What I Learned While Bartending With Absolutely Zero ExperienceI work as an event planner at a hall that holds a lot of quinceañeras and wedding receptions. When I found out we needed a new bartender (and we didn't have time to hire one) I thought that with my thirst to learn and people skills, I could easily stand in. Doesn't being a college student basically make you qualified anyways? Since I know the basics of mixed drinks from hosting the occasional house party and making a casual drink-with-dinner, I thought I would know enough to catch on. Wrong. Bartending requires major practice, previous knowledge, and skill as well as excellent overall speed, focus, listening skills, and patience. Here's the story of how I learned the hard way.
"So what do you know how to do?" This was the first thing the bartender asked me as I walked behind the bar to join him that Saturday night. I listed off what I could remember—always put the ice in first and every bartender's shot count is different (I'm a five shots kind of server), limes are for Corona and oranges are for Bluemoon, never wear heels and always smile.
During our first meeting a few days before, I had told him I could pour a glass of wine, open a beer, line up shots, and make a few basic drinks such as gin and tonic (I mean it's just gin and tonic water right? Oh, don't forget the lime). I figured that after watching him a while and with some instructions on other popular drinks, I would have no problem.
As the wedding, guests flooded the bar area just after the final vows and I froze. It's a wedding—I was under the impression most guests would opt for wine or beer at the reception dinner—but no, I was dead wrong. I mean, what is an AMF? (For future reference, it's actually an "Adios Mother F*****" which is basically a Long Island Ice Tea minus the Coke plus Blue Curacao and Sweet and Sour).
Who wants to spend $10 on bottom-shelf liquor and blue food dye at a wedding? The kind of guest I was unprepared to bartend—the one who has already taken three shots of Hennessy.
So what did I do? I played it safe and kept to the basics. I sliced limes. I sliced lemons. I sliced lemons again. I sliced oranges. I opened beer bottles. I poured wine. I washed glasses. I chatted with guests.
And then the mother of the bride came along. She wanted to ask the bartender a question about their contract, and since he was distracted, I decided to make a drink for the next person in line. She asked for Red Berry Ciroc with Sprite, made with literally a shot of Red Berry Ciroc and Sprite. Can't mess that up. And I didn't.
The moment of triumph was short-lived, however, when my fellow bartender came up to me and said, "just stick with the beer and the cash register. I'll do the mixed drinks." It hurt. But you know what? Because I had all this extra time to chat up the customers, even though I technically served less drinks, I made more tips. So in the end, this is a success story.
Tidbits and Tips for the New Bartender on the Block
- Keep the soda on tap fresh and the machinery clean—this is vital. #flatspritesucks
- When you cut 15-30 lemons and limes all night, your hands will smell like a citrus garden for a good 24 hours
- There is a fine line between being friendly with the customers and not paying enough attention to the next person in line. It's hard to do your job and be liked while you are doing it
- A simple smile goes a long way, especially when you can't do much of anything else
- Always respect your mentor. I know the bartender I worked with might have seemed like a jerk, but ultimately he was the one teaching me and giving me the opportunity to learn in the first place.
- Finally and perhaps most importantly, don't drink AMFs
And we all lived happily ever after. No, really. The next week, the standing bartender and I had a short training session to talk over popular drinks, work on my shot pour, and clear up some questions from the first time. The next wedding, I got to be a REAL bartender. So what did I learn? A little patience, a little smile, and a good attitude are ingredients for every drink.Disclaimer: Do not take my empowered statement as in indication to try and run a bar without any experience. It is really difficult to do this job, especially while you are still learning.