I worked in a bar during a really fun period in my life I’ve termed the Trying To Get People To Pay Money For My Writing period aka The Blogging To No One Years. If you want flexible hours, new friends and the ability to open a bottle of prosecco without taking someone’s (or your own) eye out, then it’s a great job. You may also spend some time sitting on the floor in the store room crying and a lot of time crouching on the floor eating bar snacks. Here’s how to survive…
How to get the job
The bar industry is a sexist industry which means that, unfortunately, if you’re female and don’t turn up wearing a large banana costume you’ll be a lot more likely to get the position. This aside, it all really comes down to personality and your ability to communicate in a friendly and approachable way – no, you don’t have to be Mr Smooth or Miss Bubbly (I’m not) but you’ve got to show them you’re a nice dude who might be good at chatting to the very drunk man called Ralph who props up the bar every night from 5pm.
1. Put any customer service experience you have on your CV. From retail to waitressing and call centres to charity mugging, sorry, charity street team work. Anything that shows you’ve had a position involving the general public will stand you in good stead because, let’s face it, anyone can be taught how to pour a basic pint.
2. Say you love alcohol. Not in a “I LOVE GOING OUT YEAH” way, but in a “I’m a big cask-ale fan” way. Obviously check what stuff they stock before proclaiming you love cask ale because some bars don’t serve cask ale. Tailor your preferences accordingly.
3. Be chatty. As in, don’t be nervous and silent as well as don’t overdo it by shouting and jumping up on the table – nobody’s looking for the loudest person in the room, they’re looking for someone who’d be nice to get stuck with at a party. If you feel stuck, ask them questions about the bar, about how long they’ve worked there, about what the clientele are like. Keep the conversation light and friendly – for more confidence tips, have a look at our ways to fake it ’til you make it.
4. Push the fact that you’re flexible and desperate for money. This says to them that they’ll always have someone on hand to cover a shift when they’re most needed. It also says that you’ll be up for loads of work and willing to work hard. Like Friday, Saturday, Sunday night hard. Which you will, won’t you?! Ha ha. Grimace.
How to do a bloody good job
Sure, it’s all about chatting and being friendly, but you’ve got to know the basics too. Otherwise you’ll be a friendly person working as a glass collector for the rest of your stop-gap life.
1. Learn how to pour a pint. Watch the other barstaff and you’ll see that you pour a pint at an angle, without touching the sides of the glass against the nozzle, gradually straightening it out to add froth. Some beers will be all froth, so don’t straighten it out at all. Some beers will spit or dribble out of the pump, which means the barrel needs to be changed. When this happens, you must yell “THE AMSTELL/GUINNESS/ASPALL IS OFF” and someone will go change it. I worked in a bar for two years and never learned how to change barrels – it’s a good skill to have but, until you do, just yell.
2. Be tidy. There is limited space behind a bar, so don’t leave measures and cloths and dirty glasses around the place. If you’re pouring wine, put the bottle away before you give the wine to the customer. If you’re doing cocktails, same rule applies even though it’s slow and the customer will probably start tapping on the bar and yelling.
3. Wear flat shoes and don’t wear short skirts or tight trousers. Why? Because you’re bending over all over the place. Those extra skinny jeans are pointless if they mean you can’t reach the clean glasses on the bottoms shelf. And flat shoes because you’re running all over the place. Those six inch heels are pointless if they mean you break your leg.
4. Don’t free pour. In America you can empty as much gin as you like into that G&T but, in the UK, you’ve got to use the little measures. Wine glasses have a little line on the side of them, so fill up to there or use the big measures if you’ve got poor eyesight. Oh and, while we’re on the subject, two single measures of spirit DON’T equal a double. There is a separate double measure. Found that out about a year into my bar career and got shouted at quite loudly by my manager for wasting thousands of pounds worth of booze.
5. If a customer buys you a drink, don’t pour it. Ring it through the till, thank the customer and tell him you’ll have it on your break. Then bloody have it on your break (but don’t tell the manager. Heh heh). Alternatively, save it for the end of your shift so you can sit at the bar and savour that wine while everyone around you shoots evil stares.
6. Be nice to the weird regulars. Yeah, they’re weird and will ask odd questions like “Are you happy with your life?” before staring at you for ages, but they’re giving good custom. They’re spending dollar. If your manager sees you’re getting on well with the weirdos then he/she will think you’re a god – but, obviously, don’t be overly nice because some of them might actually be weirdos.
7. Nobody is allowed to be inappropriate towards you. If a customer gets over friendly or crosses the mark, firmly tell them to stop then go and report it to your manager. They will kick them out. If they don’t kick them out, find another bar to work in.
How to enjoy it(ish)
Yeah it can be a slog, but there are ways to keep a happy smile on your face.
1. Create playlists of your fave songs. The bar usually controls the music (big plus) so you can make all sorts of playlists to suit all sorts of shifts; the Sunday Afternoon shift (Motown, jazz, classics), the Friday Night Partaaaay Woooo (Partaaaay Woooo music), the Not Many Punters In So Bollocks To It playlist (Cheese) etc. Go nuts. I used to mop the floor, after a particular hard shift, to Frank Sinatra’s My Way.
2. Have code names for fit people. The (better) bar staff at the pub I worked at had a whole vocabulary that revolved around cereal, if I remember rightly. Or it might have been “donut” for a not fit person and “Cheerios” for a fit person. Either way, if you call it, you get to serve the hottie.
3. Be friends with the other bartenders. What’s the point in working until 2am if you can’t giggle and hit other people with cloths? Most people who work in bars got the job because they’re interesting and fun, so have a chat with them/share your wine gums with them and your shift will go a lot faster.
4. Drink water, not coke. You won’t be happy if you’re having a massive sugar crash and, with coke and lemonade on tap, it’s easy to slip into really bad wellbeing habits. Go zen and drink only tap water. Honestly, you’ll thank me a lot for this one.
Transferable skills you’ll get
It’s not for nothing and you’ll come out of a bar job with much more than beer stained eveningwear and great arm muscles (in one arm).
1. Networking and communication
There isn’t really another customer service job that requires you to be as fun as possible with strangers. I worked in customer service for a big retail company and basically spoke like a robot all day – bar work allows you to connect with a wide range of different people from a variety of backgrounds. French artists, alcoholic locals, young professionals, builders, plumbers, poets, everyone goes to bars to drink.
2. Time management
Bar shifts are flexible, but you have to fit everything else around them and juggling 2am nights with early mornings can be tough. At first I would end up writing until 4am because I’d forgotten to do it that day, but a few nights like this really forces you to sort out your diary.
Especially if you rise to bar supervisor – this requires heading up a team and overseeing all the orders, staff and rota-ing – but even as a bartender you need to know who you’ve last served, what they ordered and what you’ve already made. Sounds obvious, but when the bar is three people deep and full of various half filled glasses, it can be pretty difficult.
Remembering orders. Oh god. When people go to restaurants, and waitresses don’t have pens, you’re hesitant to reel off twenty dishes all with slight alterations. In a bar, after a few drinks, everyone seems to presume the bartender is a wizard. Try visualising each drink as they say it (this really helps), and always ask for a repeat of the order if you haven’t got it (better than screwing it up) but your memory will definitely improve over time.
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