Career Growth

Career Lessons I Learned from Years of Bartending

I recently had a client ask me if his previous bartending experience would work against him on his resume. My answer is irrefutably ‘no’. Having serving and/or bartending experience actually works in your favor, whether you add it to your resume or not. It certainly helped propel my career as a corporate attorney and entrepreneur. Here’s how:

I learned how to talk to anyone, even when I didn’t want to.

I’m an introvert with some level of social anxiety. Working as a bartender for nearly 7 years through college forced me to interact with everyone that sat down at the bar. This included newly-legal, overly-eager college students, roid-raging young men, lewd patrons, and talkative elderly women. A bartender’s job is not only to provide great, fast customer service but keep patrons happy at the bar, which also leads to excellent tips. This means that you learn how to interact with diverse, multi-faceted patrons in both quick interactions (during busy times) and long conversations (during slower times).

It boosted my confidence.

When I first started bartending, I was timid, quiet, and unsure of every move I made. Over 7 years, I met incredible male and female role models who taught me how to stand up for myself, understand my self worth (which can sometimes be degraded in a bar setting), and learn how to proactively improve sales and gain regulars (thereby improving tips and improving social interactions). This confidence has infiltrated every aspect of my life and has solely contributed to my improved networking skills, recent experience asking for (and getting) an earned promotion, and navigating strong working relationships in my office.

It taught me how and when to say ‘no.’

Saying ‘no’ to coworkers, customers, and managers can be the most difficult thing for new (and seasoned) employees. It’s difficult, awkward, and scary. Learning the right time, place, and tone to use takes practice and mentorship, and bartending provided me with that opportunity. Saying ‘no’ is a big component of bartending – you need to say ‘no’ to drunk patrons who want more alcohol, you need to say ‘no’ to underage patrons, and you need to say ‘no’ to constant come-ons. It’s a learned art saying ‘no’ to patrons while maintaining a positive atmosphere and still ensuring they’ll come back, pay their bill, and (hopefully) tip. This has significantly helped me learn how and when to say ‘no’ to co-workers in a way that maintains a good working relationship and doesn’t burn bridges.

Your hiring manager most likely has experience in the food service industry too.

Most professionals I know have had some sort of odd job in college (or at least high school), whether it’s waiting tables, serving, or bartending. There’s a common understanding by workers and former workers of the food service industry of both the benefits and struggles faced by those in “the industry.” Serving or bartending isn’t easy – my shift was 4:30pm – 4:00am, and a double was 10am – 4am. I always left sweaty, exhausting, and my feet were always sore. Almost always the tips were incredibly good, but sometimes I left with less than $100 after a long day. Basically, many professionals get it – they know what you’ve been through, they relate, and they respect you more.

If not, you’ll still be admired for working an unrelated job as a transition.

Regardless of whether your hiring manager understands what it’s like to have worked in food service, they will surely understand to some degree that you need to do what it takes to pay the bills. Having a prior bartending role on your resume (whether it’s during or immediately after college) can show that you know how to hustle, work in a demanding and often thankless job, and provide fast-paced customer service.