Bartender Career Path: From Zero to Hero


If I had to sum up the bartender’s career path, it’d be similar to, if not exactly what Forrest Gump’s mom said to him, “[it’s] like a box of chocolates, you’ll never know what you’re gonna get.” 

One bartender might head off to bartending school while another might get a job right away. Either way and like some celebs, all new bartenders have some sort of path or journey to venture down. I was right there with you, too! I didn’t know the lingo, and was terrified of any and all whiskey cocktails. Plus, I didn’t even have what you have right in front of you—one of the best bartending blogs

But I did have a longing to be behind the bar, an obsession with craft beer, and of course, needed some cash inflow!

Eventually, my experience led me to become not only a well-versed and super-hirable bartender but a bar manager. How? You’re about to find out. Here’s my, one out of millions, personal bartending career path.

Aim Big, Start Small

When I started in food service, I had no experience. I just heard about all of the money you could make as a server and bartender. Plus, I had a family member who told me I was made for the restaurant business (thanks for that nudge, by the way!)

But first, I had to gain some customer service skills before I could step foot behind the bar. I needed to gain the developmental foundation that’s needed. Oh, and be of legal age to bartend. 

So, as an alternative, I began as a host. You can begin at an entry level, too! It’s a good way to start slow, get to know the fast-paced vibe that’s often found in bars, and familiarize yourself with the verbiage, rules, and people. 

But if even that’s too much for you, I wish I had something like  Local Bartending School’s beginner’s basic course! I would have been so much more prepared before I began my first job.  

Table bussers, barbacks, and food runners are good choices to start off small. In the end, what I learned was:

  • Common words said, materials used, and products ordered
  • Interpersonal skills with coworkers in a bar and/or restaurant setting
  • What guests like by hearing feedback not given to server or management

Serving Self-Development (and Tables)

Being behind the host stand, I remember staring at the bartenders in the bar area… looking all cool making drinks with their regulars laughing at every word they said. I wanted to be them! But my foundation hadn’t been built… yet. 

Thus, my serving tenure started! Serving food or cocktails can truly get you into the rhythm of being weeded and how to talk to guests, you know customer service communication skills. Serving can also be a good trial run to see if you even like the bar scene before you waste all your time preparing for a job you hate. I wouldn’t warn you if I hadn’t seen it before!

But, I’m assuming you’re like me and serving tables will, or already has, only further whet your taste for bartending life.

Image via Canva

Bartender Dreamin’

Serving was my jam for a few years. But I could smell the beer cooler from how close I was to being a bartender.

Finally, it happened! I was working at an Italian restaurant for a few years, where I started as a host when they asked me to train as a bartender. I said no and this is all one big lie. Just kidding! Wanted to make sure you’re still with me.

Let me say though, it was a lot of work learning to be a bartender. I underestimated memorizing cocktail recipes, managing a bar top, tables, and service-wells all at the same time, and the late nights. 

If you’re in this phase of bartending and are looking to add a bit more exuberance to your craft, try a flair course at LBS! You’ll make more money in tips and keep moving along in your bartending career.

Eventually, somehow, someway, I learned gin cocktails and what drinks make during the winter—all the ins and outs of bartending. Which led me to my next phase of…

From Bottom-Shelf to Top-Shelf

A few funny, memorable accents landed me some regulars and hundreds of martinis made helped me progress to the next phase of things. And that’s being a bar lead.

Being a bar lead, for me, looked like:

  • Ensuring proper stock levels for products
  • Conducting or seeing through proper shift opens and closes
  • Quality, brand, and uniform standard adherence
  • Administrative duties when needed (product logs or assisting with inventory and ordering)

Get the Blazer, You’re a Manager Now

While serving and bartending, I was going to school to be a geriatric psychologist. One day, I said to hell with all of that and pursued my dream of hospitality school. That’s where I gained the foundation needed to be able to continue my path toward serving people (and drinks!)

When I became a manager, I saw myself in front of a computer a lot more. What with ordering, email management, meeting minutes, payroll, recruiting, etc. But honestly, I still had plenty of time to be behind the bar, where I wanted to be all along. If management is your end-goal, here are some tips I have for you that I wish more bar leaders had:

The biggest tip I have for you before you go full-time is to make sure it’s going to be worth it to make the move. A lot of bartenders take the manager job but end up losing money in the long run.

Take the First Step Toward Your Bartending Career

Being in the hospitality industry and belonging to the food and beverage workforce has been entertaining, prosperous, and I’ve made once-in-a-lifetime memories. Let’s face it, 9-to-5ers don’t walk out of work with the kind of stories we do.

This journey is one of so many! So why not start your own? Local Bartending School is currently enrolling students. So hurry and save your spot in a bartending class. That bartending job you’ve been dreaming about is right at your fingertips.

Want to hear another story from someone who took a bartending course? 

But what about life after bartending? Spread the plethora of knowledge you’ve accumulated—a bartending professor, if you will. Become an instructor at LBS—a top-rated place for bartenders to find training and certifications no matter where they are.

Carrie Jean Lipe

Carrie Lipe has been writing creatively since childhood but jump-started her professional writing after college. She's an Indiana native, Ball State Hospitality graduate, and a bartender with over 10+ years in the industry. You can find her making basil Moscow mules when she's not writing. Follow her professional journey on Instagram! @contentbycarriejean