The switch from Barista-To-Bartender is nice and simple, but not quite as simple as going right from one to the other, there’s one small step in-between.
The step in-between barista-ing (totally a word by the way) and bartending is exactly that: something that’s halfway between the two; like working in a cafe that also serves alcohol for example. There are a few small things you can do like this that’ll help in a big way when it comes to applying for jobs.
Right now, if a Bar Manager looked at your resume they’d see a ton of things that qualify you for the job – drinks mixing, customer service, and cash handling experience, to name a few – but they’d also see a few things missing, which could be the difference between getting, and not getting, an interview. Those things are “experience serving alcohol,” “experience making complex cocktails,” and having worked in a bar setting. You can get experience doing all of these in a matter of weeks, and you don’t even need to get experience doing all three. But if you want to step into the job market with the best chance of being hired, you should get at least one. So here are the best and easiest ways to do that.
Option 1: Bartending School
This is by far the quickest and easiest way to get the whole package. Bartending School courses are taught behind real bars by real bartenders (ours are anyway), who’ll teach you how to make all the world’s most popular cocktails, how to sell them; how the major spirits, beers, and wines out there are made; how to distinguish between good and bad alcohol; and just about everything else you need to know to be a good bartender – plus you’ll get one-on-one job-coaching until you get actually get a job.
But if that just isn’t for you, there are a few other ways to go from Barista-To-Bartender, they just take longer, and don’t have quite as high of a success rate.
Option 2: The Cafe with a Kick
If the cafe you’re working in doesn’t serve alcohol, move to one that does. We call them “Cafes with a Kick.” They’re primarily coffee shops, but they also have a few beers, possibly some wines, and maybe, just maybe, a couple of coffee cocktails on the menu. If you’ve got barista experience already, you can easily get a job working at one of these cafes, and there are more and more of them about. It’s a really simple switch, but it allows you, after a few months, to put down on your resume that you’ve served beer and wine before – which is about 75% of what most bartenders do anyway – and that can be enough to get your resume put in the callback pile instead of the recycling (a Bartending School Certificate will show them you know how to pour beer and wine, as well as mix cocktails, sell cocktails, and that you’re knowledgeable about every bottle that’s found behind a bar…just sayin’).
Also, there are plenty of espresso/wine bars out there that hire baristas to work their day shifts – they’re less “cafes that serve alcohol” as they are “bars that serve coffee” – these look even better on a resume.
Option 3: The High-end Cafe
If you work at a regular cafe like a Starbucks, or any neighbourhood coffee-shop that sells a similar range of drinks, that’s great, it’ll come in handy later, but right now you want to move over to a high-end cafe. By high-end cafe we mean those hipster cafes that only serve classic espresso beverages, and blonde roast drip – dripped on a cup-by-cup basis; those cafes with interiors that look more like they should host an ad-agency than a coffee shop; where all the staff have beards, all the drinks have latte art – even the teas – and where there’s no staff uniform, but you can be pretty sure there’s a memo somewhere about wearing plaid.
Despite the contempt dripping from those words – dripped on a word-by-word basis – the coffees they sell at these cafes are as good as it gets, and their baristas are as skilled as it gets – and bar managers know this. So if you can put on your resume that you’ve worked in one of these cafes for a few months, any bar manager looking at it will assume if you can make coffees to that standard, you can handle a cosmo (whereas a Bartending School Certificate will show them that you can handle a cosmo because you’ve practised making them, along with dozens of other cocktails…just something for you to sip on).
Option 4: Barbacking
This option requires you to venture outside of the cafe scene, and it’s actually the reason more baristas don’t try to become bartenders, but stay with me: there are a few misconceptions about barbacking.
First off, a Barback is a bartender’s assistant: if the bartender needs a bottle of Vodka, the barback gets it; if the bartender needs some glasses cleared, the barback clears them. Basically, the barback does whatever they can so the bartender doesn’t have to step away from the wood and stop selling drinks. The Barback even gets to pour drinks like beer, wine, and highballs when it gets particularly busy.
Most Bartenders start off as Barbacks, and work their way up over a year or two, and this is what scares Baristas away – the long wait – but Baristas don’t have to wait that long. It usually takes Barbacks so long to move up because most of them have no drinks-mixing, customer service, or cash handling experience, let alone all three at the same time – but a Barista has. So when a Barista becomes a barback, they usually only need to spend a few months getting acquainted with the Bar scene before they get moved up (Bartending School grads on the otherhand get moved up in a few weeks, if they choose to barback at all…second to last time we bring this up, promise).
There are no pre-req’s to becoming a barback, and if you have barista experience you’ll get snatched up right away because Bartenders usually suck at making coffee, and it’s always useful to have someone around that doesn’t.
Any one of these options will help you astronomically when it comes to applying for bartending jobs. All are easy to do, and you don’t need to do any of them for too long. The last three you just need to do for a few months – long enough to stick it on a resume – and Bartending School only takes a couple of weeks.
Once you’ve taken one of these routes, you’re ready to move on to Step 2 of Barista-To-Bartender: The Resume