Bartending 101: Becoming a Bartender

Bartending 101

To many of us, the idea of becoming a bartender is a dream job.

Get paid for mixing drinks and meeting awesome people every day – what could be better?

Unfortunately, the reality is somewhat different. A highly skilled bartender can make a very complicated job seem effortless. When in fact the job is a constant effort at juggling several balls at one time.

One of the critical jobs in bartending starts before the bar is even open: making sure that you are well stocked up on spirits, mixers, and other ingredients.

There is nothing worse than having to break it to customers that you can’t make what they are dying to have because you weren’t prepared with ingredients.

One of the most important parts of being a bartender is being able to read people and respond accordingly. Being empathetic, even though you may have heard the story a thousand times before, you need to show empathy with the story teller.

It’s very difficult not to show favoritism to one customer over another, but it is important that each customer feels that they are being treated fairly. Most people go to a bar to have a good time and feeling neglected can spoil it for them which means that you may never see them again.


Legal Requirements

While the age at which you can become a bartender does vary from state to state, many states insist that before you can be employed tending a bar you must pass an alcohol awareness course. These courses do have slight variations for each state, but the basic lessons taught are;

  • Understanding local alcohol laws and your responsibilities under those laws
  • How to evaluate intoxication levels and dealing with intoxicated customers
  • Checking identification and guides to spotting fake IDs
  • How to deal with difficult situations


Some First Drinks to Learn how to Make

If the above isn’t enough, a good bartender needs to know their drink mixes. To be honest, there are thousands of variations and no one could be expected to know them all.

So which ones should you learn first?

cocktail-glass-545371_640Tall drinks are very popular and quite easy to remember. There are the traditional favorites such as;

  • Screwdriver: Highball w/ice, 1 ½ oz. Vodka and fill with Orange juice
  • Cape Cod: Highball w/ice, 1 ½ oz. Vodka and fill with Cranberry juice
  • Madras: Highball w/ice, 1 ½ oz. vodka, fill to 3/4 with Orange juice and top with Cranberry juice
  • Greyhound: Highball w/ice, 1 ½ oz. Vodka and fill with Grapefruit juice.
  • Salty Dog: same mix as a Greyhound but rim the glass with salt.
  • Bay Breeze: Highball w/ice, 1 ½ oz. Vodka almost fill with Pineapple juice and top off with Cranberry
  • Malibu Bay Breeze: same as Bay Breeze but use Malibu Rum instead of Vodka
  • Sea Breeze: Highball w/ice, 1 ½ oz. Vodka fill to 3/4 with Grapefruit juice and top off with Cranberry Juice
  • Gin or Vodka Tonic: Highball w/ice, 1 ½ oz. Gin or Vodka and fill with tonic add a slice of lime
  • Highball (Whiskey & Ginger): Highball w/ice, 1 ½ oz. Whiskey then fill with Ginger Ale
  • Presbyterian: the same as Highball, but use half Ginger Ale & half soda water
  • Rum & Coke: Highball w/ice, 1 ½ oz. Rum and fill w/coke.
  • Cuba Libra: the same as a Rum & Coke, except garnish with Lime.
  • Vodka Soda: Highball w/ice, 1 ½ oz. Vodka fill with soda water add a slice of lemon.
  • 7&7: Highball w/ice, 1 ½ oz. Seagram’s 7 and fill with Seven up
  • Vodka Collins: Highball, 1 ½ oz. vodka, 2oz sour mix. Then give a short shake. Fill with Club soda, add a cherry & orange
  • Tom Collins: Made the same as Vodka Collins but use Gin instead of Vodka
  • John Collins: Made the same as Vodka Collins but use Whiskey instead of Vodka
  • Joe Collins: Made the same as Vodka Collins but use Scotch instead of Vodka.
  • Sloe Gin Fizz: Highball w/ice, 1 ½ oz. Sloe Gin, 2oz Sour mix, give a short shake. Then fill with club soda
  • Bloody Mary: Highball w/ice, 1 ½ oz. vodka, fill with Tomato Juice. Ten add 3 dashes of salt & pepper. 2 drops of Worcestershire sauce and 2 drops of Tabasco. Give a squeeze of lemon juice and add Horseradish to taste.


Don’t forget, if a drink needs to be shaken, always shake BEFORE adding soda.

You will notice that although there are several drink mixes here, many of them are a variation around the same theme.

Cocktails and multiple drinks are a different matter; it is easier is there is a cocktail menu to refer to but there are a few favorites that you should learn such as a Margarita, Tequila Sunrise and a Long Island Iced Tea.

  • Margarita: Margarita or Coupe glass. The drink can be served “Up or on the Rocks?” or “Salt or No salt”. 1.5 oz. Silver Tequila, ½ oz. Triple sec, 1 oz. fresh Lime Juice, 3/4 oz. Simple (or Agave) Syrup. Add all the ingredients to shaker with ice. Shake and strain into prepared glass.
  • Tequila Sunrise: Highball w/ice, 1 ½ oz. Tequila then fill with Orange Juice and top off with ½ oz. of Grenadine.
  • Long Island Ice Tea: Highball w/ice, ½ oz. Vodka, ½ oz. Gin, ½ oz. Light Rum, ½ oz. Tequila, ½ oz. Triple sec, 2oz Sour mix. Then give a short shake and top off with cola. Add a slice of lemon.

In years gone by, bartenders used to keep cheat sheets or flash cards to help them out, now you could do the same with a tablet or smart phone. You can even find some great drink memerazation flash cards for free on Quizlet.


Final Notes:

Having a good memory is a real asset to a bartender, not only in remembering the hundreds of possible drink combinations but in remembering individual customers and their drink preferences.

But no matter how good your memory is, there will always be a customer who asks for a drink that you have never heard of. This isn’t an excuse for you to neglect memorizing hundreds of drinks though! Start the classics and always stay up-to-date with today’s hottest drinks.

Don’t forget, as was said in the beginning, keep the customers happy and the tips will keep on coming. Becoming a bartender is a career like no other. Go for it!


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