SAYING NO: 11 TOP TIPS TO ADVANCE YOUR BARTENDING CAREER
Want to become a top bartender? Check out these top tips from experienced bartenders Evan Stroeve and Bianca Lima to help you reach the top of your game and make the most out of career opportunities in bartending.
BUILDING A BARTENDER: A SNAPSHOT OF CAREERS
Evan Stroeve, Operations Manager, 'Re' Sydney
Like many of us, I was fresh out of high school, transitioning into third level study and pouring beers to pay my way in the world. I fell in love with bartending when I moved to Sydney and took a bar-back role at a small, iconic venue where I was immersed in an environment of creativity, excitement, and family. The last five years have been a whirlwind. I went from bar-back, to bartending and management.
Naturally, being surrounded by that kind of culture lit a bit of a fire in my belly. I endeavored to learn as much as I could, devouring cocktail books, going to every training and masterclass out there, going to events, and meeting other like-minded people. Like many young hospitality professionals, I was looking to learn as much as I could, as quickly as I could. This can-do attitude got me promoted to bartender, and eventually manager. I worked across all the Swillhouse venues; The Baxter Inn, Frankie’s Pizza, Restaurant Hubert, but my spiritual home was always Shady Pines Saloon. I competed in some cocktail competitions, which really engaged the creative side of my hospitality journey, which is probably where I started making an industry name for myself.
Following my 4 year tenure with Swillhouse. I took on a General Manager position at Bulletin Place, after placing well at World Class. Owner Tim Philips reached out to me on a Facebook message, and the rest was history.
You can now find me at ‘Re’ Sydney, as an Operations Manager. We opened not long after I won the Australian World Class Cocktail Competition and was placed third at Global Finals in 2021. Within ten years, what began as part-time bartending work has developed into a highly recognized reputation in the Australian bar industry for vision and innovation.
Bianca Lima, Bartender, Wills Bar and World Class Brazil Winner 2021
My passion for making cocktails and hospitality started in a restaurant where I worked as a waitress. I watched the bartenders there – their genuine love of their job inspired me and I ended up in love also.
I studied fashion design, but I found a way to exercise my creative side, transmitting sensations and liquid ideas through bartending. I graduated from the Diageo Bar Academy Learning For Life programme and worked in some well-known bars in São Paulo, but it wasn't an easy start.
The hard work paid off - I won some championship titles, most importantly, World Class Brazil – a dream come true for me. Accomplishing it was indescribable.
I believe that creating your own career plan is essential. Consider your short, medium, and long term goals. Knowing where you want to be and who you want to be in this myriad of possibilities that we have in the bar and restaurant industry today will help you leverage your career. One way or another the “waves” will get you somewhere, but if you know where you're going and what you're looking for, you will succeed and progress faster.
With the bars closed I found myself without resources, so I looked for other skills that I could explore. I always had good communication skills so I used these on social media in order to exchange knowledge and make connections with others in the area – it’s all about networking! This has yielded good results for me to this day, such as parallel work, partnerships and visibility. Use the tools you have at hand and find ways to transform yourself.
TOP TIPS FOR PROGRESSING YOUR CAREER IN THE INDUSTRY
- Stay busy, push yourself - Maintain that constant desire for learning and growth, and engage in it in your own time, both inside and outside of work. From reading books, to acting classes, to photography courses to the weird and wonderful, do it all. Stay hungry and question everything. There are also huge benefits from entering cocktail competitions, so get involved if you can!
- Learn how to say no - You define your value and the value of your time. This may seem counterintuitive, particularly in a venue you love and where you’re trying to progress. However, employers across the board should understand that overtime is an anomaly and is in no way mandatory.
- Make the hard decisions - There have been times where I was working somewhere for months and should have left before I did. I was tired, I wasn’t engaged, I wasn’t learning, and I wasn’t being paid enough. I encourage everyone to really dedicate themselves to wherever they work, treat it as if it’s your own, but ultimately your own personal career path should take utmost importance over everything else.
- Remember where you came from - I wasn’t always where I am now. We were all young and new once, and we all made mistakes. As hospitality professionals, we can sense humility and sincerity a mile off. Staying humble will positively impact your career.
- Look after yourself – A career in bartending is intoxicating, exciting and wildly paced. But, it can take a toll on your wellbeing. If you’re going to last the course, you need to look after your mental and physical health and find balance. It can be anything from physical exercise, to finding an engaging hobby outside of the bar, to having regular consultations with doctors and mental health professionals. Or it can be as simple as regularly getting some sun and reading a book. For me, it’s always been physical exercise. I love boxing and do it 3 times a week. I also try to make a point of reading for at least an hour or two a week, something that isn’t hospitality related. I also regularly see a therapist; it’s been something that has helped me in darker periods of my life. However, nowadays, it’s access to a neutral party that I can unravel my thoughts with.
- Don't compare - Each person carries out different projects at different times, it doesn't mean you're better or worse than someone else. Go at your own pace.
- Enjoy the journey - I vividly remember the beginning where washing glasses and handling vegetables was my only concern - learning everything there is to learn at each level is very important. People without the proper training, who skip phases or rush things just looking for a job as a bar chief, for example, end up being outdated professionals.
- Study hard - There's always new bar skills to learn, and if you don't constantly revise them and improve, you'll be left behind. Keep pushing yourself and you’ll be surprised at the opportunities that will arise.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE TO HELP YOU STAY AHEAD
- Be prepared for workplace meetings and appraisals- People in the industry are known for running these in a fairly ad hoc manner. Often, they’re conducted over a beer at the pub, or briefly before your shift, and neither party is that prepared. For those who haven’t had one before, it’s hard to know how to prepare or what to expect, and they’re often intimidating.
- Learn how to negotiate pay rises- This is a sticky subject. You need to demonstrate value with concrete examples, like maybe you’ve driven the R&D for the new cocktail menu which has just launched, or have been responsible for training younger staff members, or are responsible for maintaining stock levels. All of these could be communicated as is but can be quantified further:
- "The cocktail menu is selling 10% better than before, with my three cocktails sitting as both the highest sellers with the lowest cost of goods."
- "I have been responsible for the training and development of three new staff. Each member has progressed through our training program in 8 weeks rather than the standard 12 weeks. We now have three bartenders operating at the highest standard, affording the venue more flexibility with rosters and scheduling."
- "I have maintained a stock inventory 5% under the budget set by my superior. On top of this, I have negotiated pouring deals on most of our high-volume stock driving revenue up a further 5%."
N.B. These are fairly vague examples, but the point is, present your impact in quantifiable terms that demonstrate your value to the business.
- Collect all your factual information, supporting documentation, past performance appraisals/KPI’s etc - It’s such an awkward conversation, and as someone who’s been on both sides of it, it’s made easier when both parties are prepared.
- Record everything- Find a centralized app like AirTable or Evernote, to record all your musings, ideas, recipes etc. Staying organized has really helped me keep focused during the busy periods of my life. Things as simple as logging all engagements in a calendar and checking it every morning.
5 Key Takeaways
- Everyone has got to start somewhere. Be patient with yourself, building your career takes time.
- Push yourself – The industry is constantly changing, challenge yourself and learn as much as possible.
- Work hard – This will pay off in the long run. Taking shortcuts will get you nowhere, you need to put the hours into your career progression and development.
- Look after yourself – Be careful not to burn out, it’s easily done in the industry. Look after your mind and body as much as you can.
- Preparation is key for success – Don’t fall behind on the paperwork while concentrating on the practical side of things. Take notes and stay organised.