Bartenders mix and serve drinks to customers directly or through wait staff. Bartenders work in restaurants, bars, clubs, hotels, and other food service establishments. During busy hours, they are under pressure to serve customers quickly and efficiently. About half of all bartenders work full time, and they often must work late evenings, weekends, and holidays.
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Bartenders fill drink orders either directly from patrons at the bar or through waiters and waitresses who place drink orders for dining room customers. They must know a wide range of drink recipes and be able to mix drinks accurately, quickly, and without waste. Bartenders typically do the following:
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 work quickly to handle a large quantity of drink orders and be familiar with the ingredients for special drink requests. In some establishments they also may use carbonated beverage dispensers, cocktail shakers or accessories, commercial strainers, mist or 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. They are usually responsible for ordering and maintaining an inventory of liquor, mixers, and other bar supplies.
Many bartenders are promoted from other jobs at the food service establishments in which they work and receive short-term on-the-job training. However, those who wish to work at more upscale establishments usually need previous work experience or vocational training. Although most jurisdictions require workers who serve alcoholic beverages to be at least 18 years old, many employers prefer to hire people who are 25 or older. There are no specific education requirements. Most bartenders receive short-term on-the-job training, usually lasting a few weeks, under the guidance of a more experienced bartender. Training programs focus on basic customer service, teamwork, and food safety procedures. Programs also provide an opportunity to discuss proper ways to handle unruly customers and unpleasant situations.
Some employers teach new workers using self-study programs, online programs, audiovisual presentations, or instructional booklets that explain service skills. Such programs communicate the philosophy of the establishment, help new bartenders build personal rapports with other staff, and instill a desire to work as a team.
Some bartenders qualify through work-related experience. They may start as bartender helpers and progress into full-fledged bartenders as they learn basic mixing procedures and recipes. New workers often learn by working with a more experienced bartender.
Some bartenders acquire their skills through formal training, either by attending a school for bartending or a vocational and technical school with bartending classes. These programs often include instruction on local laws and regulations, cocktail recipes, proper attire and conduct, and stocking a bar. The lengths of programs vary, but most courses last a few weeks. Some schools help their graduates find jobs. Advancement for bartenders is usually limited to finding a job in a busier or more expensive restaurant or bar where prospects of earning tips are better. Some bartenders advance to supervisory jobs, such as dining room supervisor, maitre d’, assistant manager, or restaurant general manager. A few bartenders open their own bar.
Because establishments that serve alcohol rely on retaining old and attracting new customers, bartenders should have good customer service skills to ensure repeat business. Because of the legal issues that come with serving alcohol, bartenders must make good decisions at all times. For example, they should be able to detect intoxicated customers and deny service to those customers. They also 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. Bartenders work on their feet for long periods of time. Many lift heavy cases of liquor, beer, or other bar supplies. They often fill drink orders for waiters and waitresses who are serving dining room customers. As a result, bartenders must work well with their colleagues to ensure that customers receive prompt service.
Bartenders work in restaurants, bars, clubs, hotels, and other food service establishments.
The median hourly wage (including tips) of bartenders was $8.98 in May 2010. The lowest 10% earned less than $7.60 per hour, and the top 10% earned more than $15.14 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 many full-service restaurants, tips are higher than wages. Many entry-level or inexperienced workers earn the minimum wage. However, many others earn more per hour because they work in jurisdictions that set minimum wages higher than the minimum.