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Should Bartenders Work Catered Events vs. Work at Bars?

What’s better?

You probably have a regular gig with a local dive (small neighborhood bar) that pays the rent.  It’s nice to have a home port that you can rely on.

As an adjunct to that, there are other opportunities that don’t involve regularly working for a paycheck from someone else.  You could provide an outdoor bar at a wedding, staff the bar near the dance floor at the same affair, or some other event, such as product demonstrations for a commercial producer.  It might be irregular or it could grow to become your main source of income if you’re a hit with your customers.

If you want to bartend privately on an individual scale, use social media, cheap local advertising outlets, neighborhood bulletin boards & circulars to create constant micro-impressions with your potential customers so that when they need a bartender, they automatically think of you.  If you have a gig as a bartender, keep some business cards so you can hand them out if someone asks.  Will the owner let you put a card holder on the bar with some of your cards in it advertising your business?  Don’t include your phone number – use e-mail.

The Differences

A commercial bartender gets her income from a base wage (sometimes ridiculously low) plus tips.  Those with the great, fun personalities generally make more than the sullen ones that are just doin’ their job.

A private bartender generally makes a much better wage per hour, in the $15-25 range, sometimes with a built-in tip, plus any casual tips from guests.  Sometimes the event sponsors will tip in addition to the agreed upon rate, and some even write in a 30% bonus if they don’t allow you to have a tip jar.  Best of all, this is often an entirely cash-based business.

It’s generally a slower pace too, with more opportunity to talk to people, and the work is usually guaranteed for a five hour minimum.  It can run to 7 hours or more.  Bear in mind that you’ll usually have to set up the bar from scratch, and break it all down at the end.

If you’re providing the liquor, buy extra and arrange to return unopened bottles where you buy them – they’ll accommodate you if they know you’re a bartender and will bring them more business.  You may not be supplying the liquor, but you still have responsibilities, so make sure it’s spelled out in your contract.  Is it your job to supply glassware/plastic cups, straws, napkins, sip sticks and ice (one pound per guest)?  In any event, supply your own fruits/garnishes (prepared lemons, limes, oranges, celery, cherries) or else they’ll be cut too thick or thin and be awkward or useless.

Naturally you’ll bring your bartending kit.  Don’t forget your Tip Jar!  It may be up to you to advise your employers on mixers, juices and amounts, or supply them for a fee, but bring your own simple syrup so you can rim glasses when lime juice is a non-complimentary flavor.

And you’ll have to have a basic/elegant wardrobe all in black, with the possible exception of a white dress shirt.  Otherwise it’s black dress shirt, casual shirt, dress pants, and jacket for chilly affairs, with black tie, waist apron, bistro apron, black socks and (this is the important one) black non-slip shoes.


So you can be commercial, with a reasonably stable income, or you can be an adventurer and try to make your own way – maybe a combination of both with a regular gig and side work?  What will you do?

If you want to learn more on how to be a bartender, connect with us today and we’ll see that you’re equipped with the knowledge for the journey into your own future.