What I learned on bartending being a bartender

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

Bartending was the first summer job I ever wanted to do. It seemed fun, and — being a bit shy — it appeared to me to be an excellent way to meet people.

But despite my enthusiasm for the job, finding a bar ready to hire me during the summer — the only part of the year where I was fully available — was quite the challenge. I had no experience, lived in a small town an hour by train from the city — which makes things complicated when you finish your job at 2 am — and soon realized that I did not match the profile patrons are looking for during summer. After spending two consecutive summers roaming the street of Paris and giving my resume at every possible bar I’d find, I gave up.

But finally, when everything was at their worst, after three months of confinement due to COVID: I lent a job! How? Despite never getting to be a bartender myself, I still hang out — a lot — in bars. And there was mostly that one bar, just near the Seine, where I would go a lot to the point where I became quite close with the bartenders. And when going back to this bar after COVID, I tried my luck: “Do you hire for the summer?”. And well, my fate was good. Not only do they were hiring, but they also were ok with the fact that I had no experience!

Finally: I was a bartender. And, god, my summer was crazy. So for all of you that wanted to have an inside look, here it goes:

(note that the followings reflect my own experiences as a bartender; those can differ from bar to bar)

It is different from doing cocktails at home.

If you’ve ever thought that doing cocktails at home was somewhat similar to doing them in a bar, think again, it is different! The reason? When doing cocktails at home, you may have to serve 2 or 3 of your friend without any time limit. You can easily take your time. But when you’re behind a bar, customers are dozens, and they all wish to be served as fast as possible the best drink possible. So, as a bartender, you’ve got to be fast and focus, so you don’t make any mistake. That is why — in a bar with many clients — we will not start a long and exciting conversation with you. It is not that we don’t like having those types of discussion — on the contrary — but the next person behind you would surely prefer to order rather than listening to us debating.

Bartending does not start when the bar opens.

Indeed, since you’ve got to serve customers as fast as you can, you’ve got to prepare and to do so, we start to work two or three hours before the bar opening. As a chef has to come early to organize all his food, we also have to prepare our material. The prep work is relatively simple and will save us a lot of time ahead. It mostly consists of cutting fruits like orange or lemon that will then be used for cocktails. Still, it also requires most fastidious tasks as filling all the fridge or checking the beer barrels.

Working hours aren’t so fun, but they let you do a lot of things.

It may seem fun at first to work from 4 pm to 2 am, but you soon realize it has some inconvenience. You can say bye to partying with your 9to5 friends, because when they’ll want to get drunk, you’ll have to work, and when you’ll have finally finished working and want to get drunk, they’ll be sleeping. So you’ve got to find friends who can either last all night long or who has the same work hours as you — fortunately , for me, I had both!

But it is true that those work schedules are incredible and let you have many things you don’t have with more common working hours. First of all: you’ve got to sleep every morning! No more alarm at 6 or 7 am, you’re free! Well, at least if you agree to come home from work at 3 am.

Then, after waking up at noon, you’ve got to enjoy your lunch and your afternoon. Wanted to eat at this usually so busy restaurant? Well, not so alive when you go there a Monday at 2 pm when everybody else is working.

Lastly, you still got to party and the one good thing when you join the party after 1 or 2 am? You’re the only one sober! Which gives you quite an admirable advantage!

This is the best position to listen and observe people.

A great point of being behind the bar? You’re not the one drinking the cocktail! Well, said like this, not so much of an excellent point… but, it is non the less accurate. You will — mostly — stay sober during your shift, while your client will get drunk pretty quickly, which gives you an advantage. The one of being able to register things people would normally not do or not say when they will not even remember telling you.

But well, don’t worry too much as a client, we see so many people that except if you’ve made quite the impression or if we already know you, we will not remember your whereabouts.

It is an excellent position to meet new friends.

People have to talk to us — except if you don’t want a drink, of course. You don’t even have to engage in any conversation; people will do it. Yes, it’ll be to order a drink, but the conversation can easily be shifted, and you can take advantage of the time you make her or his drink to ask some questions. And who knows? Maybe she or he will stay at the bar to exchanges with you.

Also, as stated earlier, we tend to stay sober — or at least close to — and when you say something about you: we’ll remember it. Wish can be an excellent conversation improver when everyone else is drunk and will hardly remember what they were talking about 5 minutes after ending the conversation.

And even I, who was not interested in romantically meeting people, made many friends being a bartender.

In the end, bartending is a fantastic job. It’s refreshing and fun, very human. I meet many people, listen to lots of stories, and even though the work schedule can be problematic, it gives me a lot of time during the day.

Science & tech enthusiasts. “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” A. Einstein

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