Any great bartender knows that the fine art of bartending is fathoms deeper than just brilliant cocktail making. The golden rules of bartending, as shared by top global bartenders, are like a cocktail recipe for success, calling for genuine passion and skill, an acute knowledge of mixology, the ability to forge good connections, a captivating personality, and more than just a dash of discipline.
To become successful in the business and build a sustainable bartending career to be proud of, aspiring and working bartenders need to treat themselves like they are the business—with professionalism, teamwork, and a continuous desire to keep upskilling and learning.
To build your roadmap to success in bartending, you’re going to need some tips from the pros. Broken Bartender spoke to five head bartenders all over the world who dug deep and gave their honest takes on what bartenders need to go far in the hospitality industry.
We give you the eight golden rules of bartending.
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1. “Treat yourself like a business”
It can’t be overstated—professionalism is paramount, no matter what industry you work in. Bartenders who plan to succeed in the business need to understand what is expected of them in the hospitality industry, show dedication to their work, and be professional at all times (this includes how you dress and present yourself in different situations, such as for interviews or events).
Top bartender Cassandra Eichoff, head of the European Bar School in South Africa, shares one of her golden rules of bartending, which is to “treat yourself like a business.” “Working behind the bar is not a sideline job. It’s a profession [that] requires training and education for your mind, body, and soul,” she says.
It’s important to realize that succeeding in the industry takes investment over a period of time. “Keep on investing in yourself, and make the choice of being professional and presenting yourself authentically every single time,” advises Cassandra, adding that “working in hospitality is a choice…to serve people, not your ego.
2. “Treat every guest like they are a VIP”
Indeed, bartenders need to make their customers the stars of the show. Deke Dunne, bar manager and creative director of Allegory at the Eaton Hotel in Washington, DC, echoes the sentiment—“Treat every guest like they are a VIP,” he says, reminding bartenders that it isn’t the big shots who “keep the lights on,” it’s the regulars.
“You really do have to condition your brain to treat every single guest that comes into your door like they are a VIP,” Deke says, because “the minute you start slacking with them, you are going to lose them. You can have all the awards in the world, but those awards don’t pay the bills.”
Bartenders need to remember the immortal, golden rule of bartending that it’s not about them, it’s about the customers.
3. “Pursue bartending only if you have a genuine passion for it”
The next golden rule of bartending is all about how much heart you bring to your work. If you aren’t truly passionate about bartending, think twice about making it your long-term profession, because you need passion to fuel your motivation toward success. Veteran bartenders say that without a genuine passion for hospitality and the art of bartending, your chances of reaching success in the industry are slim.
Sarah Proietti, bar manager at Maybe Sammy in Sydney, Australia, strongly advocates that you “pursue bartending only if you have a genuine passion for it,” adding that you have to be willing to “work harder and do more than is required.”
Deke agrees—“Bartending is a tough, manual labor position that is hard on your body, mind, and personal life. It is important to ask yourself why you’re bartending,” so that you can align your objectives and goals with your passion.
“Always remember that you're doing this for your personal growth and fulfillment, more than for your bar or employer,” says Sarah, touching on a critical point—bartending is personal, and the more passionate and dedicated you are at it, the further you’ll go.
4. "Prioritize discipline and self-care"
Taking good care of your mental and physical health is of utmost importance when it comes to having a successful career of any kind. The same goes for achieving a balance between work, life, and everything in between.
“Balance is everything, including [in] bartending,” Sarah says, noting that it’s vital that bartenders “prioritize discipline in your work and take care of your physical and mental health during time off.”
It’s easy to mistake a bartender’s job for a fun activity, like being on vacation, with drinks and debauchery on tap. Deke shares that when he first started bartending, “every night was a party and I was surrounded by people that wanted to go just as hard.”
However, that was no sustainable way to carry on. “After two years of heavy drinking and partying, my body was on the verge of breaking,” says Deke, admitting that he was “sloppy” and “wildly unorganized” in his personal and professional life.
It was only when he opened Allegory and instituted a no-drinking-during-work-hours policy that he became more creative, more organized, and able to achieve goals that previously seemed unattainable.
“Just remember, no other job allows their employees to be wasted all of the time,” says Deke, dropping this golden rule of bartending—“If you want to be a high functioning person in the bartending field, you need to shift your mentality in that direction [of discipline and self-care].”
5. “Never stop learning about the craft”
To become a successful mixologist and keep advancing in your art, you have to assume the identity of a life-long learner. If you want to evolve and keep things fresh, you must never stop learning and taking in new information in your field.
It’s not just about knowing how to make a good dry martini, a classic margarita, or a delicious daiquiri, or about understanding how vermouth and tequila are made and when to use liqueurs, bitters, syrups, and garnishes (though you can learn all this and more in these bartending courses).
There’s so much to learn about bartending and its history—from trade and spice routes, the art of flavor, the evolution of classic cocktails into today’s wild drink recipes, the laws of human nature and hospitality, and yes, everything under the bartending sun.
“The hospitality sector is a beast and is so diverse that it’s impossible for anyone to know everything,” says Cassandra. “The required mindset is to never stop growing, never stop learning about the craft and to never underestimate the value you can bring to your community.”
As a head bartender, Tamaryn Cooper of 28 Hong Kong Street in Singapore says that it’s necessary to “stay curious, continue to learn, and look for knowledge.” She encourages bartenders to “pursue new things, and don't forget to experiment and make mistakes.” Bartending is a fantastic profession for creatives, because it’s an opportunity to keep on making art, both in mixing and performance.
6. “Make plans and set goals”
In order to continue learning and developing new bartending skills, it’s important to set objectives and actively work toward them.
Chris Grotdvedt, owner of ISM, Oslo & Nordic Bar Show in Oslo, Norway says that “plans make dreams become a reality” and that all bartenders should “make plans [and] set goals—not just the end game, but set smaller goals along the way.”
Tamaryn advises the same—”Make some goals for yourself. Doesn't have to be long term; they can be multiple short-term ones.
Chris says that every bartender needs patience and determination in order to build success, adding that “you will always face adversity and hit speed bumps on the way, but believe in the process and don't give up.”
To make reaching your goals more achievable, you’ve got to acknowledge and celebrate small wins before you move on. “Every time you hit a goal, celebrate it and get back to the grind,” says Chris.
7. “Be the colleague you want to work with”
The next golden rule of bartending is two-fold—effective leadership and teamwork, which are at the core of any successful and lucrative business.
In the hospitality industry, you’re surrounded by people all the time, and you need to learn to work, communicate, and play well with others. After all, in Cassandra’s wise words, “Bartending is a team sport. Be the colleague you want to work with.”
“Train yourself into becoming a good bartender, a great leader, and a phenomenal human,” she adds.
It’s great advice and one of the golden rules of bartending that will get you far, not just in bartending, but in life.
Chris looks at teamwork as an opportunity to learn from others, and we agree. “Understand the value of surrounding yourself with people that also have goals and ambitions, maybe they have others than yours. Together you help each other and the business,” he says.
He goes on to say that “a business with strong people helps everyone to step up their game” and that “nothing is more rewarding than helping others reach their goals.”
In the bartending business, working well with others is rewarding (and can be fun!), and it’ll set a good atmosphere in the establishment and help everything run smoothly.
8. “It’s about who you know”
The last, and one of the most important golden rules of bartending—and any other business seeking thriving success—is to build a thriving network and strong social media presence. It’s the way to see and be seen, and the more genuine connections you make, the more others will support your business.
“Your skill set can only get you so far,” says Tamaryn, adding that “it's about who you know and not so much about what you know.”
“We live in a day and age where social media and the Internet are easily accessible to us. Take advantage of this and build a network."
Support goes both ways, so getting to know other bartenders and business owners in your area (and beyond, thanks to social media) can be beneficial for all.
Another great piece of advice on how to build a strong network is from Chris—“Show up for events that others host, support the community, and visit other bars and restaurants as often as you can.”
And lastly, build friendships. In the bartending business, friendships and connections go a long way. “You will see that people also show up to your events and support your ventures and ideas,” says Chris, adding that “you never know who you will meet or serve—it might be your future investor or partner.” It’s happened to him before![Dress to match your success as a bartender—a few pieces from Broken Bartender’s stylish clothing and cheeky accessories collection ought to spice up your work wardrobe!]