Where you choose to apply for your first bartending job is just as important as how you apply for it. When applicants fail to get their first bar gig, it’s usually because they apply to the wrong places. They apply to fancy cocktail bars and busy nightclubs – bars that don’t tend to hire first-timers – these places don’t callback, the applicants become dejected, and then they quit. It really isn’t that difficult to get your first bartending job, you just need to be a little picky about where you apply.
Ideally, what you want to do is work out which bars hire a lot of first-timers, focus most of your efforts on applying to them, and forget about the places that don’t…for now. This way you’ll get called into a greater number of interviews, which will boost your morale, and keep you motivated. Because whether it’s your first, or fifty-first job you’re applying for, half the battle really is just holding your spirits up enough to keep applying ‘till you get one.
So who hires first-timers?
Tons of places: think anywhere small and anywhere slow. Basically, think anywhere that more experienced bartenders won’t bother applying to, like family owned restaurants, neighbourhood pubs, university pubs, dive bars, pool bars, golf courses, and yacht clubs – bars that even you probably don’t want to apply to. But just right now, when it’s your FIRST bartending job you’re applying for, don’t think about where you want to work, think about where can you work? These places, and the ones listed below, hire first-timers a lot. They hire first-timers because they don’t have a wealth of applicants to choose from, and their bars are quiet enough that they’re comfortable hiring those that haven’t bartended before.
Anywhere else though, try to forget about for now. Try to forget about the nightclubs and cocktail bars you want to work in…for now. Think about it: every bartender wants to work in these bars, so when they need to hire someone, they don’t often bother with first-timers because they have the pick of the litter. So when you apply to these bars as a first-timer, what’s going to happen is you’ll hand in your resume, they probably won’t callback, and then your morale will take a hit.
Forget about chains like Earls and Joey too… for now – even if they wanted to, they can’t hire you because their corporate structure won’t let them. Don’t apply to fine-dining restaurants, hotel bars, or sports bars either. Basically, stay away from anywhere particularly busy when you’re starting out, because busy places don’t tend to hire first-timers.
These guidelines aren’t absolute. You can apply to these bars if you want to, and if there’s a busy bar that you really want to work in, go for it. There are no rules against applying to these bars as a beginner, but because your success rates will be low, we’re saying don’t apply to too many of them. A small number, and I really do mean a small number, of these bars sprinkled into the mix won’t do too much harm, but for the best chance of success, and to raise your confidence, you really, really, should start off with the small bars.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to stick with the small ones for long. You just need to actually get that first job, and then stick with it long enough to put some experience under your belt, and be able to write it down on your resume. Once you’ve done that though, you’re not a first-timer anymore, and then you can apply to the bars you really want to work in.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s get back to applying for your first job. Choosing where to apply is the first step, then you actually have to apply there, and there are some tricks to that too.
How to Apply
Applying online is a cinch: email your resume to the address on the posting, and wait for a reply. But whenever possible, it’s much better to apply in-person.
Whenever you apply in-person for a job in this industry, you only have a small window each week to do so: from Monday to Thursday, between 2 and 4:30pm. Applying (in-person) outside of this time range pegs you as a novice to the industry: applying before 2 interrupts the lunch rush, after 4:30 interrupts dinner, and then it’s assumed Friday through Sunday will be busy all day. There isn’t a manager out there that appreciates being interrupted during those times to accept a resume.
There are a few exceptions to this rule though: if the job posting says to come at another time, then you go whenever it says to. If the bar you’re applying to doesn’t open until late, then go half an hour before it does open (the staff will be there, but customers won’t). And of course, whenever you do apply, if it’s busy inside, just walk out and come back again later; I repeat, no manager appreciates being interrupted when they’re busy just to accept a resume.
When you do get around to handing your resume in, only hand it in to a manager. If you hand it in to anyone else you risk the chance of the Manager never actually seeing it – maybe because the hostess misplaced it, or maybe because they “misplaced” it (just so you know: Hostesses are trying to work their way up to bartending or serving too). Besides, it defeats the whole purpose applying in-person; you’re trying to get the manager to see you, because managers always feel more comfortable calling in a face they can picture, than an unknown name on a piece of paper. So when you go to hand in your resume, ask if the manager is there; if they’re not, ask when’s a good time to come back, and come back then.
If you only apply during these times, and only to slower bars, you won’t be able to apply to that many bars each day – which is a good thing. Applying for a job, any job, is physically and mentally exhausting. If you apply to more than five bars a day – in person – it’s going to tire you out, and then you won’t feel so motivated to try again tomorrow. And, for whatever reason, if none of the places you went to callback, it’s much easier to stomach five places not calling than ten.
Half the battle really is just keeping your morale high enough to go on applying until you finally land a job. Which means it’s far more important for you to just hand a few resumes in to some bars where you have a good chance of being hired, than it is to hand out a hundred resumes all over the city to any bar with an open door, risk mass rejection, and exhaust yourself in the process. Keep your confidence high, and it’ll help you for the next stage of the process: The Interview.
Before you find out how to ace a bartending interview though, here again, in greater detail, are the bars that hire a lot of first-timers.
- Family owned Restaurants
- Greek Restaurants – not sure why, but they do
- Indian restaurants – again, not sure why
- Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurants
- Wine-Espresso Bars
- Neighbourhood bars – specifically for their weekday-day shifts
- Restaurants that do breakfast – for their breakfast shifts.
- University Bars
- Dive Bars
- Economy-hotel Bars
- Anywhere with a bar that looks like crap
- Pool Bars
- Golf Courses
- Yacht Clubs
- Event Staffing Services
- Service Bars (that means a bar where the bartender only makes drinks for the servers; customers can’t order at these bars)
- Boston Pizza for some reason – even though it’s a chain
- And anywhere where you’ve got connections (it really can help)
Just so you know, the students at Metropolitan Bartending School get one-on-one job-search coaching until they land a job, which includes elaborating on what we’ve just said, and giving them the names of the specific bars and restaurants they should apply to.