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While in my second year of university, I worked as a bartender in a nightclub, a job I genuinely loved. That year had a huge impact on me and helped shape me into the person I am today. I went through some of the best and some of the worst times of my life while bartending, and here’s what I learned.
How to demand respect from terrible people
Anyone who has held a customer service job knows just how awful customers can be. But nothing can prepare you for dealing with hundreds of drunk customers every single night. I was yelled at every shift, without fail. One time a woman threw a pint in my face because she didn’t like the price of her drink.
Alcohol makes us all do things we’re ashamed of, but that kind of behaviour will never be okay with me. If you’re rude to me, you will not be served by me and that’s the end of it.
How to deal with bad managers
Throughout my run as a bartender I had some absolutely incredible managers who I’ll always be grateful for. Cleaning up someone else’s vomit was easily one of the worst parts of my job and I’ll never forget the time my manager offered to do it for me, even though she knew she didn’t have to.
But I also had some terrible, underqualified managers who I had to learn to deal with. The absolute worst had never even worked behind a bar before (how did he get the job?!) and used to treat his job like he was the one partying. He’d treat me like I was beneath him just because I was in a lower position than him and yell at me at any chance he could. I didn’t even have to do anything wrong, it was clearly just an abuse of power – a tell-tale sign of a bad manager.
I felt I had nowhere to go to because my area manager knew everything that was going on yet still supported him fully, so I just had to get on with it. Bad managers are everywhere and I’m glad I learned how to deal with one early on in my working life.
The world isn’t kind to women, and neither are drunk men
Most of my co-workers were men, and I don’t think any of them understood quite how dangerous my job was. I used to put off using the toilet for as long as possible because the chance of me getting groped on the way was close to 100%. I was verbally attacked by men after I refused to give them my number. One time I was physically attacked by a regular customer on my way home from work, only for one of my managers (already mentioned) to completely disregard my decision to have him banned from the club and allow him into the venue on the grounds that “I wasn’t working that night”.
Coming in to such a dangerous workplace every single night was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and towards the end I was having panic attacks every day on my way to work. This was one of the main reasons I ended up quitting a job I loved.
How to work when you’re mentally and physically exhausted
I used to work regular 12 hour shifts – 5pm until 5am, and I don’t think I ever got used to the exhaustion I felt at the end of a shift. After a night of dealing with waves upon waves of drunk, abusive customers, when the sun was starting to come up and all I wanted was to crawl into bed, my managers would often go against their job description and disappear into the office, leaving me – often alone – to deep clean the entire bar. As a bartender I learned to push my exhaustion and my emotions aside and just Get. The. Job. Done.
The importance of tipping well
I’ll admit that I love to save money wherever I can, but I will never, ever, resort to saving money on tips. I worked so hard at my job and I was paid barely anything for it – often the difference between a good day and a bad day at work was what I got to take home in tips.
How inexplicably kind some people are
The bad customers often get all the attention, but I think the good customers had more of an effect on me. I had customers who would come in at the beginning of my shifts just to check up on me. I had customers who would tip more than 100% of their bill (maybe it’s because they wanted to sleep with me, but I’d like to think it was because I was doing a good job). Kind customers made my job worth it, and when I quit I was devastated that I’d probably never see some them again.
How to have fun at work
People assume that being a bartender is a fun, and that’s often true. While I was severely underpaid, worked unsociable hours and had to deal with some really terrible people, I loved my co-workers and we generally had a good time at work. Every shift was different and bartending is a great option for people who can’t deal with the mundanity of working in retail. I’m not sure if I’ll ever bartend again, but I will never regret taking this job.