Mark’s Career Bartending Story

My reasons for writing this rather lengthy history of my experience in the Food & Beverage Industry is two-fold. Firstly, I want to show you, in detail, that once you get that first year of bartending experience – a good bartender can always get a job. So, your very first goal should be to focus entirely on landing that first bartending job!

Once you have that first 6 months to a year of experience, (many times even less), you really can start “writing your own ticket” that will help you accomplish any outside goals that you may have at any given moment. Bartending allows you the flexibility, while making great money, to schedule your own hours and lead a great life. It was certainly that way with me.

Secondly, after reading my career bartending story – you decide whether or not I’m qualified to teach you how to get your first bartending job. It’s your call.

It’s important to note here that I have never been fired from a job. Yes, I am a very good bartender – but I showed up for my shifts, always worked for the house, and got along well with my fellow employees. And, I developed a very good grasp of the difference between Customer Service and the Customer Experience. You’ll hear me talk a lot about that when you enroll in my Bartender Course.

It’s also worth pointing out that there certainly were some jobs that I was hired for – and things didn’t work out. My schedule may have changed, or, more likely, I simply did not like the bar or management. That happens. However, when you are an experienced bartender you can always find a job that fits your needs. Always.

I am also blessed with extremely good health, and I really cannot recall calling in sick more than a handful of times during my entire bartending career. And, I have never required more than 5 or 6 hours of sleep each night. That helps immensely when you have a very busy life.

The two questions I get most from aspiring bartenders are about drinking on the job and giving out free drinks. I’ll try and address both of those issues within each of my job listings and career, below.

What I really want you to focus on here in this extended “resume” is the different types of bars, bar manager styles, and bar policies particular to the bar that I worked in. All bars are different! Bar managers are as different as night and day. The clientele is different. Bar policies are all over the place. All good bartenders are able to adjust and follow the house policies!

So, here we go…..

My Bartending Career

Busboy/Barback/Bartender/Cook/Janitor/Dishwasher/Salad Maker/Meat Cutter

Rochester, Minnesota, High School Years – Age 14-18

A very unique situation. A huge fine-dining restaurant with a bar on each end. The “theme” was an abandoned railroad yard – some lucky patrons could actually dine on authentic railroad dining cars.

A family member worked here in a management position, and my sister, brothers, and I all got our first “real world” job introduction here. And my cousins, girlfriend, etc. You get the point. It’s nice to “know somebody.”

Two bars: One a “high-class” lounge type of bar with a DJ who spun records in the driver/engineer area of a real locomotive. Cool. The second bar was a crazy-busy nightclub that catered to the younger crowd. Scattered about the entire place were 4 service bars.

The people frequenting this place acted a whole lot different than the kids in my high school. Pure heaven for an adolescent 15-year-old.

I started as a busboy and bar-back. Moved into cooking and really loved learning how to cut meat – taking a full tenderloin or top sirloin and portioning them out.

I was really into sports, and depending upon the season I would work different jobs at different times at the restaurant. I learned them all. All I had to do was maintain my solid c-minus average in academics and my parents allowed me to work whenever I wished.

It was here that I got my first taste of bartending. I got to know the bartenders well because I was already bar-backing. It didn’t take long before I pressured a couple of them into allowing me behind one of the many service bars (unseen from any customers), and start pouring drinks, draft beer, and wine. A lot of wine for the dining room.

Under cover from prying eyes, I learned a lot and got a kick out of it. So did the bartenders – until upper management busted us. Oh well. On the bright side, the General Manager offered me a bartending job as soon as I was old enough.

Almost everyone I knew who worked here was occasionally under the influence of something. Lots of drinking, and who knows what some of the employees were doing out on the back dock. I was a bit naïve at first – but grew up fast.

Yeah, I know. You’re going to say that you couldn’t get away with that in this day and age. You’re absolutely right. That was some time ago, and like I said before – I knew somebody.

The greatest thing about working at this place was the money. I bought my first car before I turned 16, in cash, and gained a whole lot of experience that would prove invaluable down the road. As I mentioned before – a very unique situation.

Experience – Almost 4 years

Method of Pouring: Liquor gun and free pouring

Bar Policies: Not really sure here, as I was very young. I do remember that the bartenders would give out free drinks – and drinking behind the bar was not unheard of.

Type of Bar: One lounge-type bar and one very busy nightclub. Absolutely crazy place.

Duties: Pretty much every job in a restaurant/bar except management.       

United States Marine Corps

San Diego, California – Age 18-21

Couldn’t wait to get out of Minnesota. Two days after graduating High School, I was taking my first-ever plane ride to sunny Southern Cal and 3 months of Marine Corps Boot Camp. Loved it. I was on a 3-year enlistment, and spent all three years on Camp Pendleton – just North of San Diego County. I loved the Corps, but the pay was pitiful. I made more money at 16 than I did in the service.

I had discovered surfing, and was “home.” I hung out with the “long hairs” on weekends, and surfed up and down the coast of Southern California. A great time, and most of the surfers accepted this “Jarhead” – after a rocky start.

Mark Unger Wearing Marine Corps Dress Blues
Marine Corps Boot Camp

Two months away from being honorably discharged as a Sergeant, I enrolled in a two weekend, in-person bartending school class.

Paid $250 if I remember correctly. Learned how to make drinks – and that’s about it. The school “guaranteed” job placement. Never happened. Liars. However, Bartending School was instrumental in getting my first bartending job. More on that later.

Upon discharge, I immediately moved back to Minnesota and got married. Two weeks later, I landed my first job as a bartender. Nice.

Duties: I worked in an office in a support position for an artillery battalion. Monday – Friday, 7:30 – 4:30. Had to PT every day, of course, but my job was to maintain service and payroll records for the men and women in my battalion who were doing the real work.


Minneapolis, Minnesota – Age 21-22

Got hired at a gourmet pizza joint in North Minneapolis. I believe they had around 5 or 6 locations, and the one that I applied at was fairly new – and big. Interestingly, the person who first interviewed me was “impressed” that I had gone to bartending school.

This is the only bartending job in my entire career where I had to go through three interviews. That’s right – three. The co-owner, the bar manager, and the head bartender. It was a very popular place and always had lots of applicants.

Very successful, great place – and very busy. Full bar out front and a service bar in back for the food servers. Being the new guy, I was stuck in the service bar for half of my shifts – but good tips from food servers and a solid 40 hours per week. Union house. Drinking behind the bar was forbidden. Even shift drinks were not allowed.

I don’t think I could have chosen a better place to start my bartender career than here. Got my feet wet, and learned a lot. All of the current bartenders (about 6 or 8 of them), at this place had worked for the company at least 5 years – some of them around 20 years. These guys taught me a lot, and were very accepting of the “new guy.”

This particular bar was only a couple of blocks from a well-known live rock ‘n roll nightclub. Crazy, insanely busy place. I may or may not have spent too much time there. Got to know the bar manager and bartenders, and they would stop by the pizza joint. Offered me a bartending job. Was over-ruled by the wife.

Type of Bar: Gourmet Pizza Joint. Mom and Pop type place. Extremely busy. Multiple locations.

Method of Pouring: Liquor guns and jiggers. Cheap, 1 oz pour. No exceptions!

Bar Policies: Extremely strict. Don’t even think about giving out a freebie. Managers signed off on the waste/comp sheet after every shift.

Duties: Full-time bartender. Busy place, front bar and service bar.

Bar Management Style: Very hands-on. Owners and their family members were always around. Bar manager was very strict and on top of things – but a great guy. So were owners.

Experience: About 1 ½ years, 40 hours/week

Manager/General Manager

Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota – Age 22-25

At wife’s insistence, decided I should “move up” in the world. Applied and was hired by a theme restaurant and bar chain as a “Manager Trainee.” Their policy was to hire only those with a 4-year college education, but made an exception and took my military service and solid year of bartending as the equivalent. Got lucky.

The company had somewhere around 125 locations in the Midwest and East Coast. Like all of the places I have worked at, I won’t reveal the exact name of the establishment – but you’ll get a fairly good idea. For this job, think something like an Olive Garden or TGI Fridays.

Started as a manager trainee and moved up the ladder quickly. Worked at 5 different locations in the Twin Cities – one of which was brand-new. Promoted to General Manager at age 24 – with full profit and loss responsibility. The restaurant and bar that I managed employed somewhere around 60 people. Drinking behind the bar was never allowed nor tolerated. Zero tolerance. Not even a shift drink.

Great money, great times, great experience, but got divorced and wanted to move back to California. Really missed surfing. Most people outside of the Food & Beverage Industry don’t know this, but once you have a full years’ experience as a general manager – you can write your own ticket. You’re heavily recruited by competitors and can call some of the shots. Very much like an exceptional bartender with solid experience.

That’s what happened to me. I received multiple job offers, but went with the company that offered me more money than I was making, a transfer to Southern California, and a rock-solid guarantee of General Manager after their training and 6 months on the job.

I accepted the job, put in my two-week notice, and moved immediately to San Diego. Oh, and I asked for a delay of 6 weeks before starting the job. I was a little burned out and needed to reacquaint myself with the ocean and surfing. (My stint in the Marine Corps wasn’t all work and no play – believe me!)

Type of Bar: Corporate Theme Restaurant & Bar

Method of Pouring: Jiggers. About 1 ¼ oz shots

Bar Policies: Very strict, and an extremely profitable company focused on bottom line.

Duties: Full profit & Loss responsibility. Because of my prior bartending experience, I was the manager usually designated to hire and train all bartenders. Or supervised their training. It was at this time I discovered that many of very best bartenders were usually former servers. I also realized that “soft skills” were much more important than “hard skills” when hiring new bartenders.

Bar Management Style: Strict. Being in management, we monitored food and liquor costs closely.

Experience: 2 years in assistant manager positions, One year as General Manager.


San Diego County, California

Started training and learning the ropes of the new chain theme restaurant. This company was very similar to the previous company I was working at. Again, think of something like a TGI Fridays or a Red Lobster. Drinking behind the bar was not allowed – immediate termination if caught. Shift drinks allowed.

Worked for them 2 months and promptly quit. Why? I found that baby sitting and problem solving just wasn’t my cup of tea anymore. I had just turned 25. Still young, now single again, no kids, and having too much fun surfing and playing 2-man basketball and volleyball up and down the Southern California coast. And a whole lot of other “stuff” that semi-irresponsible young men do. But now I didn’t have a job.

Method of Pouring: Free-pouring only. 1 ½ oz most drinks. Bartenders consistently tested on their pouring skills.

Bar Policies: Very Strict. This company was all about accountability; but freebies allowed

Type of Bar: Corporate Theme Restaurant & Bar. Extremely busy.

Duties: Basically, I was in their management training program the entire time.

Experience: 2 Months, 50 hours/week


San Diego County, California

I needed a job. After quitting the management job above, I immediately (the very next day), went out looking for a bartending job. Absolutely refused to even consider managing again. Answered an ad in the paper and interviewed for a bartending job at a seafood restaurant and piano bar in Northern San Diego County.

The bar manager, and interviewer, was a retired Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant. He hired me on the spot, and I started working the very next day. Got lucky again, but any fool can see that the bar manager, being a former Marine, had a hand in the hiring decision.

It’s also important to note that they needed someone immediately. I know that the ad in the paper had been running for a few days, so they must have been interviewing people. It just goes to show that no matter what – show up!

One of the best places I have ever worked. Busy. Great food and drinks. Drinking behind the bar was allowed – with moderation. I’m using the word “moderation” loosely here – sometimes things could get a bit out of hand. Fun. Shift drinks allowed. A full 40 hours per week, and they had an oyster bar within the bar itself. Learned how to shuck oysters and clams and cook everything on the oyster bar menu.

Worked half and half days and nights, and would fill in on busy nights as a food server. Fantastic tip money, and plenty of time for surfing.

Method of Pouring: Free pouring. 1 ½ oz drinks

Bar Policies: Fairly loose, and bartenders had some wiggle room. Great owners.

Type of Bar: Piano Bar, Oyster Bar, Seafood Restaurant & Bar. Mom and Pop type place.

Duties: Bartender, food server, oyster bar cook. 90% bartending.

Experience: About 1 ½ years, 40 hours/week

Bartender/Banquet Bartender

San Diego County, California

While working at the above seafood restaurant and oyster bar place, a brand-new resort opened up a few miles away. Fine dining with lots of banquets and private parties. I thought maybe a part-time job would be nice for extra money, and a good friend and I answered a newspaper ad and applied.

They hired my friend on the spot, but told me I was on the waitlist – whatever that means. The very first function this place had was a huge banquet that the owner was putting on for all of his friends – and probably investors. I showed up, along with my friend, and simply started working.

Yes, you heard that right. They had hired around 20 banquet food servers for this place, there was a lot of confusion, and the banquet manager just didn’t seem to care. I remember asking her why I didn’t have a timecard, and she told me that my paperwork probably got lost in the shuffle – being a new place and all. “Please come in tomorrow sometime and fill out a new set of paperwork.”

The audacity, huh? But I was young, and to this day I still laugh about the situation. I wouldn’t recommend this method of getting hired to inexperienced bartenders-to-be, but you never know.

Within a week I was also bartending at the main bar. The place was so unorganized and mis-managed that people were always quitting. New employees all the time. I also filled in now and again as a banquet food server, but half my shifts were as a fine-dining waiter. This was very new to me, and a fellow food server gave me a crash course on fine dining “etiquette” as well as wine knowledge.

I also learned that the banquet division of hotels and resorts is a great place to get your start bartending. And, they never seemed to have enough bartenders for larger parties. Working in banquets, If you’re a food server, they will ask you to fill in as a bartender at some point if you let them know you’re available.

Really good money at this place, but management was one of the worst of I’ve ever seen. Their policy of no drinking while on duty was pretty much ignored. Everyone was drinking and smoking weed. Surprisingly, the morale among the employees was generally pretty good. Probably because of all the partying going on.

Scheduling conflicts started to arise, and I had to quit one of my jobs. This one got the ax. Great experience, though, and it was my first real introduction to banquet bartending and fine dining.

Type of Bar: Resort. Lots of pools, golf, and private parties. Fine dining – upper class.

Method of Pouring: Jiggers. No free pouring allowed (supposedly). 1 ¼ oz shots.

Bar Polices: Loose, and pretty much ignored. To this day, I’m still not sure what they were!

Duties: Bartender, Banquet Bartender, Banquet Food Server, Fine Dining Food Server

Experience: About 8 months, part-time

Bartender/Bar Manager/General Manager

San Diego County, California

Things were about to change dramatically. While working at the seafood and piano bar, one of the regulars who came in all the time was a great guy who owned a nightclub and a couple of beer bars.

He kept pressuring me to quit my current job and tend bar for him 5 nights a week at his nightclub. I was a bit hesitant because I was currently making great money and had the shifts I wanted. I finally consented, put in my two-week notice, and headed down the road about 5 miles.

I was familiar with the nightclub, as a friend of mine worked there and I popped in quite frequently. Crazy, busy place. Lines out the door, cover charge, a DJ as well as live music, 5 bouncers on duty – just a whole lot of madness. And I loved it.

This place was unbelievable. I worked Tuesday – Saturday, 6:00 – 2:00. Thursday through Saturday nights were totally out of control. Huge bar in front main area, and a smaller bar in the back room. I worked the main room. From 9:00 to closing it was pure madness. Put your face in the ice and pour. 2-3 deepers at times.

Other than bar backing when I was in high school (and some illegal bartending), this was my first bartending job in a kick-ass nightclub. There would be more down the road, but my initial nightclub bartending job was a great experience.

But there were problems. Massive drinking on the job, bartender and server theft, a chaotic kitchen – you name it.

The bar owner, great guy that he was, took no liquor or food inventory, had no idea how to price drinks, and had a nasty habit of hiring the wrong people. He absolutely refused to hire anyone without experience. That would change. He also had 20K plus in bad checks uncollected. Too nice of a guy. I observed all of this, kept my nose clean, and made a ton of money.

About two months into my new job, the owner asked me if I would consider being the bar manager. He didn’t have a bar manager at the time – only a “head” bartender who didn’t know squat, least of all how to tend bar. He knew about my previous management experience, and after picking my brain decided he really need to get some things in order.

I think he was getting tired of the Fire Marshall fining him for over-crowding and constantly having to hire new people. Turnover was a very big problem due to people not showing up for work, getting fired for theft, or being so bombed during their shift they couldn’t function. And the kitchen was a mess.

I accepted. I know, I previously said that there was no way I would ever manage again. Oh well. We changed a lot of stuff. Part of my agreement with the bar owner, along with a nice fat raise, was that I would retain my Friday and Saturday night bartending shifts. No problem.

I didn’t waste any time, and by the end of my first month as the bar manager I had fired half the staff and re-hired some really good people. Many of them inexperienced – but not as bartenders. The bar was so busy, even during the day, that I had no time to properly train inexperienced new bartenders. That would change down the road.

The bar was going gangbusters, the bar owner now knew where his money was going (the first thing I did was start taking inventory), much stricter house polices had been put in place, and I did all of the hiring/firing. I instituted a “no drinking on the job” policy. Shift drinks were allowed. This would end up being temporary, but at the time it needed to be done.

About three of four months later, the bar owner asked me to become General Manager of the nightclub. He needed his kitchen straightened out – among other things.

I accepted and negotiated another nice raise, but still retained my Friday and Saturday night bartending shifts. Completely re-vamped the food menu and kitchen staff.  If I remember correctly, I fired everyone in the kitchen save for one cook. Food servers were good – just needed a little direction.

Things were looking up, food and bar sales were increasing (and their gross profit), and, most importantly, the bar owner’s bottom line was increasing every month. But I had a problem. I was starting to put in way too many hours and getting burned out.

No time for surfing and basketball. I didn’t want to forfeit all of that easy tip money on Friday and Saturday nights behind the bar – but it wasn’t just that. I had no one to replace myself behind the bar.

*Let me take a little side-journey here and explain why it’s so hard for inexperienced bartenders to get their first job in a nightclub – or any busy bar for that matter. Bartending is not just about knowing and making drinks! In fact, knowing drink recipes is 10% of the job – if that. I go into great detail on this in my Bartending Course.

You need a lot of skills and qualities to be an exceptional bartender. Hard skills and soft skills. You need all of those skills to work in a nightclub.  However, to work at an extremely busy bar, you really need to excel at two of those skills: Speed and awareness – and they come with experience. We’re talking about taking these two skills up a notch!

I’m really not going to go into depth here on the subject – I do that in my Bartending Course. Just know that a bartender cannot excel in a very busy environment if he’s worried or thinking about all of the “busy” stuff that goes along with normal, everyday bartending.

He needs to focus on speed and awareness and let all of that other “stuff” remain on autopilot. He has already set his bar area up for efficiency. But here’s the kicker – because of his experience working in a crazy fast environment, speed and awareness are second nature to him.

He simply allows his skills, perfected through experience, to “kick in” and take over. This comes naturally only through experience! Stuff that inexperienced bartenders have to concentrate on, or are not very good at, are things that an exceptional bartender does not even think about! Whew! Experienced bartenders who have worked in an environment like this know exactly what I’m talking about! Especially the “auto-pilot” thing.

By the way, for an in-depth look at the “Seven Skills and Qualities Bar Managers are Looking For” – look for it in my Bartending Course in the Introduction Section. I have also posted a variation of this article that anyone can access at the above link.

Back to my story. After a few months as general manager, the bar owner asked me to also manage his two beer bars and a piano bar he had recently taken over. I accepted, but that didn’t last too long because it was just too much. We installed good managers in those places, and I returned to focus on the nightclub.

I worked there for around 6 or 7 years. Fun, tons of money. Got burned out and had to find something else. I had started going back to school, so there just wasn’t enough time in the day to be doing all this stuff. Committed to school and starting my own business, I moved on. Transition was easy, as I had multiple job offers from other bars.

Side Note: I had discovered that once you get a reputation for being a solid bartender – jobs will come to you.

Mark Unger

Type of Bar: Raging Nightclub

Method of Pouring: Free pouring. 1 ½ ounce for regular drinks. 2 oz on the rocks, 2 1/2 for martinis.

Bar Policy: Eventually, kind of loose. Had great bartenders who were properly trained and knew how to play the game.

Duties: Bartender, Bar Manager, General Manager

Experience: About 6 or 7 years, 40-70 hours/week

Bartender/Bar Manager

San Diego County, California

Bartender friend of mine was going on a two-week vacation and asked me to fill in at a local Mom and Pop small nightclub. After the two weeks, the bar owners asked me to stay on as the Bar Manager. I accepted.

This place had some serious issues, and I made some rather drastic changes. Fun place, and they had a great local clientele. Money wasn’t the best. Drinking was not allowed at any time during the shift. Shift drink allowed.

After about a year, I was contacted by the owners (I knew them), of a brand-new nightclub who offered me the Bar Manager job as well as the heavy Friday – Saturday night bartending shifts. Time to move on.

Type of Bar: Nightclub. Mom and Pop. Not a big fan of the owners.

Method of Pouring: Jigger. Absolutely no free pouring allowed. 1 ¼ oz drinks

Bar Policy: Strict. Owner’s wife took inventory every night. No free drinks. Everything accounted for.

Experience: 1 year, 40 hours/week

Duties: Bartender, Bar Manager

Bartender/Bar Manager

San Diego County, California

Brand new nightclub opening up. Started working here shortly after the above job. I knew the owners, and they offered me the Bar Manager job along with a few bartending shifts.

Drinking behind the bar was acceptable, but the owners wouldn’t know if anyone was anyway.

Bar owners were great guys – and that’s just about all I’ll say on that subject. Confusion reigned. Stepped down from bar manager about two months after we opened and got settled in as a bartender. 40 hours a week, 4 nights a week and Sunday days. Decent money, busy nightclub, but left after only a year.

Type of Bar: Nightclub

Method of Pouring: Free pouring, 1 ½ oz

Bar Policy: No accountability. No inventory. Lots of over-pouring, free drinks

Experience: 1 Year, 40 hours/week

Duties: Bar Manager first, then bartender only

***The below bartending jobs are not in chronological order. I worked all of these jobs at one time or another while pursuing my college degree and new business. Kind of a mix ‘n match thing. I worked some of them in combination with others. Mostly part-time.


San Diego County, California

Theme Restaurant and Bar. Strange place, but decent money. The job hours fit in perfectly with my schedule. I actually interviewed for this job, and had to go through their week-long bartender training program. I had no problem doing this, as most bars will have some sort of training program for bartenders.

Sadly, the training program was a joke. Sucked it up. The head bartender simply sat at the bar with her training manual and shouted out instructions. I had memorized all of the house drink specialties before starting my first shift (easy, when all you were doing was swapping out flavorings). Learned all I needed from her the first shift, but, unfortunately, the “policy” was you had to spend a week training. Oh well.

Huge main bar and one service bar. Very busy place, at times, and I had a hard time figuring out exactly what their “theme” was. Food and drinks were average, and I guess they stayed in business by capitalizing on mall traffic. Drinking on the job was strictly forbidden. No shift drinks allowed.

The bar specialized in flavored margaritas and martinis. Had all of the flavored syrups (like for sno-cones at the fair). They used a liquor gun for well liquors, and poured only one-ounce shots. 1 ½ for martinis. Weak drinks were a constant complaint.

Type of Bar: Corporate Theme Restaurant and Bar inside a mall

Method of Pouring: Measured. Jiggers and Liquor Guns ONLY. 1 ¼ oz drinks

Bar Policy: Strict. No free drinks. Period.

Experience: 1 year, part-time

Duties: Bartender


San Diego County, California

A friend asked me to help out at a local private club on weekends. Basically, running the bar as well as bartending. Decent job, and fit perfectly with my schedule at the time. Tips sucked, but they paid me well.

Too slow. Probably the most boring bartending job I ever had. No drinking behind the bar. All drinks went on “tabs.” Members rarely tipped.

Type of Bar: Private Club

Method of Pouring: Free pouring – pour whatever the paying member wanted. Easy.

Bar Policy: Supposedly strict, but management was clueless. No free drinks.

Experience: 6 Months, about 10 – 15 hours/week

Duties: Bartender, Weekend Day Manager


San Diego County, California

You stay in this business long enough, and you get to know a lot of bartenders, bar managers, and bar owners. I was approached by a bar owner one time who asked me if I would mind coming in and watch (observe, spy), his bartenders. A “spotter,” so to speak. Many times called a “secret shopper.” He had a liquor cost problem and didn’t know where he was losing money.

I had certainly dealt with spotters before as a manger (many bars and restaurants hire them), so I knew exactly what he was asking me to do. In this particular case, the problem was the usual suspects: free drinks, drinking behind the bar, outright theft – and not just one bartender.

Word got out, and for the next couple of years I would “spot” a few different bars on a regular basis. A very part-time job that was good for extra money. Very good money. I briefly thought about starting a business like this – but never got around to it. Too busy.

Food for thought: The main issue that I always found with bartenders was their failure to acknowledge people in a timely manner. In the Food & Beverage Industry, this is Customer Service 101, and an amazing (I thought), number of bartenders fail in this area.

Additionally, based on my experience in management and bartending, I realized that the three main reasons for bartenders getting fired (not including not showing up/being late for shifts), was drinking on the job, outright theft, and giving out free drinks/over-pouring.

Type of Bar: Multiple Bars, mostly nightclubs, in San Diego County

Experience: 2 Years, Very part-time. I’d do a job when I felt like it. Not going to tell you how much I made.

Duties: Evaluated bars and bar staff. Sneaky stuff. Looking for theft, drinking, rude behavior. Worked for multiple bar owners that I knew.

Bartender/Bar Manager

San Diego County, California

My one and only time working at a Country Western nightclub. Loved it. Live band on weekends. Sold a lot of beer. Cowboy hats everywhere. As a favor to an Attorney friend of mine, stepped in as the General Manager after owner died – until wife could sell the place.

This was a unique situation – to say the least. Bar had one of those old-time liquor licenses that was grandfathered in – didn’t have to sell any food. I was the manager, but worked behind the bar Friday and Saturday nights. Basically, I was hired to babysit until the new owners took over.

Bar was in total disarray after owners’ death, but I was instructed to simply “man the ship.” No inventory, no accountability, and was told not to rock the boat. Good employees who were very loyal to deceased owner. Bar sold, and I moved on.

Type of Bar: Country Western Nightclub

Method of Pouring: Free pouring. Heavy – whatever the bartender wanted.

Bar Policies: Extremely loose. No accountability.

Experience: About 6 Months. 50 hours/week

Duties: Bartender, General Manager.


Below are the Banquet Bartending jobs that I had. The main ones are listed, but there were a few more where I only worked seasonally – or disliked for some reason and quickly moved on. At one time, I was on the payroll of four different hotels!

All of these jobs were part-time. In banquet bartending, the managers know that you cannot be available for every shift. This is why most people that prefer the hotel/banquet scene always seem to have two jobs. You’re usually going to be available either days or nights – and management will schedule you accordingly.

Banquet Bartending is a good place for brand-new bartenders to get some experience – and they’re great part-time gigs that can work with almost any schedule. Really good money, and I’m surprised bartending schools don’t push these more.

I worked almost all of the jobs listed below in combination with others throughout the years. In fact, I believe I worked at a couple of them – plus a nightclub all at the same time. It really depended upon my schedule, and I could always ramp things up a bit when I had the time.


San Diego County, California, 4-Star Hotel

Great place to work. Food servers averaged $25 per hour and bartenders more than that. Plus tips. Had my biggest cash tip night in my career working here. New Years Eve – $1100 in one shift.

Did a lot of off-site huge parties for the very rich. Tips/wages were unbelievable. Huge parties. Poolside parties. Drinking on the job prohibited. No exceptions. No shift drinks.

Great management, and 500 plus people at events was common. They hired only experienced bartenders – yet would allow food servers to tend bar when low on bartenders. Go figure.

Method of Pouring: Jigger – sometimes. Bosses said go ahead and free pour on 2-3 deepers. 1 ½ oz drinks. Martinis were poured heavy. No one ever got on me for my pouring habits.

Bar Policies: Fairly loose, but they charged the rich people so much for services that I really don’t think they cared – which is a bit unusual for a 4-star hotel.

Experience: 4 Years plus, Part-time

Duties: Banquet Bartender. Did some food server work when they got in a jam.

Banquet Bartender/Food Server

San Diego County, California, 3-Star Hotel

One of the best bartending jobs I ever had. I had heard this was a great place to work, and applied for a job as banquet food server to get my foot in the door. Wasn’t long before I was behind the bar as current bartenders were drunk all the time.

This was another unique situation where the banquet manager came to me and asked if I could take over as Head Banquet Bartender. He wanted to clean house. Offered me some nice incentives, and I accepted. One of the best decisions I ever made.

Very flexible, tips were outstanding. Built-in gratuities, cash tips, nice. Being the head bartender, I got to choose which parties I wanted to work. No drinking on the job allowed. No shift drinks.

Lots of weddings on weekends, many large poolside parties, and this job (like all banquet bartending jobs), worked well in combination with other bartending jobs at the same time.

Method of Pouring: Jigger, but I pushed the envelope. 1 ¼ oz drinks

Bar Policies: Fairy strict, but management had it together and they pretty much left me alone. Great bosses.

Experience: 8 Years. Part-time. Union house.

Duties: Head Banquet Bartender. Did some food server work when they got in a jam – and if I was available. Occasionally worked the front lobby bar.

Banquet Bartender

San Diego County, California, 3-Star Hotel

Great place, and working here fit in well with my current schedule. Outstanding bosses, and after observing me working a few shifts they pretty much left me alone.

Not the greatest bartending job in the world, moneywise, but it was so flexible that I could work whenever I wanted – or had time. No drinking on the job not allowed. No shift drinks.

Lots of weddings like other hotels, but what they really specialized in was local groups having their meetings or “functions” here on a regular basis. Not the best-paying gigs, but I always averaged at least $20 hour, and I met some really great people.

Method of Pouring: Jigger, but after awhile no one complained when I started free pouring.

Bar Policies: Semi-strict, and I was never questioned about liquor cost.

Experience: About 6 Years, part-time

Duties: Banquet Bartender, did some food server work when they were short-staffed.

Banquet Bartender

San Diego County, California, 4-Star Hotel

Again, a great place to work. One of my previous bosses, a banquet manager, had taken a new job at a nearby resort type hotel. Asked me to come over part-time. Drinking on the job was not allowed under any circumstances. No shift drinks.

Another great situation where my past experience and reputation allowed me to slide into a new position. Great money, and worked well with my schedule.

Lots of weddings and poolside parties. Great employees, and the flexibility was exactly what I was looking for at the time.

Method of Pouring: Jigger, but they weren’t too concerned.

Bar Policies: Lenient, but I never pushed the envelope.

Experience: About 4 Years. Part-time

Duties: Banquet Bartending, Front Bar Bartending


San Diego County, California, 3-Star Hotel

I worked here mostly seasonally, on and off, for about six years. Very flexible schedule, lots of poolside parties and local groups as well as tourists. Drinking on the job was not tolerated. No shift drinks. No exceptions.

What was a bit different at this place was their training. They always had some sort of meeting or training sessions for bartenders and servers. You know – suggestive selling techniques, wine knowledge, etc. Kind of a pain, but I can’t say that I didn’t learn some new “stuff” here and there.

Also worked off-site parties that were kind of weird – but helped pay the bills. Management always seemed to be confused, but they left me alone. Great staff working here.

Method of Pouring: Jigger – no exceptions

Bar Policies: Strict – always on the bartenders about liquor cost

Experience: 4 Years, part-time

Duties: Banquet Bartender, Front Bar Bartender

And there you have it. I may have missed a couple of places that I worked at for a short time. No big deal. As you can see, I’ve worked at a ton of different places and gained a tremendous amount of experience.

One thing that I wish you’d really take away from all this is that bartending is very flexible. Once you get a little experience, you can go anywhere. And, bar owners will find you!