Out With The Old, In With The New
New York bartender Franky Marshall shares some tips on how to go about looking for your next great bartending job.
Some of you might be thinking the new year has arrived out of the blue and, I would guess, a lot of you are making and breaking your resolutions.
As with every other year I would bet the top resolutions are attempts to lose weight, finally taking that class and giving up or at least cutting down...
January is that time of the year when we reflect on the past and gear up for the future. It can also be a good time to reevaluate your current employment situation.
Here, I review (from my experience) the steps you need to consider taking when working toward finding the dream job in bartending.
Knowing when to walk away from a job can be difficult to gauge and where to go next is just as important. Having been the Vice President of the Bartender's Guild of New York for the past two years, I’m often asked for advice, for introductions and recommendations on all manner of industry (and non-industry) related issues. One question that pops up frequently is "I'm looking for a new job, do you know anyone who's hiring?"
While sometimes I do know the latest jobs available, what always strikes me about that query is all the vital information that's missing—the basic indications that would actually help me recommend a suitable establishment for that person.
There are some fundamental questions you should ask yourself before you start looking for that new position. Do you feel you've accomplished everything you can at your present job? Are you looking for some new inspiration or a new challenge? Perhaps you're looking for your first bartending job? What kind of place do you see yourself thriving at?
These days, working in a certain bar can propel you into the spotlight, while you may go unnoticed working in many others. Would you like to be on someone else's team, or do you want to be in charge of your own program? Maybe you just need to make more money?
There are countless places for bartenders to work these days, so giving serious thought to these considerations in advance will help you select the one right for you.
Here are a few examples and some thoughts to consider:
- Restaurants—Are you prepared to learn the menu? Are you comfortable selling and serving food at the bar? The good news is you'll have access to the kitchen and culinary equipment, the possibility to collaborate with the chefs, and generally be working shorter shifts. It’s an ideal environment to perfect your food pairing skills.
- Hotel Bar—This could mean working day shifts, holidays and weekends but if there's a union your hourly pay could be quite attractive; you could be viewed as a bartending "superstar" in such places.
- Nightclub—Do you have the chops to crank out drinks all night and the patience required to deal with the party crowd? Cocktails may not be a focus, and if they are, the emphasis will usually be on speed and sales. Maybe you’re looking to further your basic bar skills? This would be the perfect position to consider.
- Cocktail Bar—Are you prepared to work within an existing program, making classics and the house recipe cocktails? It might take some time before you have the opportunity to contribute your own creations to the menu. Once you get into elite, high-profile cocktail bars, there are very high expectations and constant scrutiny from regular guests and industry alike.
- Neighborhood Bar—These bars generally exist thanks to regulars who return because they like the formula and know what to expect. It can be difficult to implement changes in this type of environment.
Now that you've decided what type of establishment you'd like to work in, what's next?
You should make a list of specific places you would like to work and start doing thorough research on each one. Check out their websites, monitor their social media presence, read reviews, talk to current and former employees, visit the bar as a guest to get the feel of the place and observe the operation while trying to find out their business and service ethos.
Investigate the drink menu, watch the current bartenders work, check out the bar setup, etc. If you apply for a job at a place without knowing anything about how they operate, you're doing yourself a huge disservice.
Who knows, after a little digging you might find that you, in fact, don't want to work at that place after all. A little advance research can save time and trouble for you and the establishment.
The Perfect Position
So, you've found the perfect place to work, but they have all the bartenders they need at the moment. Now what? Would you consider starting in another capacity while waiting for a spot behind the bar to open up?
While not ideal, you would have the advantage of learning the inner workings of the place and (if you've done a good job) will have placed yourself at the top of the list when a position becomes available. Keep in mind, many employers prefer to promote from within.
When I applied for a bartending job in what is now a well-established cocktail bar in New York, I was an experienced bartender, but had never worked in that type of environment before. I was offered a position as a cocktail server which, at the time, felt like a step back.
I took the job anyway and it turned out to be the best training for me because, as I quickly realized, I had no idea how much there was to learn. I learned so much from the experience, and just being associated with that establishment opened many doors for me. I became a bartender there within nine months, and it was well worth the wait.
The Next Step
Whatever direction you choose to go in, be realistic and honest with yourself about your desires and capabilities, and also about what you think an establishment can offer you.
There are so many opportunities available for bartenders today that thinking beyond the next shift and the payoff will more than likely provide you with a path to success and longevity in the industry.
Franky Marshall is a New York City based bartender, World Class US Finalist 2013 and former Vice President of the U.S. Bartender's Guild of New York.