5 Ways Bartending Prepared Me for Life

Flairtending 5 - B/WLike most people, I employ a whole set of skills that I was neither born with nor taught at any school. I’ve learned some of these as a teacher, some as a writer, and some as a guy desperately trying to pass myself off as normal. Other skills I developed just by screwing up enough times.

Some of these skills I learned in my time as a bartender.

Bartending is a great job. Anyone who hasn’t done it either envisions Tom Cruise flinging bottles around or some suave guy flirting with women and occasionally pouring a Manhattan.

The reality is that bartending may be a great job, but it’s a hell of a tough one. You have to move fast, think fast, remember a lot of information, and develop a load of other skills in order to cope and not run screaming into the night. Some of these skills stay with you forever. Here are five that help me cope on a daily basis and keep me from running screaming into the day.

5. Classroom Management

Leading a room of 15-20 students demands a set of management skills that don’t come easily. You have to be able to hear everything, remember 17 things, assess problems from across the room, and handle both problem students and students who are having problems. In addition, you are dealing with 15-20 people who have unique needs.

Sound like any job you know?

Running a full bar means dealing with several people who all have different needs at the same time. You have to have eyes on the back of your head to locate empty drinks, 10-foot long ears to anticipate problems and seek out those patrons that are, at times, a problem. Furthermore, taking one drink order at a time when you’re busy is neither effective nor efficient, so you have to do this all while remembering about ten drink orders.

There are times I wish I could mix cocktails for some of my classes. Things would go much smoother…well, maybe I could just mix a cocktail for myself.

4. I Know Stuff

A lot of people build up a library of knowledge – useless or otherwise – via their job. But imagine the library of knowledge you’d acquire if you had a job serving booze to a bunch of people with other jobs. Then imagine that part of your job description was to entertain them.

Over my years behind the bar, I served drinks to FBI forensic specialists, treasure hunters, gynecologists, brain surgeons, musicians, writers, mercenaries, and national geographic photographers. Not to mention plumbers, dentists, lawyers, drug dealers, prostitutes, and dog groomers.

When people drink they like to talk about things. And often that thing is their job. Now, years on I have a plethora – yes, a plethora – of basic knowledge in several different areas. It’s just sitting up in my brain waiting to be deposited into a short story, a novel, or even into a conversation like a quasi-interesting hand grenade.

“It’s a little known fact…”

3. People Skills

Whether it’s knowing to ask questions rather than talk or reading a personality type quickly and accurately, people skills are a must in life. And bartending was a great way to learn people skills.

These skills are also useful in defusing an uncomfortable situation with a joke or making a witty remark to get yourself out of admitting you are wrong. Not to mention negotiation skills, presenting skills, and the ability to inwardly stew in hatred and judgment while smiling and asking, “So, another martini?”

Oh, and the best thing is that the people you’re dealing with now aren’t hammered on bourbon and trying to convince you that they’re OK to drive as they climb into the trunk of their Camry.

2. In the Weeds? In the shmeeds

I am looking at my calendar. I have two meetings this week, a presentation, proposals for exchange programs, tests to write, lessons to plan, workshops, and student consultations. At home, there’s writing and editing chapters of my novel, sending out pitch emails, and numerous other life tidbits.

Pbbbt. Whatever.

If you were a bartender, it doesn’t really matter.


Because no matter how busy you ever get for the rest of your life, you’ll never be three deep at the bar at midnight with a service station full of tickets and waitresses, hearing your name screamed over and over again until it’s echoing in your brain pan, sweat dripping down your back and into your eyes, and holding a $50 bill whose owner you couldn’t pick out of a crowd of two-slammed ever again.

And once you realize that – hell, you’re fine.

1. Multi-tasking

I am making dinner. It’s 8 pm after a long day, and I haven’t eaten since lunchtime. My eyes are glazed over and I am wearing the same look that my ancestors wore as they chased down giant prehistoric lasagna deer in southern Italy. I am starving.

Fortunately, I am like a ninja. I put on two pots of water, cut onions and carrots, feed the cat, hang the laundry that’s been wet for ten hours, scratch my butt with a spatula, slip the potatoes into the oven, drink water, drool, and feel shame all at once.

I thank bartending. No other profession I can think of suits you for multi-tasking than tending bar. When you’re behind the bar and have nine things to do in one minute, you become Vishnu.

And thee, my friend?

I wouldn’t give up my time as a bartender for anything. It was fun, hard work. Plus, there were often boobs. But I never realized how well it prepared me for what I would go on to do in my life.

I bet there’s a job you had when you were younger that has ended up making you a better person, a smarter person, or better at what you do now. It may have even been a pain in the ass at times.

So, how about it?

  1. #1 by Michal Hroneš on November 14, 2013 - 3:27 pm

    Hi Damien, please,

    can you translate one word you have written there? What is that shmeeds? 🙂

    • #2 by Damien Galeone on November 14, 2013 - 8:20 pm

      Michal – it’s a joke with language we use to show that something is no problem, not difficult, or unimportant.
      “How was the test?
      “Ah, test, shmest!”

      In this case I was using our phrase “In the weeds” which means to be extremely busy to make the same joke.

  2. #3 by Tiffany N. York on November 14, 2013 - 7:48 pm

    Wow, you just got 10x sexier. Bartenders are very sexy. It’s the whole “control” thing, I think.

    In my early 20s, I was a proofreader/copy editor for the well-known magazine in the romance community, RT Reviews. I’d read all these articles written by romance authors raving about how much they loved their job, and I got to ogle the half-naked male models on their covers–namely Fabio, who was the big one then. Can’t get any better than that.

    • #4 by Damien Galeone on November 14, 2013 - 8:17 pm

      Oh T – how is possible that I get 10X sexier? I am already off the charts! Hm, that’s a pretty solid job. Occupational hazard to that..?

      • #5 by Tiffany N. York on November 16, 2013 - 12:39 am

        I can’t read anything without finding typos, which is sometimes frustrating, and if a man has poor grammar, he’s automatically written off.

  3. #6 by Amber Lite on November 14, 2013 - 9:12 pm

    “giant prehistoric lasagna deer in southern Italy.” I’m dying here Damien .

  4. #7 by Kelly on November 17, 2013 - 6:40 am

    Holy shit. I just quit my spa job and am about to get behind the bar again. Now I’m thinking twice. There is no other feeling on Earth like being in the weeds. There were times I remember thinking to myself “How the hell am I going to get out of this? I guess I just live here now.”

    And you are totally right about knowing things! I had a guy from the NSA come in and tell me some fun stuff, although I think he was fucking with me most of the time but I do kind of know a little about a lot of things after having so many conversations with different customers.

    Also, I can’t help but flip bottles in my hands any time I pull something out of the fridge. Snapples and ketchup mostly. I never want to shake my sodas but if it isn’t carbonated, I’m pulling it out with the tiny but of flair I’m capable of.

    • #8 by Damien Galeone on November 17, 2013 - 10:50 am

      K – I flipped bottles for so long behind the bar – didn’t need to, just got into the habit of flipping them when I pulled them out of the well. That was until I dropped a bottle of Yukon Jack and it smashed on the floor and I had to run around for 9 hours on the stickiest, stinkiest, shittiest floor in Pittsburgh. Why is that shit so sticky? I swear it could hold together airplanes.

      Where are you going to be tending bar?

      • #9 by Kelly on November 22, 2013 - 12:13 am

        I used to go one step further and flip my shakers when they had cosmos and gross stuff in them until one day I flipped an apple martini and the pint glass came undone and like one of those water shows you see in Vegas a stream of apple pucker arched right over me head and landed directly on the head of my coworker who was at the register. Not a good look. My confidence was shattered after that.

        And it looks like I might be opening a bar. I quit my job because I can’t take working for other people anymore and a couple of things just happened to align at the right time and it looks like I may be a business owner myself now. Fingers crossed.

        • #10 by Damien Galeone on November 25, 2013 - 10:45 pm

          I read your post about that and was trying to comment, but I couldn’t for some technical reason that I’d need a masters degree to figure out. I think that is fantastic and I am brewing with jealousy. Where is the bar? Does this mean I get to see some more writing from you?

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