What I Have Learned About the Bartending Industry

Last night I wrote about the crowd I have kept lately. Outside of work it boils down to teachers and servers/bartenders. In my Sunday evening post I described what I have learned about the teaching profession over the past several months. Tonight I will focus on the other group. Because I have already profiled servers a couple years ago, I will concentrate on bartenders. Just like yesterday, I will provide five themes I have picked up on when socializing with folks who tend bar.

Not All Glamour: I am sure many of us at one time or the other have thought that working as a bartender would be a lot of fun and, because of our lovely tip-inducing personalities, profitable. It just isn’t always like that. Many bartenders work long shifts at horrendous hourly rates. Yes, they are obviously working for tips but those gratuities don’t always come through. Many employees commute long distances to their places of work. Some have to pay for babysitters. There are nights when bartenders are actually paying to clock in.

Especially in the Myrtle Beach area you will meet people who bartend at multiple locations. During the non-tourist season, many establishments don’t have the need for a whole crew of bartenders. Because of this, qualified people in the craft take what they can get, picking up one shift here and one shift there. Whereas many of us enjoy the luxury of a consistent and steady paycheck, bartenders don’t.

Dealing With Drunks and Stiffs: It is the nature of the job that you have to deal with intoxicated patrons. However, you would be surprised at how unruly/mean/out of line some people get. Bartenders get abused by inebriated customers frequently. What might be worse than the drunks though are the stiffs. I have had many a bartender tell me that some people just flat out don’t tip. Or, some will order $50 in drinks and tip $2. Some will leave coins. Like I mentioned above, these people are working for tips. To see patrons not even give the minimal percentage of a gratuity is sad.

They All Watch “Bar Rescue”: Because my obsession with “Bar Rescue” is real, I will always eventually ask a bartender friend if he/she watches the show. I kid you not, the answer is always yes! Not only is the answer always yes, it is an enthusiastic yes…they all love it. Of course I then dive into conversations with them about Jon Taffer, favorite episodes, and whether or not their bar needs a rescue.

You Must Be Able to Multi-Task: You must be able to juggle a lot when tending a bar, I hear this from everyone I know. You have to pour drinks, close out bills, clean up spills, manage conflict, serve food, re-stock supplies, answer phones, and so on. When you have a bar that is full you must bring your “A” game. Everyone has different needs and it is the bartender’s job to satisfy them all. There is so much to keep track of that it can get very overwhelming. How many of us have seen situations where a place is packed and the mob to order drinks runs several people deep around the whole bar? Talk about pressure!

Close-Knit Community: The bar industry is extremely close. When an off-duty bartender walks into another bar, he/she will treat the on-duty bartender with nothing but respect. The conversation will be lively and the tip will be very generous. When I lived in Missoula, an annual event was held called Bartender’s New Year. On this night, a prominent establishment in town would shut down its doors to everyone except bartenders (think any industry night times ten). It would be a huge party and the lucky bartenders who worked would have their biggest night of the year. People who work in this business understand the struggles and sacrifices and that results in a great deal of camaraderie.


Of course there is so much more than this that I am sure bartenders want the general public to know. But for someone like me who knows pretty much next to nothing about the industry, these are the main things that stand out to me when observing and talking with bartenders. Always make sure to treat the person behind the bar right and tip generously. Don’t Blink.

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