Ask Your Bartender: Advice for a High School Senior

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Hey Bartender,

I’m a senior in high school here in Eugene, and I read about you in the Register Guard today. I’ve been thinking about becoming a bartender for a while, and the article, along with your blog, pretty much sealed the deal. I was wondering if you would tell me how you got into it, what I should expect (the good and the bad of the job), and anything else you think is important. I really appreciate any advice you could give me, thanks for your time.

K

Hey K

Get yourself some really comfortable shoes.

Just kidding. Sort of. I think that if you go back and check out some of my older posts you’ll get a pretty good idea of what I think are the positive and the negative aspects of being a career bartender, so check out the archives. But enough about me, let’s talk about you.

No matter what any high school guidance counselor tells you, most people rarely have any clue what they’ll be doing in ten, fifteen, or twenty years. Just look at me: I went to school to be an architect and now here I am answering bartending questions on the internet. So remember, keep your options open, because you never know where life will take you.

Now, I’m guessing (hoping, actually) that you’ve never set foot in a bar and won’t for several more years, so although I wonder why you want to become a bartender in the first place, I’m going to give you some advice.

1. Get a restaurant job. If you’re don’t already have plans for the summer after graduation, then type up a resume and hit the streets. Most large restaurants (your parents can tell you which ones) need bussers and hosts, so pound the pavement until you get hired bussing or hosting somewhere. You’ll get a good overview of the industry that you won’t be able to get any other way.

2. Go to college. This business we’re in can be real short on intelligent people, so take some classes and get an education. And if you really want to choose a major that will help prepare you to be a modern-age bartender, take this next piece of advice seriously:

3. Learn to cook. The next big phase for bartending is coming out of the kitchen. Bartenders all over the world are starting to explore the culinary side of cocktails, and the next step is going to be universal acceptance. As mixology becomes more widely-regarded as a craft and less associated with alcoholism and binge-drinking (just as winemaking and brewing have done over the past thirty years) bartenders with culinary backgrounds are going to be at the forefront of the industry.

So what I’m saying is that having a head start in the kitchen is going to help you set yourself aside as a leader in the field, rather than just another schlub throwing around rum-and-Cokes all night.

There are cooking schools everywhere these days, Lane Community College in Eugene even has a great culinary arts program. Look into it.

And if you have any doubts about my predictions for the future of bartending, check out any of the links on the right for further reading – my friends can shed a whole lot more light on all of this for you.

Good luck, K, and keep us up-to-date in the comments section below!

12 Replies to “Ask Your Bartender: Advice for a High School Senior”

  • K-

    Make sure you follow Jeff’s advice! I agreee with all the advice he gave you. From my standpoint, one of the greatest things about bartending, is the people you meet. Of course, this can also be a downside too. Not only have I made great friends across the bar, but behind the stick as well. Bartending has been great to me. I’ve travelled the world and made some really great friends. (Yes, Jeff, that means you)

    My advice is if your going to do something, do it right, no matter what it is. Follow your passion. Sounds like you’re on the right track for sure. Learn all you can and remember, you NEVER stop learning.

    Cheers to a successful career!

    Sean

  • Sean says:

    Jeffrey,

    I’m glad you answered that question because I was just about to ask it myself.

    Now to pose a different situation, I have a (short lived) food industry background, I’m a year away from graduating with my bachelors degree in marketing/management and I find myself more and more fascinated with the hospitality industry then anything else.

    I’ve been working to obtain a bartending job for the past year (Since I’ve been 21, they rarely hire anyone under here) but I find that because I don’t have the practical bartending experience. Now, I have studied bartending guides, experimented with drinks and read your blog daily for some time now but I still do not get the position.

    With all the bartending training sites on the internet, where is a credible bartending school at? or should I explore some proper culinary training?

    Thanks

  • Jeffrey says:

    Thanks, Sean #1! You make a great point when you say that you never stop learning. There’s so much information out there, and I find new articles, blogs and websites every day. The internet is all about the exchange of ideas and information, so always be sure to stop in here and share what you’ve learned with the rest of us!

    Sean #2, I feel for you. I was fortunate enough to stumble upon bartending (I literally flipped a coin between two job offers on the same day) and I’ve never really had to pound the pavement since that day. But if you’re serious about getting in there, I might recommend this bit of advice I gave to someone in your predicament a while ago. There’s lots of great advice in the comments, as well.

    Good luck, and cheers to all!

  • erik_flannestad says:

    I dunno about the cooking school advice. While it never hurts to have multiple options when looking for jobs, in my experience, most cooks would make bad bartenders.

    Maybe the world has changed since I last worked in food service, but, the skill sets, while slightly complementary, are a bit different.

    Mostly, as a cook, you almost never have to talk to customers or handle money. You also are given a much more defined role within the organization of the kitchen. You will be responsible for the grill or salads or expediting during service, not (hopefully) all three, while talking to customers at the same time.

    Cooking is very much a team sport, unlike bartending. That is to say, the kitchen staff works as a whole, much like a sports team, to a single objective. This work dynamic is very different from the mostly singular dynamic of tending bar.

  • Jeffrey says:

    Erik, you’re right: the skill sets are a bit different, but I think that should change.

    Sure, most cooks would make bad bartenders. Most bartenders would make bad cooks. But is it because the two jobs are that different, or is it really because a sort of chasm has grown between the bar and kitchen?

    A lot of cooks I know would have a hard time speaking to a customer. Is that because the nature of cooking is antisocial, or is it because so many antisocial individuals have gravitated to kitchen work?

    A lot of bartenders I know couldn’t prepare a meal to save their lives. Is this because bartending is really that different from cooking, or is it because the craft of working with ingredients to create something delicious has been bred out of bartenders through the proliferation of pre-made mixers, flavorless spirits and a binge-drinking mentality?

    How could expediting or grill training be bad for a bartender? I know many bartenders that don’t know how to prioritize or multitask or expedite their own tickets.

    When there are two or more of us behind my bar, we work together toward a single objective, much like a sports team. I encourage my staff to stay vocal and communicative (much like a good kitchen does), I encourage them not to isolate their station (much like a good kitchen does) and I train them to watch each other’s work and catch any flaws or inconsistencies before the product leaves the bar. Much like a good kitchen does.

    In addition to learning these valuable skill sets in cooking school, K will also learn presentation, how to pair flavors, how to create a well-balanced dish, and how to utilize more ingredients than you and I ever thought possible.

    I don’t know, but it sounds like a win-win situation to me. Any takers?

  • Natalie says:

    Hey Jeff,
    You make so many good points… and I especially like that you point out cooking classes. I could not agree more that the Master Mixologists have an understanding of what goes into creating a culinary masterpiece. We will be seeing more of that in the future.

  • erik_flannestad says:

    Jeffrey,

    It is certainly never bad to be able to cook for yourself nor to have additional career options after you graduate.

    I know I couldn’t cook before I started working in restaurants.

    In addition, being able to cook was the only way I could get a job after my wife and I moved from WI to CA.

    I was just trying to think if I knew anyone who had ever made the transition from cook to bartender or bartender to cook.

    Not being able to think of any examples, I was trying to think of why that might be.

  • I will second (or third) the recommendation for cooking training. It’s good for so many different reasons. But I guess it depends on the type of bartender you are aspiring to be. I’ve always wanted to be as well rounded and know about as many different things as possible. Knowledge of how to combine ingredients for cooking has really helped me to think about bartending more as mixology as opposed to slamming drinks.

    And as Robert Rodriquez has said: Not knowing how to cook is like not knowing how to fuck.

  • K says:

    Wow, I feel so cool that you posted that!
    Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for all the help, and have fun this Saturday!
    ~K

  • C says:

    Funny you should mention cooking and cocktails, I was just perusing the El Bulli menu (one can dream…) and came across these beauties:
    http://www.elbulli.com/catalogo/catalogo/todo_anyo.php?lang=en&id_familia=1&id=1094

    I think the latest ones are particularly interesting, wouldn’t mind tasting a couple…

  • Hey, I have to throw in and echo your praise of the LCC Culinary Arts program — I’m a student there myself. I also agree with your advice that sych experience is good for a bartender — just as experience waiting, bussing, doing dishes, etc. is good for a cook. The dining experience is about more than the food, and even this early in my training, I’m seeing how important it is that every aspect of the guest’s experience be handled with the same care and dedication, and how dependent on each other everyone in this industry is. If the food sucks, great service isn’t going to matter, and conversely, very few cooks are good enough that people will wade through shitty service to eat their food. One of the things that has grated on me, but I’ve come to appreciate, is that they put us through front-of-the-house training in the LCC program.

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