What I learned my first month as a bartender

Dude, I fucking love slinging drinks.

About a month ago, I got a bartending job at a whiskey bar / cigar lounge. I was drinking at their sister bar next door and feeling a little “fuck it,” so I asked the bartender if they were hiring and interviewed with the manager 10 minutes later.

I had never bartended before. And I said so.

“But I do know whisky. And I can learn the rest.”

He quizzed me on what I’d claimed — asked me about bourbons and Colorado whiskies and scotches; asked me to make recommendations and I did, then elaborated and explained why. And a day later, rolling the dice, he hired me. (And introduced me to the team by saying “she knows more about whisky than I do.”)

It’s been (for the most part) fun and games since. I’m still pretty slow at making drinks, but here’s what I’ve learned in that time:


We know your shit

Everyone behind the bar — not just the bartender who helped you — has you measured up within minutes. We know if you’re shit-faced. We know if you’ve never had a scotch before. We know if you’re trying to impress your date (and, if we like you, we’ll wingman the shit out of this and help you out.) We know if you’re going to be a dick to us — or your wife.

We also know if you’re going to hit on one of us eons before you actually do, because you are all exactly the same: you zero in on the one you like with that glazed look in your eye like a dog locked on to a hot ham. By now all of us behind the bar see that shit from miles away.

We get hit on all the time

Don’t ask us for our number — we get this just about every shift, and you’re not special.

If you are so thoroughly convinced that our connection is real and one-of-a-kind, leave your info on the receipt. (Just don’t get butthurt when we don’t reach out.)

…but we still totally talk about how cute you are

Regardless of your gender, if you’re attractive, all of us — dude and lady bartenders alike — have noticed and discussed it. None of us are going to make a move, but damn if we don’t like your style.

Don’t order by asking us to “surprise” you

We’re not here for magic tricks.

What’s Okay: “I prefer whiskey-based cocktails, but nothing too sweet. Can you recommend something?” Yes. We can.

What’s Not Okay: “I want vodka mixed with something. But I can’t have any sugar, syrups, or fruit juice, and I don’t like soda, tomato juice, Red Bull, olive juice or bitters… oh, just surprise me!” (This example really happened.)

Sweetheart, do you want bullshit? Because that’s how you get bullshit. People who order like this end up with a bartender who blanks, panics, or throws his hands up and makes them some vodka-mystery disaster. Don’t be that guy.

Drinks are subjective

There are half a million ways to make most cocktails. If you like it a certain way, just say so. Otherwise (see above), we’re not here for guessing games.

Sometimes we have no idea what we’re doing

This is my first bartending gig and I was trained on the job, so I over-poured and then under-poured countless drinks before I figured out how ounces work. One of the other bartenders gets visibly nervous pouring high-end whisky. Even the most experienced bartender on our team occasionally fucks up our in-house signature cocktails. We’re humans back here, and we’re imperfect. Be patient.

And check your tab.

Don’t order twice, with two of us

I’ll even say it twice: do not fucking order twice with two of us!

You want to pay for two drinks? Then go for it. Otherwise, use your big boy or big girl brain and realize that that’s exactly what’s going to happen when you do this. If you wouldn’t place your order twice at a restaurant, don’t do it at a bar.

Maybe your drink did get lost. If it’s been a while, then ask.

But most of the time, the people doing this will place their second order 1 minute after the first, merely because another bartender approached them. (And because they are morons.)

We usually hear you do it and intercept the second bartender before the deed is done. But for fuck’s sake, champ, use your brain.

Don’t shout orders at us if we didn’t ask

The biggest offenders here like to “find” us at the POS ringing in drinks — because, you know, we’re “not helping anyone.”

News flash: ringing in drinks is part of selling them, and chances are good that if it’s busy, we’ve got several drinks in our head (and several tab names, on top of that, we have to find to charge them.) The bartender at the POS may nod and add your drinks to the end of their mental list, but if they’ve got several in their head ahead of you, you would’ve been better off waiting 30 seconds for another bartender to help you out.

If you flag us down, you better fucking know what you want

This is easily one of the biggest sins of placing an order if it’s busy.

If we approach you while you’re still reading the menu and you’re not ready, that’s one thing — totally cool; we’ll come back. But if you actively make eye contact or flag us down and then aren’t ready or spin around to ask your friends what they’re drinking, we want little more than to drag you out back and flay you like the walking carcass you are. Every second you dawdle is a second you’re keeping us from making drinks — and over the course of a night, that compounds to real money.

We adore you

Look, we want to sell you drinks. We do. We want you to have a good time, and we want to do the best we can to help. Help us help you, and it’ll be fine. ❤


Everything is fucking foul

You likely know by now that the fruit and olives can sit out for days. What you should also know, though, is that it’s been man-handled to the point that it would probably light up a petri dish like the Fourth of July. We may wash our hands when we prep it, but between all the bartenders behind the bar (who are also handling payments and grabbing dirty-ass rags to wipe shit down) and the occasional customer rummaging around in there, sufficient to say: shit’s not clean, yo.

Blame games and petty power plays galore

Maybe it’s just my bar, but the amount of immature, insecure behavior is so bad it’s laughable.

People actually get political over things like lemon twists. Some take up witch hunts against other bartenders over personality (“she talks too much”) or how they make Old Fashioneds. I’ve seen bartenders cry over tips, refuse to mop when they close, and walk out mid-shift while stocking beer.

If you irritate a manager, they’ll retaliate by asking another bartender to rewrite the draft list you did (lol. k.) If you actually upset them, they’ll take away your shifts. Piss them off even more and they fire you — and let you know simply by blacking out your name across next week’s schedule.

It’s fucking fun

All that being said, the energy and intensity is super fun. I love making cocktails way more than I like drinking them, love the challenge of keeping up when we’re slammed, and love making people’s good nights even better.

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