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How to be a bartender
How I did it: I was under the legal drinking age at the time so I enrolled in the "Professional Bartending School of America". The "Mixology" degree I earned from completing it is purely ceremonial, but the advantages gained were (a) I learned a ton of recipes and knowledge, and (b) I actually acquired hands-on practice with pouring drinks.
Going to such a "school" is sometimes looked down on because it produces some real a-holes who both have no business being behind a bar and think their "certificate" makes them better than people who haven't gone to such a school.
If you have the money, though, it's an excellent fast-track to experience, and the one I attended helped place me job-wise.
Lessons & tips: The hardest part of becoming a bartender is actually getting the job when you haven't bartended before. You can memorize fifty common drinks (which is a conservative minimum if you want to be an "average" bartender) but experience is the best teacher and managers know this.
As such, the easiest way to get into your first bartending job is to start elsewhere in the establishment and segue into the position. If the establishment has it, aim for a "barback" position. Barbacks are assistants to bartenders, and working as a barback will give you first-hand experience with alcohol, guests, and the running of the bar. As you do that, memorize drinks, learn to sell, and segue in from there.
* How to Clean -- you will be responsible for 90% of the bar. You will clean sinks; ice wells; bar tops through the shift; cutting boards; glasses of all shapes and sizes; pour spouts; cooler walls, floors, and doors, inside and out; drains; liquor vendors (e.g. Jagermeister chiller); and anything else metal or glass.
* How to Sweat -- Either literally or figuratively, you'll need to be able to work. A 24-pack of bottled beer weighs an easy 20 pounds, so if you can carry three cases (60 pounds) while stocking, you'll save much more time and effort than going to get them one at a time. Similarly, liquor bottles are made of thick glass and liquid, which can be heavy. Whether a box of new glasses, cases of beer, boxes of new liquor, or the 2-6 buckets of ice needed to fill your speed well, you need to be able to carry weight.
* Common Drink Recipes -- Knowing 50 drinks is nothing if you factor in standard highballs. Screwdrivers, Cape Cods, Sea Breezes, Bay Breezes, Ocean Breezes, Greyhounds/Salty Dogs, and Anita Bakers are all in the same family (vodka+mixers) so while you may choose to count them as eight drinks, they're all so similar they really only count as one.
* Rare Drink Recipes -- These ones are tougher and vary both in name and recipe depending largely on location. A Scoobie Snack made in Texas will undoubtedly be different than one made in L.A. It's also tough to research the more uncommon drinks online because (a) any yokel with a computer can make up a drink and add it, and (b) as a result, 90% of the drinks thought up will never be made.
* How to Pour -- This one comes with time and practice. If you're really adamant, buy a pour test kit online. The majority of bars and restaurants don't use bubble-stoppers on their liquor bottles, special fixtures that supposedly cut off the flow of liquor after an ounce. These can be very inaccurate and frustrating, though, so you need to know how to count an ounce (and all of its divisions) in your head. One ounce = a 4 count, so half an ounce is a 2 count and 2 ounces is an 8 count. With practice, this will become second nature.
* The Laws of Alcohol -- Many establishments require you to go through alcohol seller training before they'll hire you. Why? A man drinks too much, leaves the bar, drives, and kills a pedestrian, the investigative agency will work to suss out who's at fault. If you're not certified, the establishment is liable because it can't be reasonably proven that you knew better. If you're certified, you've been trained in the ways of spotting both minors and intoxication and thus YOU become liable if something happens. As such, it is in your best interest to be up on these things. Here in Texas, the investigative agency, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) is composed of law enforcement officers and have no problem arresting a bartender on the spot for serving a drink to a minor, even if you thought they looked old enough.
* How to Handle Beer -- One wouldn't think beer a subject worthy of too much study from a bartender's perspective, but it is. Beer can be incredibly finicky, and thus it is in your best interest to learn how (and there are MANY wrong ways) to properly pour/open a beer.
* Liquor/Beer Fluency -- Though not necessary by any means, knowing about the "medicine" you're "prescribing" can be very helpful, if only to save face. You might make the best Blue Hawaiian in the world, but if you pronounce curacao as "ker-AW-koh", you'll sound like a moron. Know the difference between whiskey, bourbon, and Scotch. What's the difference between ale, stout, and lager? Where are various liquors/beers produced? In the more laidback bars, conversation is what brings in tips, so having a card in your back pocket such as, "Did you know that if it weren't for all the people who boycotted Stoli vodka during the Cold War, Absolut wouldn't have become the giant it is today?" Nine times out of ten, bartending isn't like serving. Serving involves completing the order and disappearing while they eat. The inverse is true of bartending: you're there all the time and your job is to entertain.