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Julie Reiner, beverage director, co-owner of the Clover Club in Brooklyn, New York and founder of the consulting firm Mixtress Consulting, remembers a time when being a bartender was considered a stepping stone of a career. “I was behind the bar, and people would ask me, ‘So what do you want to do eventually?’” she says. “Now, we’ve come to a place where bartending is respected and a chosen profession.” In recent years, quality bars and learned bartenders have been swept into the cachet of our foodie culture, and those in the know think about more than just liquor when selecting a new – or frequenting a favorite – dive bar, cocktail lounge, wine bar or beer pub. Just like the best dining hotspots known for the chefs in kitchen, the best bars earn their street cred by the barkeeps pouring the spirits.
“It’s certainly a very fun job and a social job, which is why I ended up in it,” Reiner says. “I was cocktail waitressing when I was 18 years old, and I was always intrigued by what was happening behind the bar. Controlling the flow of alcohol in the room earns you respect from the crowd.” Now, Reiner fronts Clover Club, a Victorian-style venue in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood, and is recognized as one of the top drink-makers in the country. Listen to her speak, and it’s evident there’s artistry behind the profession: The best in the field can do better than just follow a recipe; they understand how the bases, bitters, liqueurs and syrups mingle and can create their own cocktails.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job prospects are good for bartenders since dining and drinking out remains a popular pastime. There should be 65,600 brand new positions created between 2012 and 2022, and employment should grow at a rate of nearly 12 percent, which is about as fast as the average reported by the BLS. Competition for positions will be strongest in popular fine-dining establishments, and according to Reiner, it’s fiercest in larger cities like New York.
Similar to a hairdresser or waiter, a bartender’s’ pay is usually determined by hourly wage and customer tips, and not surprisingly, those who shake and stir in the trendiest, most expensive establishments earn the most coin. The BLS reports that in 2012, bartenders had an average hourly wage of $10.40, or earned about $21,630 for the year. The median pay for a bartender was $18,900. The best-paid earned about $32,220, and the worst-paid took home $16,340. If you’re hoping to make this profession truly lucrative, you’ll probably need to work in a big city. The BLS reports that bartenders in Honolulu, Burlington, Vt., and San Francisco had the highest wages in 2012, and those who serve drinks in hotels, on trains and near colleges and universities also made good money.
“There wasn’t a lot of training opportunities [when I started] the way there is now,” Reiner says. She recommends potential bartenders take a class offered by a company known as the Beverage Alcohol Resource. “That’s an amazing class that’s taught by the industry’s most talented people. You’ll learn about spirits and cocktails and their history – you’ll pretty much learn it all,” she says.
There’s also BarSmarts, an online bartender education and certification program. “Whenever I start training a new bartender, I have them do BarSmarts,” Reiner says. “I ask them to do videos and demos there, because it gives you a basic background.”
Reiner also stresses the importance of supplementing courses with practical learning. “Immerse yourself in all things liquid,” she advises. “There are different types of bartenders, so if you want to mix cocktails, get a job in a cocktail bar. If you want to work in a wine bar, learn everything you can about wine.”
You can’t just decide to become a bartender one day and find yourself mixing martinis the next. There are some technical hurdles, such as being at least 18 years of age, or even 25 for some establishments, for one. And depending on where you’re hoping to work, you could face tough competition. “Living in a city like New York where the bars are respected and written about, you’re going to have to make a name for yourself as a bartender [to better your chances]. People need to care about what you’re doing and write about the cocktails you make,” Reiner says. Also sign up for Ardent Spirits, an email newsletter that Reiner says the most prominent bartenders regularly read and use to advertise job openings.
When you do get your break, it could be to work as a barback, or bartender’s assistant. Reiner says she likes to have new hires work in this position for at least a year. “That’s the easiest transition, because then they’ll learn about our process, and about the different syrups and ingredients they’ll work with later.”
|Upward Mobility||fair Average|
|Stress Level||poor High|
Last updated by Jada A. Graves.