I've been serving for about three months now, and as of last week, I am a bartender. It is the best, but also the hardest job I've ever had.
When I applied for my serving position, I told my new boss that I was interested in bartending. I assumed it would just be a casual you'll-learn-how-to-do-a-few-drinks-and-then-we'll-throw-you-back-behind-the-bar, but instead, I had one bar training shift and got thrown back there.
I'm still learning my bar's drinks, and also just generic cocktails, but it is hands down the hardest job I've had.
I got thrown behind the bar because I was one of the few servers that was 21. We had lost two bartenders a month prior and never replaced them, and just got a notice that another one was leaving - leaving us with three bartenders.
I didn't expect to learn how to bartend until at least five months in of being a server. I'm still learning every day about being a server and about our POS system, so I was shocked when I was asked if I wanted to learn how to mix drinks.
There are hundreds of drinks to memorize - I still couldn't tell you how to properly make an Old Fashioned. I'm still trying to figure out how to get our specialty cocktails down, and I'm still trying to get my pour count down - it's never consistent.
Regardless, it is so much fun.
I always loved hands-on work. Working retail, I loved being in the backroom stocking and putting up displays. My work-study job involves cleaning. Seeing a finished project makes me feel accomplished!
Bartending, at its center, is pouring a drink in a glass and handing it to a customer. It's similar to serving but gives more in terms of creativity and responsibility. I still ask and treat customers the same way I do serving, but I'm in control of when a customer receives a product and how it turns out.
Serving, you are always waiting. You are always waiting on the cooks, the bartender, the customer.
Bartending you are in charge, I get that accomplished feeling of seeing a drink on a piece of paper, making it, and giving it to a customer. I don't have to wait for someone else to do it for me, I get to do it.
It's personable. If someone doesn't like the way your cocktail turned out, you can figure out where you went wrong. Was there too much vodka and the mixer didn't cut it enough?
Did you forget to turn or shake the cocktail? Was there supposed to be a garnish that changes the entire flavor profile? There's no middle-man to go through.
However, it sucks. Once the kitchen closes and the restaurant turns into a bar, it can become mayhem. It can become mayhem even if the kitchen is still open and just doubles the orders and complications.
Everyone is flagging you down, you don't have an assigned table like you do serving, so you have to know everyone's tab name even if you weren't the one to greet them; plus you have to get the drinks out to tables while also attending those at the bar.
There can be dozens of tabs open - or if it's something like a pub crawl, hundreds - that you need to keep track of or else they walk out and you lost money.
Serving, you know which tables are yours, and as long as you do your sweeps, you can make sure they're still there. People who come to the bar go everywhere. They go to the bar, they come back, they switch seats, the move sides, they join a group. Not to mention, as said before, there are extensive cocktail recipes to memorize.
I'm constantly stressed because even though I get to decide which drinks I make first, I know from experience as a server, it's frustrating waiting forever and ever for a drink at the bar.
I have to keep a mental note of how much liquor and beer we have in stock and how much to bring up from the back when we start running low, that is if I get a moment to. Not to mention if a keg blows I have to carry that 40lb+ metal keg from the cooler to upfront and reattach and hope I don't drop it on my toes or snap my finger.
But I do get to interact and talk more with my customers than I get to do serving - it's just awkward forcing a conversation at a table when they're trying to eat and get out.
People at the bar are going to be there for a while, so they're fine with conversations. I haven't gotten to practice my, "What's been troubling you?" bartender-therapist talk yet, but I will one day. I have gotten to cut people off from drinks and been drunkenly yelled at, though.
However, like any bartender, the tips make up for all the headaches at the end of the day...hopefully.