Q. Why is this lesson important?

A. Looking your best is a no-brainer for getting job as a bartender. Actually, this applies to getting any job out there – in any industry. Smokers and heavy drinkers should pay particular attention to this lesson.

Q. Will this lesson help me get a bartending job?

A. Yes, probably. Most people understand the importance of presenting themselves well during an interview. Your personal appearance says a lot about you – get it together!

Side Note: If your appearance is impeccable, you don’t smoke, and you rarely, if ever, drink or have a hang over – then you have my permission to pass over this lesson!

Lesson two here has three parts:

  • Your Physical Appearance
  • Smokers
  • Drinking/Being Hung-Over

I really hammer you smokers out there. The smoking section is probably overkill, but I believe that it is so very important. You got the interview – why would you jeopardize your hard work by smelling like smoke!

We briefly discussed physical appearance, generally, in the previous section (Section 15), which is all about “Job Preparation.” I only included it here as a reminder because it’s so important.

Personally, I have interviewed people that look like they just rolled out of bed. Wrinkled shirt, wearing sandals, cell phone in hand. I could go on and on. Please – don’t be like that and take this stuff seriously.

Some things to be aware of:

  • Turn your cell phone off. Not on vibrate. Not with the volume turned down. Off.
  • Never wear sunglasses
  • For gosh sakes – iron your clothes!
  • Comb your hair, brush your teeth – a few drops of Visine doesn’t hurt.
  • Please – don’t drink or use drugs before an interview!

I’ve found that the people who fail to look their best during an interview simply didn’t give themselves the time needed to get ready. Make sure you have plenty of time to prepare before sitting down for that interview.

You may think that the above are all about common sense – and you would be correct. However, I have observed the following while interviewing prospective restaurant and bar employees:

  • Completely disheveled appearance.
  • See-through shirts (Male and female)
  • Shorts (Although it may be appropriate at a “Beach Bar”)
  • Cell phones ringing.
  • Applicants wearing sunglasses.
  • Applicants taking a phone call. (Yes, this actually happened once!)
  • Fly open.
  • Late for the interview.
  • No shows.
  • Alcohol breath.
  • Extremely bad breath.
  • Bleary eyes.
  • Smelling like “Weed.”
  • Smelling like cigarette smoke.
  • Massive amounts of “loose hanging” jewelry (Safety hazard).

I have also interviewed people high on drugs. And semi-drunk. Yes – sad, but true.

How to Dress

This one is tricky. Hopefully, you have done a bit of homework and know what kind of bar you’re applying at. Employee attire will give you a nice clue. Many restaurant and bar staff wear “Black ‘n White” attire. Many wear ties. Some are very informal. Some formal. Try and dress “similar.”

I don’t think I need to dwell on this any longer. Be prepared – and look your best!

Let’s move on to the “Smoking” issue when it comes to bartenders…

Below is an article that I wrote on my main website about bartenders and smoking. Interesting stuff, and I think it explains fairly well the pitfalls of being a smoker.

Should Bartenders Think Twice About Smoking?

So, you’re trying to get your first job as a bartender. And you smoke. Is this a negative factor when trying to land your first bartending job? The short answer is, “It can be.”

For you smokers out there, you can argue all day long about how you’re being discriminated against. Fine. But what about in the workplace? In particular, a restaurant and bar?

This may be a bit controversial, but make no mistake – bar managers, as well as customers, have very strong feelings about people smoking these days. Especially if you’re handling their food and drinks.

First, let’s get something out of the way here: I am not the smoking police. I’m a strong believer in individual rights. If you desire to smoke – go ahead and puff your brains out. This lesson is not about quitting smoking. Nor is it a lecture about how offensive or unhealthy it is. It’s all about the consequences and the impact that it may have on the hiring process. Let me explain.

The bartender interview is, obviously, the most important part of landing that bartending job. If you’re a smoker, pay attention here and I guarantee that you’ll have an unfair advantage over your fellow “smoking” applicants.

Do fellow employees find the habit disgusting? How about your customers? And, most importantly, how does the bar manager – the person interviewing you – feel about smoking? You may say, “He doesn’t know I smoke.” Really? Then what’s that smell you reek of?

Or, “It’s none of their business whether I smoke or not.” You are correct – they probably don’t care in the least what you do in your own time. But what about when you’re at work? Bar managers are very well aware of the consequences of their employees smoking. Bartenders are no exception.

In fact, I’d be willing to bet that there are bar owners and managers out there that will not hire anyone who smokes. Think that’s illegal? It probably is, but then you better check out this article: Smoking and the Workplace.


This lesson is not about the legalities of smoking in the workplace. It’s all about the effect that your smoking habit may have on your getting hired.

Let’s take a look at how your smoking may have a negative impact on your future employment, and, most importantly, getting your first bartending job.

The Interview, and You Smell Like Smoke!

You landed that bartender job interview. You’ve done everything perfectly: Neat appearance, you know the classic cocktails, and you have the basic bartending skills – as well as customer service skills – to nail that interview. You’re ready to get it on.

It’s interview day. You showered, put on some nice fresh clothes and drove to your interview. In the car on your way to the interview – you light up. I don’t know about you, but I can smell cigarette smoke a mile away. The person conducting the interview probably can too.

You need to be very well aware of something extremely important: You do not know the interviewer. Yes, I know that there may be those rare cases where you have landed an interview because you know people already employed at the bar, possibly even the owner, but, in most cases, you have no idea of who is interviewing you.

Cigarette Smoke Fumes

What if the interviewer is an adamant non-smoker? And you smell like tobacco smoke? God forbid you hit the bong on the way over. What if company policy is to avoid, at all costs, hiring new employees that smoke? Yes, probably illegal – but it happens.

You simply don’t know what you’re up against here, so why blow the interview by smelling like smoke? Let me be very clear here: Interviews are hard to come by. For brand-new bartenders, you cannot afford any missteps!

Side Note: If you’ve taken my previous suggestions in the other lessons I’ve written about applying for bartending jobs, and have been pounding the pavement for a week applying at, say, thirty bars and restaurants, and get three call-backs – you’re doing great.

You must understand that you need to do everything you possibly can to pull off a successful interview – and get offered a job.

Let’s say your interview is progressing nicely, but near the end, the bar manager sniffs the air and says something like, “I smell cigarette smoke.” Subtle, and he may be trying to get you to say something about smoking. Yes, interviewers can be sneaky.

First of all, there are laws that prevent employers from asking this question. Nolo has some great advice on what they can and cannot ask you. I’m not a lawyer and am certainly not going to advise you of what action you should take if asked this question.

Just know that laws are changing – but it doesn’t change the fact that some bar managers simply don’t care and will ask the question anyway – or phrase it in a way that may be legal. Oh-oh.

Why are they asking this? Maybe it’s in the bars “Interview Training Manual.” Maybe they smelled smoke on you. Maybe they have had some irritating problems with their current and past employees and their smoking habits. Maybe they hire ONLY smokers. Too funny. You just don’t know.

Asking this question means that they are definitely thinking about the additional costs and hassles involved with those that smoke. As I mentioned before, can they legally ask me if I smoke? To be honest, I’m not completely sure of the laws. What do you do?

For you non-smokers (who probably aren’t even reading through this lesson), you have no worries. But what about you – the smoker? Do you lie and say you don’t smoke? Are you wondering if he smells smoke on you? Can you blame the smell on your roommate or a family member? You’re scrambling here.

All of your hard work up to this point seems to be swirling down the drain. You just might be screwed. Eliminate the problem by not smelling like smoke!

Here’s a good one: You live in a state that still allows smoking inside the establishment in a designated area. The bar manager has you follow him to this area for the interview. You take a seat and the interviewer says something like, “Relax, go ahead and smoke if you’d like.” What do you do?

If you’re a non-smoker it’s a no-brainer. Make it VERY CLEAR that you do not smoke.  If you’re a smoker, don’t fall for it. It may be a trap! The interviewer is subtly trying to get you to reveal whether or not you smoke. Even if you do smoke, politely decline and move on.

Please, at the very least – don’t smell like smoke! Again, I’m not the smoking police here, so I’m not going to suggest any answers to the interview questions about smoking. You have to decide. The whole point of this article is to simply inform you that there can be consequences to your smoking in the bartender interview process.

The bar manager most likely has plenty of experience dealing with employees who smoke. Below are some of the things that all effective, and smart, bar owners think about when hiring new employees – and this includes smokers. Let’s take a closer look.

Smoking and Customer Service Problems

Bartenders these days serve a lot of food. And, you will many times come out from behind your bar to serve that food. So, you check back with your customers a few minutes after serving their food (after your quick 3-hit smoke time-out on the back dock), and they get hit with a nice, appealing whiff of smoke. Ouch.

Maybe your customers don’t care. After all, they could be smokers. But I bet they do. Will your tip reflect it? Maybe. Will it affect their customer experience? Yep. Will it affect their decision on whether or not they return for a visit? It’s certainly possible.

This is just one example of what the bar manager is thinking about during the interview process. Again, do whatever you can to, at the very least, to give the perception that you do not smoke. “Let your conscience be the guide,” to quote a tired old saying.

Job Performance/Productivity Problems and Smoking

I need a smoke break and it’s not my break time. Yes, I know that in the bar business ‘break time’ doesn’t really exist. Bartenders are always on the job. I guess I’ll ask the bar manager to cover for me for a few minutes.

Or, it’s a little slow right now – I’ll sneak out back and get a few puffs. Bar managers hate this. They’re not there to give you smoke breaks. And, who’s taking care of the customers?

No matter how hard you try not to disrupt the flow of good customer service –  something always happens where you should have been at your station – instead of sneaking a smoke. And that includes you vapers!

Smokers take more sick days. That’s a fact, and bar managers know this. Productivity goes down.  There are all kinds of statistics out there that will verify this. Business Insider wrote an article talking about just this issue – and it’s not pretty.

Smokers, in any industry, cost their employers money – so why wouldn’t the bar manager be concerned as to whether or not you smoke? Smokers cost their employers higher than average health costs and have higher absenteeism rates. Yep – another fact. The CDC compiles statistics on things like this, and it’s another eye-opener. Bar managers know this.

Employee Teamwork Problems

How about fellow employees covering for you – just for a few minutes? Not good. Why are you getting a short break and I’m not? Why should I cover for you so you can indulge in your filthy habit?

It creates animosity in the workplace that bar managers can do without. I read an article from a few years ago about how a group of non-smoking employees wanted to sue for more vacation days or allowed ‘time off’ because smokers were taking more sick days than them – and getting paid for it. I don’t blame them.

At the very least, situations like the above create problems and resentments in the workplace. You make not think that it’s a big deal to have fellow employees ‘help you out’ while you take a mini-break – but think again.

Final Thoughts on Bartenders Smoking

If you smoke, expect some consequences. If you’re out there doing everything you can to get a bartender job interview – why jeopardize it in any way?

Saying “it shouldn’t matter,” or, “It’s illegal to discriminate against me because I smoke,” just doesn’t cut it. Legal or not, there are some bar managers and entire companies out there that will discriminate against smokers.

As I have mentioned throughout this lesson, why would you jeopardize your chance at a great job by smelling like smoke? Maybe, just maybe, this might motivate you into quitting.

Heavy Drinking/Being Hung Over

There is no question that the Food & Beverage Industry, and especially bartenders, has a problem with alcohol and drug abuse. And Bar Owners know this.

In fact, the interviewer is probably going to look extra closely at your appearance and demeanor. Make no mistake – if the interviewer gets an inkling that you’re a heavy drinker or drug user – you’re done. Enough said.

Bartender Drinking After Hours
A young business man offering a beer after hours. Benjamin Franklin said that Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

I won’t quote any statistics here or refer you to some website about employees and drinking – this part of the lesson simply deals with the interview process as it relates to the applicant being hung over, smelling like booze – even drunk. It’s a very short, blunt lesson.

I’m really not going to go into too much detail here. Just remember that the person that is interviewing is most likely very experienced – and knows a thing or two about excessive drinking and/or drug use. You have been warned!

Now, let me be clear here: The vast number of applicants I have interviewed throughout the years were well-prepared and sober. And looked good. And spoke well. However, there is few people out there that believe they can fool that “stupid ‘ol bar manager.” Think again.

Don’t drink the night before your interview. Don’t drink right before the interview. Don’t smell like alcohol, cigarettes, or weed. Don’t look like you’re hung over.

This is a no-brainer, folks. We’re done here.

If you’re following along in the Basic Bartending Course:

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