Bartender Ramblings - "So, What's Your REAL Job?"

I've been wanting to write this blog post for quite some time now.

I'm a Bartender and Please Don't Ask Me What My "Real Job" Is -

Q - “What do you do?” 

A - “I’m a bartender”

Q - “Right, but like, what do you WANT to do?”

A - “Um.”

This question comes in many forms, such as:

“Is this your night job?” “What do you really want to do?” “What did you do before this?” “Are you in school?”

But all in all, this question means one thing: What the person asking is really saying is: “Bartending isn’t worthwhile, long-term career choice – so you must be here temporarily while you work your way up to something better.”

I have a plethora of responses to this rude and presumptuous question, designed to politely end the conversation as quickly as possible. What I want to say, but, never, say is: “I don’t know and it’s none of your damn business."

On the one hand, the person is probably not trying to be rude at all – they often are trying to complement you, saying you are better than bartending. And maybe you really are a student, or working part time while building a different career elsewhere – that’s great too. But for bartenders who have chosen hospitality as a career, are well-educated, wise, and not an indentured servan or slave to your every need, the question can be frustrating and demoralizing. The guest is implying that your job is not worthwhile or valuable – a pretty deep insult if you’ve chosen this career because you love what you do.

It’s only a matter of time. You’re a bartender, great at your job – providing great drinks and exceptional service.

So how do you respond?

When the question is posed, you may want to ball up into a fit of rage and explain your knowledge of spirits, cocktails, beer, and wine, your love of creativity and craft cocktails, or the amount of time you can spend with loved ones while the sun is up.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), no matter how frustrating the question is, a customer is still a customer – so even if you’d like to start a lecture on how great your job is (flexible hours, good money for the time put in, meeting people, etc…) it’s important to keep your reply professional and not too snarky.

I asked around within our community and got a few great responses for “What’s your real job?”

  • “a Dad”
  • “I make people happy for a living”
  • “Worlds lowest paid Psychologist”
  • “Social outlet”
  • “Supplement Income”

That said, we get it – it’s frustrating. Try to take the opportunity to bring the guest along and see the great, creative and culinary side of bartending. The money goes right to the college fund for the kids, which always gets a warm response. A. Tending bar has now pretty much become my social life on the weekends. B. I basically eat and drink for free C. I tell them I am out of the house for a couple nights a week.


A Great Opportunity

Of course, if you have another job or career you’re working towards, feel free to discuss that – (but on behalf of the career bartenders, please don’t answer in a way that be-littles the trade.) And if you are a career bartender, I think this is a great opportunity to highlight the best parts of your job:

“I make people happy for a living” is probably my favorite start, but if you’re not buried, feel free to let this start the conversation. This can be a great opportunity to encourage a beer drinker to try a cocktail, or (maybe better yet) get a vodka drinker to try a gin cocktail.

“I get to introduce people to great cocktails they wouldn’t otherwise know about – have you ever had a Pink Squirrel?” or “I get to be creative and design my own cocktails for guests like you – can I make you something?”

This line of work will never make me wealthy but it has given me a modestly comfortable lifestyle and job security. People will drink and flock to the bar regardless of economic status. Being a bartender is recession-proof. In addition to the income, my work schedule is always flexible, allowing me to travel and take time off whenever I need it.

But worst of all is the stigma. Just saying, “I’m a bartender,” seems to automatically imply that I’m a loser, unambitious, an alcoholic or -- worst of all -- not good at anything else. People often assume that my job as a bartender is just an unfortunate situation that I’m in until that “real job” comes through. 

Is tending bar the end-all, be-all gig for me? Probably not. But fielding constant stereotyping and judgment from others about the nature of my employment isn’t helping me figure things out any faster.

This is post is cynical and sarcastic in nature, but does relfect the thoughts of a well-seasoned, professional bartender.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to tip your bartender.