The Irony of Bartending

Once upon a time, when high school was still a prominent memory, I embarked on a short 6 month journey into bartending. Not the traditional role in a club, but rather a small local restaurant & bar near where I was living at the time – in far north Brisbane. The establishment itself was quite nice – it was situated next to some country markets, so the weekends would become quite busy and it was quite an enjoyable job interacting with both locals and tourists alike.

My life outlook at the time: feeling uninformed but eager, in anticipation of the early stages of my university studies in software engineering.

At this stage I was still afraid (to learn) to drive, so my parents would dutifully drop me off and pick me up each day. This was me at age 18 – studying full-time but working as a local bartender on weekends, extremely shy and naive. Occasionally I would meekly but happily serve customers in the dining area, or assist as a dishwasher boy, but mostly the bar was my focus as I was one of the few with an RSA certification. I can still remember it clearly – hours of “Hi, what can I get for you?” – usually fumbling with the bottles and glasses. Busy periods were substantially easier; I discovered a rhythm when under apparent pressure. That’s still true today!

There was an occasional wedding reception too – where the older guests (usually uncles or aunts) would exclaim that I was “cute” try and set me up with someone! None of them succeeded; I was far too embarrassed and I probably still looked like I was 12 anyway. It was exciting (and a little nerve-wracking) to take part in their weddings though, from setup and organising to table service with dishes or drinks. I was asked to cater for a number of different requests, including logistical and operational challenges from audio to gift tables. Looking back, it was actually useful experience for any service/client based industry.

Of course, the obvious irony is that at this stage, I didn’t drink at all. A bartender that doesn’t drink his concoctions, hilarious! Other than the days spent on my RSA and the recipes I was given, I knew nothing about the different beverages that I served. I could shake a very convincing martini, or pour a decent beer, but had little idea as to what they tasted like. In hindsight that’s probably the difference between a bartender job and career (or a “mixologist”, as has been coined recently) – the latter innovates and creates their own style, and loves their own drink. Still, it was fun to meet different people and learn about a very big part of Australia’s culture – even some of them were weird old pub-goers.

Bartending, overall while fun as a social endeavour, wasn’t my passion – it was just a short-term experience. The pay was good at that age though, $20/hour cash in hand, if I recall. Would I recommend this role for anyone else? Absolutely for some initial service industry experience, as long as you pick a good establishment for it. I wouldn’t try this in a club, as you wouldn’t have the opportunity to converse without losing your voice! It’s also important that this is just a side job with other plans in the pipeline, for example while studying – bartending may not be a good long-term career unless it really is your passion.