Bartender

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Introduction

A bartender’s most obvious outward function is to take and prepare drink orders from customers at a bar or from the wait staff who have taken orders from customers. To do this, the bartender must be familiar with dozens of cocktail recipes and names or create drinks to a customer’s specifications. Often drink names are regional, so an awareness of the variability of drink names is desirable. The bartender then collects the money, makes change, and keeps track of tips (particularly when tips are distributed among bartenders, wait staff, and other restaurant employees).

Beyond mixing drinks, the bartender has to maintain an inventory of the alcoholic beverages, mixes, and other bar supplies, making sure the items are ordered, received, and stocked. The bartender also washes the glassware and mixing implements, arranges them attractively, and keeps snacks on hand (usually salty so customers get thirsty quickly) in dishes on the bar.

Many customers will frequent a bar on a regular basis, so the bartender should get to know the customers and their regular drink orders. The bartender should be able to recommend nearby restaurants and attractions and offer some advice about the area. Occasionally a bar is themed, be it sports, Irish, or wine, so the bartender may want to be familiar with what is happening in the world of sports, particularly home team standings and accomplishments; have a repertoire of Irish songs ready to sing; or have a near encyclopedic knowledge of wines, vintages, vineyards, and trends in the wine industry.

Because of the possibility of a lawsuit or criminal charge, the bartender should make sure all customers are of a legal drinking age and make sure they do not overly imbibe. Although some jurisdictions have enacted legislation prohibiting smoking in bars, it is still allowed in many. Therefore, the bartender is exposed to second-hand smoke.

Bartenders have few travel obligations other than attending industry conferences and seminars unless they work on a cruise ship. However, the skills are easily transferable whenever a bartender wants to move to a different location. One way to assure travel and celebrity is to develop a specialty, such as being known as the martini master or by creating as many unusual but tasty drinks as possible. Bartenders can specialize in one ingredient (e.g., vodka, Scotch, rum, wine), or dessert drinks, or even mock tails (cocktails without alcohol). Bartenders with such a reputation may be invited to demonstrate their specialties at trade shows, food and wine festivals, on television shows, and in other venues. Transportation, accommodations, and meals usually are paid when bartenders are invited to these events.

What Bartenders Do

Bartenders mix drinks according to recipes.

Bartenders mix drinks and serve them directly to customers or through wait staff.

Duties

Bartenders typically do the following:

  • Greet customers, give them menus, and inform them about daily specials
  • Take drink orders from customers
  • Pour wine and serve draft and bottled beer and other drinks and beverages
  • Mix drinks according to recipes
  • Check identification of customers, to ensure that they are of legal drinking age
  • Clean bars, tables, and work areas
  • Operate cash registers, collect payments from customers, and return change
  • Manage bar operation and order and maintain liquor and bar supplies

Bartenders fill drink orders either directly from customers at the bar or through waiters and waitresses who place drink orders for dining room customers. Bartenders must know a wide range of drink recipes and be able to mix drinks correctly, quickly, and without waste. They also must work well with waiters and waitresses and other kitchen staff to ensure that customers receive prompt service.

Some establishments, especially busy establishments with many customers, use equipment that automatically measures, pours, and mixes drinks at the push of a button. Bartenders who use this equipment, however, still must become familiar with the ingredients for special drink requests and be able to work quickly to handle numerous drink orders.

Bartenders usually work evenings and weekends.

Bartenders in some establishments also use carbonated beverage dispensers, cocktail shakers and other accessories, commercial strainers, mist and trigger sprayers, and ice shaver machines.

In addition to mixing and serving drinks, bartenders stock and prepare garnishes for drinks and maintain an adequate supply of ice, glasses, and other bar supplies. They also may wash glassware and utensils and serve food to customers who eat at the bar. Bartenders are usually responsible for ordering and maintaining an inventory of liquor, mixers, and other bar supplies.

Some bartenders run their own bar or catering business. In addition to their standard bartending duties, they also are responsible for hiring, training, and supervising their staff, budgeting for and ordering supplies, and setting prices.

Restaurants and other eating places 43%
Drinking places (alcoholic beverages) 29
Civic and social organizations 8
Traveler accommodation 7
Other amusement and recreation industries 5

Work Environment

Bartenders should be friendly, tactful, and attentive when dealing with customers.

Bartenders held about 551,100 jobs in 2012. 

The industries that employed the most bartenders in 2012 were as follows:

Bartenders work at restaurants, bars, clubs, hotels, and other food service establishments. Although most bartenders work indoors, some work outdoors at pool or beach bars or when tending a bar at catered events.

During busy hours, bartenders are under pressure to serve customers quickly and efficiently, while ensuring that no alcohol is served to minors or overly intoxicated customers.

Bartenders perform repetitive tasks, and sometimes they lift heavy kegs of beer and cases of liquor. In addition, the work can be stressful, because they often deal with heavily intoxicated customers to whom they must deny service.

Because bartenders often are in the front line of customer service in bars and restaurants, a neat appearance is important. Those who work in upscale restaurants and bars may be required to wear uniforms, including ties or aprons, which are typically provided by their employers.

Work Schedules

Bartenders often work late evenings, weekends, and holidays. Nearly half worked part time in 2012. 

Bartenders who run their own business often work long hours managing all aspects of the business to ensure bills and salaries are paid, supplies are ordered, and the business is profitable.

How to Become a Bartender

Most bartenders learn their skills through short-term on-the-job training. No formal education is required.

Many bartenders are promoted from other jobs at the establishments in which they work. Bartenders at upscale establishments usually have attended bartending classes or have previous work experience.

Although most states require workers who serve alcoholic beverages to be at least 18 years old, most bartenders are 25 or older. Bartenders must be familiar with state and local laws concerning the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Education

No formal education is required to become a bartender. However, some aspiring bartenders acquire their skills by attending a school for bartending or by attending bartending classes at a vocational or technical school. These programs often include instruction on state and local laws and regulations concerning the sale of alcohol, cocktail recipes, proper attire and conduct, and stocking a bar. The length of each program varies, but most courses last a few weeks. Some schools help their graduates find jobs.

Training

Most bartenders receive short-term on-the-job training, usually lasting a few weeks, under the guidance of an experienced bartender. Training focuses on cocktail recipes, bar-setup procedures, and customer service, which includes handling unruly customers and other unpleasant situations. In food service establishments where bartenders serve food, the training may cover teamwork and proper food-handling procedures.

Some employers teach bartending skills to new workers by providing self-study programs, online programs, audiovisual presentations, and instructional booklets that explain service skills. Such programs communicate the philosophy of the establishment, help new bartenders build rapports with other staff, and instill a desire to work as a team.

Other Experience

Some bartenders qualify through related work experience. They may start as bartender helpers and progress into full-fledged bartenders as they learn basic mixing procedures and recipes.

Advancement

Advancement for bartenders is usually limited to finding a job in a busier or more expensive restaurant or bar where prospects for earning tips are better. Some bartenders advance to supervisory jobs, such as dining room supervisor, maitre d', assistant manager, and restaurant general manager. A few bartenders open their own bars.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Bartenders must listen carefully to their customers’ orders, explain drink and food items, and make menu recommendations. They also should be able to converse with customers on a variety of subjects, to create a friendly and welcoming environment at a bar.

Customer-service skills. Because establishments that serve alcohol rely on retaining current customers and attracting new ones, bartenders should have good customer-service skills to ensure repeat business.

Decision-making skills. Because of the legal issues that come with serving alcohol, bartenders must be able to make good decisions. For example, they should be able to detect intoxicated customers and deny further service to those individuals.

Interpersonal skills. Bartenders should be friendly, tactful, and attentive when dealing with customers. For example, they should be able to tell a joke and laugh with a customer to build rapport.

Physical stamina. Bartenders spend hours on their feet preparing drinks, serving customers, and sometimes lifting and carrying heavy cases of liquor, beer, and other bar supplies.

Pay

The median hourly wage (including tips) for bartenders was $9.09 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.85 per hour, and the top 10 percent earned more than $15.49 per hour.

Bartenders’ earnings often come from a combination of hourly wages and customers’ tips. Earnings vary greatly, depending on the type of establishment. For example, in some popular and busy restaurants and bars, tips are higher than wages.

In some states, tipped employees are paid the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour as of July 24, 2009) in addition to tips. Others earn more per hour, because they work in states that set minimum wages higher than the federal minimum.

States may have exceptions to the minimum wage laws in specific circumstances for tipped employees. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, tipped employees are those who regularly receive more than $30 a month in tips. The employer may consider tips as part of wages, but the employer must pay at least $2.13 an hour in direct wages. The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor maintains a website with minimum wages for tipped employees, by state.

Bartenders often work late evenings, weekends, and holidays. Nearly half worked part time in 2012.                                

Bartenders who run their own business often work long hours managing all aspects of the business to ensure that bills and salaries are paid, supplies are ordered, and that the business is profitable.

Job Outlook

Employment of bartenders is projected to grow 12 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

As the population grows, more people will dine out and drink at a variety of food and drinking places. In response, many new bars, taverns, clubs, and restaurants are expected to open to meet demand. However, the growing popularity of take-out food and the growing number and variety of places that offer self-service or carryout options, including many full-service restaurants, may moderate employment growth.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities are expected to be good because of the need to replace the many workers who leave the occupation each year.

Strong competition is expected for bartending jobs in popular restaurants and fine-dining establishments, where tips are highest. Those who have graduated from bartending school and those with previous work experience and excellent customer-service skills should have the best job prospects.

Employment projections data for bartenders, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Bartenders

35-3011 551,100 616,700 12 65,600 bartender.xls
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