Bartending Schools, Hit or Miss?

Bar Rescue InsiderEditor's Note: The following is one in a series of blogs provided by the experts who have worked incredibly hard to make Spike TV's "Bar Rescue" reality program, starring Nightclub & Bar Media Group President Jon Taffer, such a success. The Bar Rescue Insider blog series will deliver tried-and-true tips and tricks to help bar owners, operators and managers solve common problems and increase their bottom line. Tune in to every Wednesday for the next edition of Bar Rescue Insider!

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I’ve written this to help those who are new to the business and who wish to bartend, or eventually hope to own a bar.  So many times I’m amazed that one of this country's oldest professions has very few notches by which to measure itself.  I mean, look at the schools the masses are taught in.  And better yet, what are our options in what we are being taught?  How do these schools ultimately affect the hiring process?

There are standards in place that are the basis of all professions, whether it’s rocket science, history, or culinary arts.  Bartending has standards that are kept a secret.  Not willingly, but by lack of figures willing to speak about it publicly and help create a standard.  Yes, bartending schools exist, but they are not typically started and run by those who have a pedigree that is well respected within the industry.

Think about this for a moment. Respected acting schools or culinary schools are judged in many ways by the merit of their instructors and curriculum.

Most successful theatre Majors who go on to have great careers in TV and Film, as well the theatre itself, eventually teach; same with many chefs.

Bartenders who have very successful careers end up running their own bars, or move up to management and eventually ownership.  They do not want to start bartending schools because so many of the schools teach how to make drinks, but don’t teach how to tend to a bar, or how to actually get a job and what to expect.

The majority don’t use spirits, just colored water.  That’s tough because the students don’t learn about their own palate, or quality-control for the establishment.

Most schools have a “job placement” concept which all schools use as a perk to draw in students.

‘Civilians’ outside the bar industry have no idea how hiring works in the real world. They think:  “Go to school, learn, get a job!”  People think they will have an upper hand over others when they go to these bartending schools.

It’s completely inaccurate.  This is a dramatic example, but even the best law schools know that by attending their program it increases the likely hood of their graduates getting hired at a firm in any position.

Can you imagine if that school said once you graduate they would guarantee job placement?

Get your first murder case the moment you graduate?

The bigger point is how ALL bar owners, corporate or independent, see bartending school graduates.  They know they’ve never made a drink for anyone, other than an instructor with a stopwatch, never dealt with money and high volume or important clientele, and haven't the slightest clue how the flow of a bar works or what the service industry is really about.

Creating an irreplaceable experience for your guests, on all levels, is what it’s about; making drinks is only one small cog in the wheel.

Experienced bar professional also know that once young bartenders have gotten past their own egos they become aware you can teach a monkey how to make a drink.

It’s the person’s personality you hire for, because that’s what will determine how they learn, apply, and grow as an employee.

It will also determine how they teach new employees later.

So my final thoughts on bartending schools are:  if they are used as a tool to simply get familiar with fundamentals, they are great.  Accepting that new hires will no doubt feel a bit more confident because of the school is a positive thing.  But most likely, they will have to accept that bartending jobs start with internships labeled “Bar Back” and “Cocktail Server.”

It will be the job of the venue operator to really break down how the bar fits into the world of hospitality, and how it can connect a community.


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