Oh the people you’ll meet
By far the most memorable of my bartending lessons. People are a fascinating bunch… add alcohol and it makes for an even more interesting experience. You’ll meet all sorts of folks; those who can ramble on and on about themselves for hours, those who want to know everything about you (and why you aren’t making better use of that college degree), and those who get a little too crazy (like the one liquored-up woman who lit up a cigarette indoors and danced skankily on the bartop to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” at the 5-star restaurant I used to work at). These experiences make you learn how to deal with people in their most idiotic of moments, yes, but they also give you great stories to tell.
Become an alcohol snob
This sounds obnoxious, but one of the best skills I’ve acquired through bartending is the ability to differentiate a good scotch from a mediocre one, finding a wine that pairs well with your meal, and understanding the subtleties of different brands, varietals, etc. Believe me, there is nothing more awesome than a young woman (or man) who meets a guy (or girl) for drinks and orders an Oban 18 neat.
Become a social commodity instantaneously
All of a sudden you’re an asset. People can’t wait to bring you to their parties. A typical conversation:
Stranger: “Wait, you used to bartend?!”
Stranger: “ Will you make me a (insert mixed drink here)?”
This can be a pain sometimes, but it’s a great way to enhance your image and social sphere.
Make the best of friends
Bartending consists of long hours working with pretty much the same people. At the end of a long shift, it’s nice to relax with a drink and chat up your co-workers. I’ve met some of my best and most loyal friends at work.
Become a social confidant
The previous point being said, friends are far more willing to give themselves up when they’re intoxicated. Whether they want to share some work-related gossip or some serious life events (“Wait…you had an abortion?!” is always an interesting one), your work friends will become some of your most intimate friends when you bartend.
Which brings me to… free drinks
Many restaurants have a policy that allows their employees to have an after-shift drink. This varies by establishment. Let me first make it perfectly clear that I do not condone any sort of theft, but even if the bar you work at doesn’t offer this perk, what is the likelihood that management will notice one pint of beer has gone missing? If all else fails, the keg kicked that night.
Working as a bartender can be insanely lucrative. So much so it will make you lose sight of your aspirations. You can make more in one night than many of your friends with college degrees make in a week, but it will only get you so far. Keep in mind bartending is a great way to quickly pay off your college loans, but it’s not a career.
You can be anyone you want to be
One of the things that I really enjoy about serving people is that you can be anyone you want to be. Feeling crappy that night? That’s fine, act like the boss bartender who doesn’t take crap from anyone. Feeling adventurous? Why not flirt with the hot businessperson sitting across from you by pretending you’re an intellectual with a masters degree who just got tired of academia. No one knows, no one cares, and it’s a lot of fun.
After you’ve achieved a good grasp of how to make every drink without needing to look in the little recipe book behind the bar, you will be much more comfortable with the question, “so, can you make me something different that I’ll love?” You’ll understand proportions and flavors, and will be able to conjure up some phenomenal drinks of your own. Who knows, you may even have a drink named after you.
Learn how to serve
Ultimately, bartending is about serving people. Not everyone can stand up to other people’s bullshit. If you’re the kind of person who can, congratulations, you’ve earned a lot of respect and can pretty much do anything you want to do.