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Is Bartending School Worth It?

I recently received this letter from a former student and wanted to share it.

I wanted to become a bartender because I needed some extra money.  My brother works as a bartender and he was always telling me how much money he was making.  He took a bartending class at American Bartending School in New York

Mixing Up Some Cocktails
Mixing Up Some Cocktails

and I decided to check out.

I went down to the school on 29th street and was greeted by the receptionist who asked me to fill out a form.  5 minutes later I was greeted by Anthony the admissions director who gave me a tour of the school and explained what the students were learning that day.  I liked the look of the school; it was like a real bar.  The music was playing and the students were shaking drinks and seemed to be having a blast.  Howard the instructor was busy calling out drink orders and correcting student mistakes.  He reminded me of a drill instructor.

When I went into Anthony’s office he explained in detail what I would learn during the bartender training.  He then explained that American Bartenders School would help me find a job with the school’s job placement service.  “We’re nation’s oldest school and we have been training bartenders for over 44 years.  We have thousands of contacts in the bar industry that have hired are graduates”, he told me.  He then showed me several pages of current job leads.

It all sounded good but I still wasn’t sure this was the answer to my financial problem.  He told me to think it over and call him when I was ready.  On my way out I spoke to a couple of students and asked them about the class.  They had positive things to say and especially liked Howard the drill sergeant instructor.

A few days later I decided to give bartending a school a shot and went and enrolled.  I started class and was ready to start mixing.  The class started with an introduction to the bar and all the bartending equipment.  We were each assigned a bar station and were shown how to set it up for the class.  We then had a demonstration and lecture on a series of drinks.  Howard who still works as a bartender part time gave us tips and told us interesting stories of his bartending experience.  After the he finished the lesson, we went behind the bar and started practicing making the drinks from the lesson.

I was surprised that after making the drinks several times the recipes became easier to remember.  Every day Howard would give us another mixology lesson and we would go behind the bar and practice.  In addition to learning and practicing making drinks, the school instructed us in customer service, alcohol awareness, liquors, wines, resumes and bartending job interview tips.  We learned a lot in the 40 hour class.

Now that I was ready to start my bartending career I had to find a job.  The school has a website for graduates that  list open job leads.  There 60 of them in all different types of places.  Half of them were in Manhattan and the other half were in other parts of the city.  I found 5 places that looked good and started my search.  I visited all 5 of them over 2 days.  Several of the places had hired graduates from the school before and had good success.  2 of the places weren’t my type of place and I struck them from the list.  1 of the places invited me back for a second interview with the boss.

The next several days I checked the job listings on the website every day and found new places that looked good.  This routine went on all week and I eventually interviewed at 20 establishments before hitting pay dirt and getting hired.  The first day I started work I was slow.  Hey I was working with real customers and pour real booze.  After the first day it was smooth sailing.  I quickly picked up my speed and by the end of the week I felt like I had been doing it for years.

Finding a bartending job is like finding every other type of job.  You have to be willing to hit the bricks and show your face to prospective employers.   Some people say bartending school is a waste of time, but I can’t imagine getting a bartender job without knowing the basics I learned during the class. There’s a lot more to being a good bartender then opening a bottle of beer.

Maybe some people don’t need bartending school to get a bartending job.  However, my experience is that without taking a bartending class and getting some hands on experience; you’re going to have a tough time finding anyone to hire you.