Breaking into the hospitality industry can prove challenging. Finding a business willing to hire bartenders, cocktail servers and barbacks with no prior experience, particularly in big cities, is becoming more and more difficult. Additionally, moving up in the industry after you’ve put in your time and paid your dues can just be as hard as landing a gig in the first place. There are also those who see overqualified, such as bar owners and managers who find themselves, due to myriad circumstances, searching for a bartending gig.
What are the best practices for a job hunter with no experience looking to enter the hospitality industry as a cocktail server, barback or bartender?
Cite examples of skills that will be needed in the job: organization, communication, grace under pressure, customer service. Even if they are not specifically service industry related, showing that you have those characteristics is very important. Also stress your willingness to learn – a clean slate can be a boon for an employer who won’t have to break any old habits that may come with a more experienced candidate.
In your experience, what are the best types of venues to approach to gain experience in the hospitality industry?
Stay in the type of venue that you are interested in. If you want to work in one of the hottest nightclubs in town, start at one that is perhaps not as high volume. If fine dining is your goal, you don’t want to start in a dive bar. You may have to begin in a more entry position, like host or barback, but similar venue experience will be looked at by future employers down the road.
What skills, in your experience, do bars and nightclubs seem to value the most when filling open positions?
Timeliness and reliability are key characteristics. Employers will want to know that they have an employee who can be counted on to show up on time and ready to work. Wild cards who can’t make their shifts will not last long.
Are there any college courses, degrees or certifications job hunters can pursue that will make them more valuable applicants within the hospitality industry?
It is always a good idea to get your ServSafe Certification. Some employers will require you to get it upon employment, but you will be a stronger candidate if you have already gone through the food and alcohol training.
Is there a “magic” number of years of experience at which a cocktail server, barback, bartender, etc., looks attractive to employers looking to hire experienced job applicants?
Most employers look for 1 to 2 years of experience as a foundation, though higher end establishments will often be looking for 3 or more. Proof of character can supplement and bolster your candidacy if you aren’t quite at that “magic number,” though.
You have a unique window into both job seekers and venues seeking to fill open positions. What advice do you have for overqualified job applicants to successfully land bartender or bar manager gigs?
The biggest worry with overqualified candidates is that they won’t be willing to take direction, having been in the boss seat themselves. Showing some humility and emphasizing the fact that you are a team player who will do what is needed for the venue’s success is extremely important to counteract this concern. Make your experience known, but don’t veer into arrogance. That is a red flag for a potential employer.
Need more networking opportunities to land the gig you’re looking for? Attend the largest gathering of bar and nightlife hospitality professionals at the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Show March 7-9 in Las Vegas.