Pro’s and Con’s of Being A Bartender

Bartending – the word alone conjures up so many different images – everything from the movie “Cocktail” to the hit show “Cheers” to the dive bar you drive past every day. But what does it really mean to be a bartender? Well, the reality is truly a double-sided coin.

On the one side you have the good, even great, aspects. First is the money – it can be great! Depending on where you are, a typical bartender can average $100-$200 per night all the way up to around $800-$1000 per night. Usually, the first range is Anytown, USA…neighborhood or local places and chain restaurants…while the second range is most likely in large cities like New York and LA or tourist places like Vegas.

And really, the second-best aspect is it’s fun! You will meet a lot of people – funny, serious, well-traveled or home bodies, intellectuals and the not-so-well-read…all of them interesting in their own ways and some who could literally become your friends for life. It’s not so strange to meet the love of your life when you’re tending bar…happens all the time!

Other pros are the hours if you’re a night owl and don’t like getting up in the morning, the fact that you don’t need formal training to do it (there IS bartending school, but it’s totally not necessary) so very little is required to get started, and frankly there’s a kind of edgy coolness to being a bartender.

The flip side of that coin has bad, and worse, aspects, too. The money can be awful. What you make depends largely on the crowd that comes in (or doesn’t come in) on any particular night, their whims, their concept of tipping, and how good you are at money-math. If you can’t make change from the drawer under pressure, you’re likely to come up short and have to make up the difference out of your pocket…you’ll hate when that happens!

The second-worst aspect is the people. While you can have fun bartending, remember that you’re also going to be in front of people who are drinking…and they will get drunk…a lot. They will often get belligerent – turn mean and nasty, in a variety of ways. Sometimes you’ll have to show them to the door and sometimes you’ll have to go on serving them in some capacity – that takes fortitude and an ability to maintain a “show” face without letting them see what you really think. It’s not always easy, but you have to do it if you’re going to maintain your tip average.

Another negative is the hours, when it comes to weekends, holidays, vacations, etc. – you’ll always work weekends and holidays because that’s where the money is. People don’t go out in droves on Monday nights…they do that on weekends. And if you really want to make “bank”, you’ll always work New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, etc. That means you’ll not be spending those times with your family or significant other. If you have kids, you could be coming in from closing the bar at 2:00 AM and getting up at 6:00 AM to get them ready for school.

Other cons are a restricted social life since you’re not in sync with the rest of the population who are asleep when you’re ready to party, and the fact that while you might be skilled at what you do, the majority of people think of bartending as somewhat disreputable…not a “real” job.

Then there’s the edge of this coin – the ugly aspects that you also have to consider if you’re thinking about bartending. Getting all that cash in tips every night can be very alluring…it’s easy to blow it. But if you’re paying rent, bills, driving a car, then you have to budget – seriously, budget – or you could find yourself making a ton of money but being broke all the time.

You will likely have no pension, no benefits, no retirement, no insurance – unless you pay for them yourself. Even if you’re with a chain establishment, those things will be greatly reduced from most “day” jobs. And once you’re in the restaurant/bar business, it can be hard to break out – your job experience isn’t considered valuable overall within the 8-5 world.