Nail That Bartender Job Interview - 20 Questions

Nail That Bartender Job Interview – 20 Questions

Nail That Bartender Job Interview – 20 Questions

Any type of job interview can be agonizing and terrifying. Interviewing for a bartender job is no different, but if you prepare yourself properly you can make it through with flying colors – and secure the job offer.

So, how can I not only pass the interview – but stand out as the best prospect available to the company? Be prepared. Develop your skills through experience and study, answer questions quickly and accurately, and show up with an impeccable personal appearance.

The key here is to do your homework by not only having the required skills for the job – but knowing a little bit about the company or bar that you’re trying to get a job at. You get one chance, so don’t blow it!

Don’t have any bartending experience or skills? Then point out the skills that are similar to the food and beverage industry. Customer service, organization, teamwork, handling money, etc.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you cannot get a bartending job with no experience. Rest assured, bar managers are always looking for fresh faces. I know, as I have hired many inexperienced bartenders.

Do not underestimate the power of “looking the part.” You’re going to be front and center with many eyes watching your every move. An impeccable personal appearance will transform you into exactly what a bar manager is looking for and get you one-up on the competition.

No skimping here – dress appropriately, check your hygiene, and present yourself as energetic and friendly. Please have clean fingernails!

I have interviewed hundreds of applicants for bartending positions, as well as servers, cooks, managers, bar backs, hostesses – you name it. Interviewing people for bartending positions was one of my favorite things to do.

Bars always have a wide range of applicants – and plenty of them. The Bar Manager can whittle down the list by asking some very revealing questions. I’m going to give you the answers to 20 of these questions.

I have listed below twenty questions that I have asked bartender job applicants over the years. These are some of my favorites. And, I know that there are many other Bar Mangers that ask these very same questions – or slight variations.

Obviously, I don’t ask every applicant the same questions – or all of them as the interview flow will dictate that. In fact, there have been many times where I have asked only a few questions and learned all I needed to know to make a competent decision.

I’m going to do my best to give you honest, straight-forward answers to all of these questions. Some of these questions are a bit tricky – as intended. An effective bar manager will always use probing questions to elicit honest responses.

Some of my answers may surprise you, so let’s dig in. But first, let me explain how the bartender interview process really works

The Bartender Interview Process

A couple of things we need to discuss before the interview. First of all, if the interviewer offers you something to drink – don’t ask for a beer or some other alcoholic beverage. Doing that could possibly end the interview before it even starts.

Usually, it’s just good to say no to anything to drink. Stay focused. To be honest, I’ve offered people a “beer or something else” just to see the reaction. It’s a trap, and don’t fall for it.

Even though you probably already dropped off a resume and/or cover letter- bring them with you to the interview. Bar managers are busy, and there’s a good chance he doesn’t have your application with him. It just makes good sense to cover all bases.

Take some time to research the bar or company that you’re applying at! It might be a good idea to get a copy of their drink menu, if they have one, and memorize the drinks. Knowing a company’s mission statement is always a good move.

Generally speaking, the interviewer is trying to get a basic idea of your experience and general disposition. He’s going to watch your reactions to certain questions and observe your behavior.

Your answers will dictate which direction he moves on to. Bartending is a high-energy job, and coming across as dull and flat will hurt. Stay positive and vibrant.

Be prepared for anything. The interview could be short, so make the most of it. If you find yourself being asked a lot of questions – they’re probably interested. In my experience with the interview process, asking more questions means that I’m satisfied with the answers I’m getting, and looking for more in-depth revelations.

The twenty questions below are fairly basic – with general answers that will get you by. However, I want to stress that bar managers are looking for more than just plain ‘ol common answers that every applicant seems to use.

That’s fine, but, personally, if I was spending a lot of time applying for jobs – and finally got an interview – I’d look a bit more deeply for some really good answers.

I have gone into much more detail on many of these questions in different posts, so look for the links if you’d like detailed information on how to answer these questions EXACTLY. Good stuff. So, let’s look at some common questions that bar managers will ask.

20 Very Common Interview Questions

As I mentioned before, you’re most likely not going to be asked all of these questions. Maybe just five or six. Or less. The important thing to remember is to practice your answers so you’re not caught by surprise. Let’s do this.

Tell me a little bit about yourself

The interviewer is trying to establish a repertoire. Relax, and just say what comes naturally. They’re not asking you about your bartending experience – yet. They’re simply trying to get an idea of what makes you tick.

Don’t be indecisive and start rambling.  Are you going to school? Do you enjoy golf? Family? No need to elaborate – just keep it short and simple.

Interviewers learn a lot from just this one question. They get a relatively brief peek into your daily routine, and it provides clues as to what’s important in your life. Be honest, don’t embellish, and stay humble.

Want the in-depth best answer to this question? I have it for you- check out the Bartender Interview: Tell Me a Little Bit About Yourself. Probably the most important question you’ll be asked – nail this question and you’re half-way there!

Tell me about your bartending experience

What he’s asking for here is your actual experience as a bartender, the places you have worked at, and how you started in the industry.

If you have no experience, he probably already knows this from looking at your resume. If that’s the case, then describe the jobs that you have had in the past that may be similar to bartending or customer service.

If you have no bartending experience, point out the skills that you have acquired in your previous jobs that relate to the food and beverage industry. Handling money, working with others, customer service, etc.

Most likely, the interviewer is simply trying to gauge your experience. Did you work as a banquet bartender? 5 nights a week at a nightclub? How long have you actually been bartending? Again, keep it short and sweet. Try to point out your previous bartending jobs that match up well with the one you’re applying for.

Please, do not start bragging about how fast and efficient you are. Yes, believe it or not, bartenders can be a bit egotistic. I never met one that didn’t say they were the best – or fastest – or most creative and talented.

Instead, give the interviewer a short history on the jobs you’ve had and what you liked about them. Telling him how much in tips you’ve been making or how many drinks you can make per hour at is a non-starter.

What does great customer service mean to you?

You better get this one right, because this business is all about customer service. The answer I always looked for was ‘anticipating customers’ needs, and ‘happily doing more than what’s required.’ In my interviews, big points awarded if you answered this question like this.

Nail That Bartender Job Interview

An additional bonus: Bar managers are always looking for team players who don’t mind stepping outside the boundaries of their own job descriptions. In other words – TEAMWORK.

Another great answer is to say something like “Doing whatever it takes to make the customers experience enjoyable so that they continue to return again and again.” You can’t go wrong with this one.

I would ask for an example of how they provided good customer service at their previous jobs This seems to be a stickler for most people. It puts them on the spot, and can really throw people off. Standard, pat answers like “I always ask them if I can do anything else for them” just doesn’t cut it.

Be specific. Before the interview, try and remember a situation in your past experience where you went over and beyond normal customer service and talk about it.

Successful bars and restaurants are in the business for one thing: Profit. Acquiring new customers, and getting them to return on a regular basis is the name of the game. One bad experience can lose many customers for life. Your interviewer needs to feel comfortable knowing that you understand this.

This is such an important question to answer, and I’m in the process of writing “The Bartender Interview: Define Good Customer Service For Me.” It’s a less-detailed article than what is in my Bartender Course, but will give you some great ideas. Check it out for some very good, detailed answers that will greatly improve your chances of being hired.

We have a lot of applicants. Why should I give this job to you?

You’re being asked a very specific question here, and, in my opinion, probably the most important of all. Very revealing. This is the time to shine. Be confident, without bragging, in your answer and you’ll increase your chances of getting the job.

Below are some basic answers to this question – if you want to be like everyone else. Feel free to use these examples, but I would suggest checking out my more detailed answer on this very specific question in my Bartender Course.

Be prepared. You’re reliable, hard-working, and fast. Great with people. Want to learn more – always room for improvement. Your guests will want to come back not just for the great product, but because of you.

A wonderful answer to this question is “I want to be part of the team here at XYZ Bar & Restaurant that gives the customer the best possible experience.”

Another great answer to this question is, “I’ve heard wonderful things about this place and have wanted to work here for a long time. I’m honest, hardworking, and a team player eager to continue developing my bartending skills. I’ll also provide the absolute best customer service that you’ve ever seen. I want this job.” Boom.

Why are you looking for a new job? Why did you leave your last job?

Kind of a double question here, but they relate well. This is where you need to be totally honest. Bar managers understand that there can be any number of legitimate reasons for moving on to a different job.

Scheduling conflicts? Is business slow? Not enough hours? You may be looking for more of a challenge – or a step up to a busier place. You should practice answering this question before the interview.

Spell it out. If you’re brand new to bartending, say that this is the job you’ve always wanted. Maybe you’re looking for part-time, full-time, few/more hours. “I didn’t have the skills to work in a very busy place – now I do.”

The important thing here is to leave the interview with the manager understanding very well that YOU WANT THIS JOB!

When is it proper to give out free drinks?

The obvious answer: Never!  This is a trick question – a trap! You would be surprised how many people get this wrong. Bar owners/policy dictates this, and they may have a ‘comp’ sheet – but you don’t know that.

When interviewing for a bartender job, always assume that free drinks are never allowed, with the exception of drink spills. Of course, that would be a replacement drink – not a free drink.

So, a good response to this interview question would be, “Free drinks are never allowed without management approval. Period. If a customer spills their drink, or someone else knocks it over, then it’s up to company policy if we should replace it immediately without charge.”

This is tricky, and the interviewer can make his final hiring decision on this one question. Bar theft is a huge problem, and bar owners will always say no free drinks until they specifically allow you to do it.

A bar’s free drink policy will vary greatly between different establishments. I’ve worked in bars where there is absolutely no free drinks. At one place, the bar owner didn’t even want to replace a spilled drink!

Aspiring bartenders really should know what the deal is with free drinks. I wrote a rather detailed article about just this subject entitled When Should a Bartender Give Out Free Drinks? It will explain so many things that new bartenders have no idea about.

Is the customer always right?

Trick question. Do NOT answer simply yes or no. Instead, respond with something like this: “Good question. Yes, if the customer believes that his drink was made wrong, or steak undercooked, etc., then they are always right. Make it the way they want it. No, if his or her behavior is disrupting others’ experience.”

Then, say something like “It’s important to eliminate problems before they arise.” The bottom line is, make sure you convey the idea that you are a problem solver and will always correct the problem – even if you have to fake it. You might also mention that your goal is to get things right the FIRST TIME so there’s no need for situational remedies.

People have been arguing about this question for years. Some say that there really is no right answer. Some say the customer is always right – no exceptions. In my opinion, the right answer is obvious: “It depends.”

I remember a job interview that I had where I got into a discussion with the general manager of the restaurant that I was applying at about this very same question. Not a smart move on my part, but after a lively discussion I got the job.

What makes this bar special? Why do you want to work here?

This one is easy. “I’ve always wanted to work at this place. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the food and service here, and would love to be part of your success.” Simple and to the point. You might even mention that you have come in as a customer and enjoyed yourself very much.

Why are you applying for a job at this particular place? Be honest, tell them that it’s busy, very energetic, and you love the atmosphere. You may also know someone that works here and have heard wonderful things about the place. Again, keep it simple and to the point.

Are you willing to sign off on a background check and drug test?

Obviously, you should answer in the affirmative. Even the smallest hesitation can turn the entire interview on its heels. Many bar owners ask this question – but never follow through on the actual testing. They’ll check references, but fingerprinting and urine tests are a stretch.

Don’t sweat it, and give the impression that you really aren’t concerned about what they do in this area one way or the other. Of course, if you have some ‘issues’ in your past, it may be a good idea that you reveal them – but elaborate on how you have made corrections in your life.

The customer says his drink is weak. How would you handle this?

This happens all the time, and experienced bartenders deal with this scenario on an almost daily basis. In fact, you’ll run across the same customers complaining about the strength of drinks on a regular basis.

But what’s the best way to handle this situation? Remember that you work for the house. It’s not your place to give away liquor, overpour, or ‘top off’ the customer’s drink. It’s not your booze!

The bar may have a certain policy in place to handle this particular situation – but you don’t know what that is. The correct answer is to be apologetic but firm – you know that the house pours a good drink, and you, being an experienced, professional bartender, poured the required amount of liquor according to house policy. There’s your answer. Just word it in a nice, smooth, and confident way.

For example, maybe say something like, “I can appreciate that you would like a stronger drink, but here at XYZ we pour 1 1/2 ounces of liquor in our drinks – and that’s exactly what I poured in this case. I would need special permission from the boss to pour extra liquor into your drink.”

Side Note: Experienced bartenders handle this situation in many different ways. Sometimes, in not such a “nice.” way. It kind of depends on the customer. However, YOU are in an interview – just be nice when stating your answer.

Never offer to ‘top off’ the drink unless your boss has previously told you to do this. Never grab the drink and replace it with one with more liquor. Never taste the drink to gauge its potency.

You should be confident that you poured the drink according to specifications, and politely inform the customer that the house dictates the drink potency exactly as poured.

Of course, once you get the job, you may be made aware of slightly different policies regarding this matter. Again, you don’t know what those policies are yet – so be careful.

A customer appears to be intoxicated. How do you handle this?

Speak with the customer and make an informed decision. If he’s pretty ripped – then you really have no choice but to cut him off. You’ll get much better at this with more experience.

Most bar establishments have a very clear policy on this, but, generally speaking, you have to cut him off. There’s your answer. Be polite – but firm. Offer them something to eat or a non-alcoholic beverage on the house – policy permitting.

This is a good time during the interview to further elaborate on the question by making it clear that you understand how important the bar’s liquor license is, and that decisions like this can have severe implications for all employees.

I would further add, in a real life bar situation, that it’s always a good idea to ask the manager on duty to observe the bar patron and get a second opinion.

How do you make a (fill in the blank)?

This question is inevitable. They’ll probably ask you the recipe for a ‘classic’ cocktail like a Mohito or Gold Margarita. You should already know all of the basic cocktail recipes as well as the classics.

seven colorful cocktails

It wouldn’t hurt to know, in advance, the bar’s specialty drinks. You might get a couple more drink recipe questions, but a good bar manager knows that there can be slight variations in most recipes. Don’t sweat it.

If they were to ask you how to make a hot toddy the right way – be prepared to say that the bottom line is ‘the right way is the way the customer wants the drink made.’

In this example, there are many variations of the hot toddy, so reply with your version of the recipe and state that you’re flexible when considering the customer’s input. Bingo.

Don’t be too concerned about this question. I always asked for the recipe of a very common classic cocktail – as well as the ingredient measurements and glassware type.

Then, I would throw in another question asking them if that particular drink would be considered a call drink or top-shelf. Concerned about how many drink recipes should you know? Check out this article I wrote about the number of drink recipes a bartender should know.

An interview technique I started using a while back (that I learned from another bar manager), was to give the applicant a hypothetical situation. I discuss this in a different post entitled The Bartender Interview: How Would You Make This Drink?

You see a fellow bartender stealing. What do you do?

There is only one answer: Report them to management. Theft is theft. You could confront the person and say that if you see it again, you would report them – but that’s not what the interviewer is looking for. Thieves put everyone’s job in jeopardy.

This is another tricky question, and you have to tread carefully here. The above answer is the correct one, during the interview, but it may change once you get the job.

For example, what if the manager allows a certain number of drinks to be ‘comped’ during a shift – or even allows a bartender to have one or two shots during the shift? If so, then you just jumped to a conclusion and jeopardized your own job by not knowing what house policy is. Please – know the policy before informing management of any alleged theft.

Goods walking out the back door is another matter. This is outright theft and should be reported immediately. Does it depend upon what it is being stolen? Nope. Again, theft is theft, and there’s no reason to protect someone like this.

Will you be branded as a snitch? We all live with our life decisions, and, personally, I wouldn’t give it a second thought. Unfortunately, I have, many times, been put in the position of firing people on the spot for theft. I have never second-guessed my decision on these matters.

What Are the Bartender’s responsibilities?

This question is designed to gauge your experience as a bartender. Yes, a loaded question – but very effective. Personally, I asked this question a lot because it gives me a good idea of how the applicant perceives his job.

The simple answer is, “Setting up, maintaining, and tearing down the bar, while providing excellent customer service and awareness, and working as a team player to help achieve company goals.”

Another great answer is this: “Providing great customer service so the customer returns, again and again, is my number one responsibility.” Boom.

Of course, you may be asked additional very specific questions like “How do you cut lemon twists,” or something basic like that. Again, be prepared to answer basic bartending questions.

You might think that the bar manager is asking you for detailed instructions on how to set up the bar, keep it clean, knock out drink orders, etc. That’s really not what he’s after here. I was always looking for a more general answer that would tie everything into the company goals.

What are your salary requirements?

This one is easy. There probably isn’t a perfect answer to this question, but you can come close. Saying that the ‘industry standard’ is acceptable to you is probably safe. So is ‘negotiable,’ but that should be put on the application.

It’s always safe to simply respond with “A good part of my income will probably be tips, so I’m comfortable with what the house pays their current staff.” Short and sweet.

Please don’t start demanding a minimum starting hourly wage or request a ridiculous salary. It’s important to show that you’re perfectly willing to accept the going rate for that particular bar establishment.

Tell me about your greatest strengths

Ouch. I always hated this question – as well as the next one. It’s important here to match your strengths with the position you are applying for because the interviewer is trying to figure out if you will be a good fit within the operation. Keep it short.

“I’m really good with people.” Wrong answer. Sure, a bar manager wants all of his employees to be ‘good with people.’ That’s not what you’re being asked here. Think a little bit differently and come up with something that is honest and catchy.

You might try giving them an example. For instance, staying organized and efficient as a bartender requires great skill, and you might tell the bar manager about that time you helped organize a charity event at your last job. This also shows your leadership skills and is always a plus.

This question, as well as the next, are two very important questions in the bartender interview. Bar managers love to ask these. One of the sections in my Bartending Course deals specifically with interview questions and detailed answers.

Tell me about your greatest weaknesses

Another question I hated answering – but loved asking. Wrong answer: “I don’t have any.” Really? This question can be very revealing, and your goal here is to turn that weakness into a strength.

When discussing your weaknesses, do not list anything remotely connected to bartending. Bad move. Use an example from your daily life instead. And, please, don’t answer with something like, “Sometimes I drink too much and have a hard time getting up in the morning.” I actually had an applicant answer this question exactly like that!

This is another case where you might wish to cite an example from your past. For instance, you might mention how one of your strengths is keeping a clean, well-organized bar – but you sometimes take on too many projects at home where it can get a little crazy. Strength – bartending. Weakness – home projects.

Again, I address this question in-depth – as well as the previous question, in my Bartender Course.

Tell me about your future goals

Careful here. The interviewer is trying to determine how long you’re likely to stick around. Be honest. If you’re a college student and need a job for a few years – great.

I never disqualified anyone for a job because of this reason. In the restaurant and bar business, employee turnover is common, and the bar manager knows this. Most people stick with the same job for just a few years.

It’s always wise to say that you love the bar business and plan on sticking around for a long time. Will this be your only job? Answering this question correctly can be the deciding factor on whether or not you get the job.

There’s really no perfect answer here. Just make sure to be honest and enthusiastic in your answer and you’ll be OK.

A customer presents an obviously altered ID. What do you do?

First of all, obviously, you DO NOT SERVE THEM! Every restaurant has a policy put in place to handle this type of situation – but you don’t know what it is yet.

A good follow-up question that you’ll get is probably something like, “What do you check on someone’s ID to ensure that they are of age?” Be prepared to answer that.

If the customer hassles you, call the manager over – let him or her handle it if there is not already an established policy in place. I know some places that will confiscate the ID, but that could get you into legal difficulties.

This is the perfect time to convince the interviewer that you are aware of how important it is to protect the establishment’s liquor license. Another good answer, short and sweet, is to simply say that you would follow established house policy.

How Do Bartenders Spot Fake ID’s? is an article I wrote a while back that explains the ins and outs of this pesky problem. Make no mistake – you will be challenged by minors to serve them on a regular basis. Stay alert!

Do you have any questions for me?

The very worst answer you can give to this question is ‘No.’ Please don’t do that. Before you even go in for the interview, have a couple of intelligent questions ready to go.

Take a look at this article I wrote offering a few excellent suggestions on what to ask the bar manager. The important thing to remember is that if they’re asking you this question – you’re probably in the running for the job.

During the interview process, with feedback from the person interviewing you, you’ll probably have a good idea of what you wish to ask. Just keep the questions short, smart, and relevant and you’ll come across as knowledgeable and willing to engage.

Do not ask ridiculous questions! I wrote an additional article on really dumb questions to ask in the bartender interview that will help you make wise decisions.

Final Thoughts on Bartender Interview Questions

Interviewing for a job as a bartender is just like other job interviews. Make no mistake – bar managers will mostly look at two things: Personal appearance and experience.

Knowing the correct answers to interview questions will go a long way to getting that job. Relax, and just go with the flow.

Remember to keep your answers short and to the point. Be knowledgeable – and sound knowledgeable. Refrain from asking personal questions, ridiculous questions, and anything negative.

An effective bar manager will ask if you have any questions. Ask one or two intelligent questions – and then stop. Remember that the interview is all about how you can be a positive asset to the company.

Related Bartending Topics

I have no experience – How do I get a bartender job? Prepare. Develop a well-thought-out plan for applying for the job and scheduling interviews. Take a bartender training course, observe working bartenders, and lower your expectations. 

It’s not as hard as you think, as many bar owners prefer training their new bartenders themselves. And, if you’re already working at a restaurant/bar in a different capacity – you have a huge advantage.

Should I go to bartending school? The short answer is yes. The more experience you have, the better chance you have of getting that dream job. Look at it as investing in your future.

Although there is no substitute for experience, attending a reputable bartending school will familiarize you with the basics. Bartending School, combined with observing exceptional bartenders in their element, will provide you with a huge advantage.

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