatly appreciate any advice  you could give me.

It's funny how hard you have to work at getting a job that's supposed to be so easy you can do it while pursuing your real career.

I agree with your friend's advice about stalking a particular bar, though it can be time consuming, expensive at the better bars in town, and may never actually work if there are no positions open. (But on the plus side, the drinks will be good.) It's hard to know in advance, but I do know a couple of cocktail enthusiasts who got a job this way.

Jackiepatterson42belowcompsmall  Also, you could increase your chances by trying to get a job with a catering company. In many cases these companies need bartenders and bar backs so this is a way to get some hands-on hospitality experience that could make a difference to the person who would eventually hire you. 

Third, you could join the USBG (United States Bartenders' Guild). I think you can join as an Associate member if you're not a practicing bartender, but you can go to most the events, meet the top bartenders, and put the word out that you're looking to work your way up the ladder. Attend all the bartending events and competitions, and get to know people- that's the essence of getting hired. USBG members also do a lot of  special events and fundraisers- volunteer to barback/take tickets/etc. for these events. 

Joeparrilli42belowcomp2008small  Fourth, when you hear of a bar opening, contact the bar or beverage director and ask to submit a resume. In San Francisco, read websites like Alcademics (of course), Eater, and the Chronicle's Inside Scoop to find out what's opening in the future. You could also place an ad on Gary Regan's Weekly Shooter email saying that you're looking to work your way up from the bottom. 

Two More Things to Keep in Mind:

  1. Show you'd be a good worker by being a great customer. Bus your own glasses from your table, move to accommodate people trying to get to the bar,  don't bother the bartender too much when s/he's busy, and generally be helpful. Think of yourself as an ambassador to the bars you love. 
  2. There is a big difference between "letting the bar manager know you're available" and "stalking." 

What Do You Think? 

Bartenders get harassed constantly for jobs. Have any advice for people who want to put in the time to learn what you do?