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Advice for your first bar job


Can you see me?



These days I might be a professional marketer, but during university and breaks in employment bar work was my calling. 

I honestly love it. I wouldn't do it as a career job as I am an introvert much more suited to the background desk job. But I love cocktails, it's an easy way to meet new people, and I could get into clubs without paying.

It's not for everyone. Like all jobs, there is a certain skill set that is required in order to do it properly and effectively. I have seen people being fired and I've seen people fail trial shifts. I've also known people to leave bar jobs after a few weeks having decided it just wasn't for them.

But saying that, it might just be for you (either just to help financially while at university or as a career). This post isn't intended to scare anyone, just a few pointers for your first few months on the job.

Finding a bar job
Almost every bar person I know started off in either of the following positions: a bar job in their local pub or in a very basic student nightclub who employ students who are freshly 18 and cheaper to employ.

It might be you're aim to work in a fancy cocktail bar, however these places are more hesitant to take someone with no experience. Just pop into your local and ask - that's exactly what I did. I started out in a local golf club and later I was shaking French Martinis in a recognisable Glasgow bar. Like all your local establishments on Facebook because if they're doing a recruitment drive that's where you'll hear about it (that's how I got my Glasgow job).

On a trial shift they usually look for the following things
No one expects you to come in and memorise the entire cocktail list on your first shift, so calm down. On a trial shift they'll be looking for someone who is friendly with the customers and other staff, isn't a total idiot, and already has some basic alcohol knowledge (on one of my trail shifts, there was a girl who thought there was such a thing as a half pint of prosecco...she wasn't kept on). Also eat plenty beforehand as this is a physical job, and always look busy. 

Quickly learn what the bar sells
This is one thing I recommend you swot up on quickly. The most common question you'll get from customers will be "what do you sell?" or "what pint would you recommend" or "how much does such and such cost?". When you're running orders through the till keep an eye on the prices of everything, and study the menus on the website.

You'll learn on the job...but learn quickly
While you won't be expected to identify what wine is the driest straight away, you'll need to learn this soon-ish. There's a lot to learn when working in a bar, from learning what the bar sells, to how to work the till, to where everything is kept, to how to make cocktails by heart and where the toilets are. Soaking up these things as quickly as you can shows your manager you're taking the job seriously and it will make your own life a lot easier if you quickly learn (you might even progress to supervisor).

Things to pack in your bag
A pen (and spares), some paracetamol or ibuprofen, spare make-up, and deodorant. A spare jumper is also handy to throw if you're involved in the clean-up at the end or to throw over yourself while on your break so customers won't bother you. 

You can tell customers it's your first shift
When I started at the golf club and a customer asked me a question I didn't know the answer to I turned into a bumbling mess and rushed off to ask someone else. At later jobs I confidently said "Oh, it's actually only my first/second/third shift, I'll just have a check for you".

The mandatory licensing exam
By law, all bartenders in Scotland have to read a booklet explaining the law to them, answer a quick multiple choice quiz and sign some papers saying they understand what is legally expected of them. It's easy, but it is an essential part of the job. It is, however, putting it into practice that can be difficult which leads me onto...

Being assertive
Tying into the point just above, there are laws regarding the sale of alcohol that will require you to be assertive with customers. People will try and get 'an extra little bit of wine' or ask you not to open the can (I have actually ended up in a tug of over an unopened can of Red Stripe). Or there will be times you'll question someone's age but don't want to risk embarrassment when you find out they're actually 27. Remember, it's the law and the fine is hefty on bar staff if they break it.

(On a side note: don't get pissy about getting ID'd, bar staff risk their jobs and bank balance if they don't check)

Some bars are better for your first bar job than others
While working in a fancy cocktail bar makes you sound like a more interesting person at a dinner party, I wouldn't recommend it as a starting place. I started in a golf club that consisted of old men ordering pints, women wanting pots of tea and lemonade for the junior golfers coming in with their pocket money. I hated it there, but it kitted me out with the bar basics before moving on somewhere that serves cocktails, every shot you could imagine and several wine options. Like all jobs, start easy and move up. 

(Saying that, if you nab yourself a bar job somewhere fancy, congrats and go get them!).

Setting work goals
Setting benchmarks in a bar job is a bit more complicated than some other lines of work, as a lot of what you do in one night is determined by what the customers order. However, there are a few goals you can still make for yourself. Some that I've made for myself have included: remembering to put the credit card charge on every card payment, getting quicker at the cleaning up, remembering to offer cashback, and carrying empty glasses properly. I also took a picture of the cocktail menu and cheat sheet on my phone so I could swot up at home!

Hints and tips on getting...tips
One of the major benefits to bar work is the extra money made through tips. The amount of tips you can expect will vary depending on where you work but there a few things I've learnt over the years:
- be friendly and smiley
- look your best and follow dress codes etc (it's a shame, but pretty privilege is a thing)
- customers who ask for complicated orders tend to tip better so if someone orders a mojito, two jagerbombs, a pint of Guinness, two bottles of Peroni, a cup of tea and three packet of crisps, wants to pay by card and asks for £30 cash back, it's time to strut your stuff and pretend like you're not secretly dying inside
- women tip better than men, and when men do tip it's usually when they're on a date with the missus

If you've worked in a bar before, what would you recommend to someone looking to get into it? 
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