A few weeks ago I took a bartending class in an attempt to get a better job for the summer. I had recently met a dozen people with bartending jobs and the more I heard about it, the more I realized that it would be a great way to spend my summer.

Now that I’ve taken the class, my friends think they’d like to try it too. After all, you get to meet new people on a daily basis, the pay is good and you get to impress people with bar tricks and random knowledge. Simple, right? Well, not quite. There are a few things that make the job difficult and sometimes competitive, but once you get ahold of one, the job gets fun.

Learning to bartend isn’t too difficult. Some employers will hire you without any previous experience, but most will prefer that you have some time logged behind a bar. There isn’t an official bartender’s license that you need to get before you start working, but there are some skills that you will need to learn to be able to keep up with the other bartenders.

Taking a class

The best way to learn the tricks of tending bar is to take the time to attend a class. Granted, the classes are expensive, but you’re much more likely to get a job if you have some sort of guided experience on your resume. Classes can cost as little as $190 and as much as $500. Some classes will involve hours of memorizing drink recipes as well as learning the techniques for mixing and serving drinks. Other classes will simply teach you the skills that are common to all bartending jobs and leave it up to you to learn the quirks of whichever job you land.

The basic skills that a class will teach you include pouring, mixing and garnishing. You will also learn about the types of glasses, essential bar equipment and the common setup behind a bar. The class will allow you to become familiar with a bar and all of the necessary tools so you can be prepared when you begin looking for employment.

Finding a class

The best way to find a class would be to ask around. Many college kids have taken classes to train for a part-time or summer job, and a lot of adults work behind the bar part-time to earn some extra cash. Try searching the Internet for bartending classes in your area and make sure to make a few calls to check on the legitimacy of the company. Classes will range in time and cost. Look for one that focuses on teaching you to be comfortable behind a bar, not one that simply teaches you how to make all the drinks.

The Pay

Most people know that bartending is a potentially lucrative career or part-time job and those that already do tend bar will assure you that it’s a great source of income. For a full-time employee, figures range from $300 to $700 per week, with the average somewhere around $500. A bartender’s salary is fairly low, usually minimum wage or less, and the majority of income comes from tips. In order to get those tips though, you need to be personable, knowledgeable and most importantly, fast.

The Skills

Speed is a key element in being appreciated both by your manager and also by the customers. Your employer will benefit from your ability to sell more as you serve faster and the customers will be more satisfied if they don’t have to wait, and thus more likely to tip you well.

Personality is the other important aspect of tending bar. If you want to make an impression on customers, learn a little of everything about the local scene. Know what’s happening with the sports teams, the weather, the arts scene. Make sure you know a number of jokes and be prepared to be corny. Pick up bits of useless trivia whenever you can. Anything you can do to break the ice between you and the customer will benefit you in the end.

Legal Responsibilities

Although tending bar may seem to be your dream job, there are a few laws and rules that you should know about before you jump right in. For instance, many states will not allow you to smoke or drink behind the bar. Even if the law does allow either, odds are that it won’t go over well with your customers. Would you want to order a drink from a bartender who had a cigarette hanging off of his or her lip? Probably not, especially if you’re in a fairly upscale cocktail bar.

Every state and every bar has its own rules for what is legal and what is appropriate within an establishment. When you first get a job, make sure you know what your employer expects of you.

The most important laws that you will need to know are those that deal with serving a customer to the point of intoxication. Despite the common misconception, it is illegal for a bartender to serve a customer up to or past the point of intoxication.

It is also illegal to allow an intoxicated customer to leave the bar if he or she may attempt to drive or operate any type of vehicle. If a customer does leave your bar or restaurant while intoxicated and injures or kills someone while driving, you and your employer can be held responsible.

Even if a customer enters your bar already intoxicated, it is your duty to convince that customer to stay in the bar or to get a ride home. If the customer will not agree, either you or the manager must alert the police in order to avoid responsibility for any of the customer’s future actions.

Starting Out

Getting into a bartending job isn’t easy, even if you have taken a class. Most people start out by waiting tables in a restaurant and then moving on to tending bar as they gain experience.

Catering jobs are also an option. In catering, you will still be mixing and preparing drinks, but the interaction with the customer will be much less and it will be easier for you to settle into the job.

Bar backing is also an option. A bar-back essentially runs all the errands for a bartender. If the bartender needs ice, napkins, garnishes or more liquor, the bar-back gets it. If you can impress the bartender you are working under, you may be able to start getting shifts behind the bar.

Both catering and bar-backing are great options for getting a start in tending bar. The key to getting the coveted night shift is to impress one of the senior bartenders at your bar. Once you show them that you can handle the job, they’ll be more likely to come to you when they need one of their shifts covered.

The Important Part

Most of all, bartending is supposed to be enjoyable. If you enjoy what you’re doing, the customer will most likely return to your bar and your tips will increase. Keep a smile on your face and you’ll be able to deal with just about anyone.

And even if you never get around to working in a bar, you’ll know enough drinks to throw a good party and you’ll have a few good bar tricks to impress your friends with.

Martins can be reached at jmartins@campustimes.org.

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