How To Become A Cocktail Bartender
A career as a cocktail bartender can be an exciting one, that’s both fulfilling but also financially rewarding.
The bar industry is one of glamour but also hard work and often late nights. Getting into the profession means a commitment to the art and an acceptance that you will have to get your hands dirty, work unsociable hours and initially not be paid very well to do so.
However, a bartending career can take you all over the world, serving cocktails in beautiful locations in the trendiest venues in the world.
On top of this, it allows for innovation and creativity with bartenders at the top of their game as respected as the top chefs in the world.
What jobs can a bartender move into in the drinks industry?
What does a bartenders career path look like?
Getting an incredible career in the drinks industry is easier then you think and the opportunities bigger then you would imagine.
First question though…how do I become a cocktail bartender?
Do You Have What It Takes?
First up let’s do some self-reflection.
From the outside bartending looks cool and many could see themselves holding court behind the bar talking to the great and the good while mixing the occasional martini.
What bartending really entails is long hours, back to back shifts, late nights, working every Friday and Saturday night, graft, dealing with drunkenness and many other not-so-glamourous parts of the job.
However, it also entails creativity, fun, excitement, a great social life and endless opportunities that bartending in the drink industry can offer.
If you are a bit workshy or don’t want to give up your Friday nights then it’s probably not the career for you.
But if you are not afraid of hard work, have a creative streak and have an engaging personality then keep reading.
Where To Start?
There are numerous ways to start your bartending career.
This could be in a hotel bar, a cocktail bar, pub or an events company.
What many do is start the journey in a pub or bar (that doesn’t do cocktails) as you can immediately start getting practical drinks-making experience. The journey will then usually see them transition from a pub to a cocktail bar.
If you are lucky you might be able to get a job at a cocktail bar….but don’t think you will be able to walk straight behind the stick!
You will be required to start from the bottom. You will likely have to prove your commitment through bar backing (support the rock star bartenders refilling ice, spirits, juices and emptying their bins) and glass collecting.
Once you have proven yourself you may be allowed to train on the main bar.
What you do not have to do is get a bartending license or go on a course.
While it will probably allow you to leapfrog the bar backing phase it is an expensive way to train…but it is up to you.
If you are focused on doing things quickly then you may want to check out the European Bartending School.
Whichever way you start, you need to make sure that you build your knowledge while working your way up.
Some Suggested Resources
Our very own cocktail hub is the very platform you are on now and contains articles, recipes and how to’s and is constantly updated and added to.
This great bartending book from industry legend Jeffrey Morganthaler is the greatest compendium of bar techniques out there and a must-have throughout your career.
Another outstanding book that has over 350 recipes and tons of bartending knowledge from picking spirits through to understanding cocktail categories. Written by the late industry legend Gaz Regan.
How To Further Your Bartending Career?
The sky really is the limit here.
So if you are serious about becoming a top bartender you will need to do a few things.
Commit To The Craft
This is a no brainer for any industry.
You need to commit to learning everything there is about the industry, its products, top bars, how flavours work together and how to offer great hospitality to your guests. An excellent interview with top industry bartender Bart Miedeksza tells us more about this.
Get to know the people working in your industry and be liked. Speak with other bars, go to bartending competitions, meet drinks brand reps and network, network, network. This will open a lot of doors for you in your career.
Where Can You Take Your Bartending Career?
Once you have established yourself as a knowledgeable bartender who has worked in some top venues then there are many options for the next step.
The next obvious step is to run a bar. This involves many new things to learn including running a profit and loss, staff management, HR and developing the bar programme.
You could move away from day to day running or bars and become a brand ambassador for a drinks brand. This involves advocacy for the brand, training and representing the brand at events.
Brand Headquarter Roles
There are many potential roles at the drinks brands themselves, be it at an independent brand or a multinational such as Diageo or Pernod Ricard. The roles here are far-reaching from sales, marketing, finance and product development. Drinks brands can always make use of the skills and knowledge of a veteran bartender.
Most brands in the UK and beyond are distributed by companies which manage orders and get the product to the customers. There are many potential roles on this side of the business and they tend to have a national reach. Understanding of bars and products is very important for many of these roles so a solid bartending career can be really useful.
If you are at the top of your game, have a legendary CV and are a great networker, you may be able to make the move into bar consultancy. This is where you would offer your skills as a service to those opening bars or developing drinks brands. This type of work is coveted and well paid and some forge incredible international careers as bar consults.
Be Self Employed
There are a huge amount of options if you strike out on your own. You could set up an agency (like we have) and offer several services to the drinks industry including events, consultancy and staffing.
There are options to open your own venue, distribution company or even start a brand of your own. Being self-employed in the drinks industry may seem like a big leap but think about your skill set and where you could solve a problem. This is the starting point and go from there.
The drinks industry is an amazing, global business that creates a huge amount of opportunities and experiences if your work within it.
The best place to start is a committed bartending career. For many years, bartending was seen as a stop-gap and a career that lacked any opportunity – this could not be further from the truth.
Today, bartenders at the top of their game are highly revered, sought after and remunerated for their expertise. Through a pursuit of knowledge and a commitment to the industry, you can go a long way in your career and it can take you all over the world if you want it to.