Advice for New Bartenders: Dave Thor Newman

Dave Thor NewmanDave Thor Newman
Owner/Operator Pint and Jigger, Honolulu, Hawaii

Take care of your feet and back. Invest in good footwear. When I started bartending in the ’90s, nearly everyone looked at bartending as something you did until you figured out what you would do for your career. Now with this cocktail renaissance, bartenders are starting to have longer careers behind the bar.

It is imperative to take care of your body, and one of the most important areas we can take care of is our feet. Avoiding plantar fasciitis is a really good thing. Working for years while standing, without taking any breaks to sit down, is brutal on your feet, knees and back.

So get good shoes! Everyone’s feet are different so here are some recommendations that cover a good range. Red Wing Oxfords, Danskos, Mozos, and Shoes for Crews have some good ones. Make sure that you get non-slip shoes, and I highly suggest going with leather.

One other thing that I swear by are bar mats behind the bar. I once worked at a bar where the owners were unwilling to get bar mats. My back, knees and feet were killing me after only a few shifts. The bartenders got together and decided to put aside a few dollars each shift until we could buy our own bar mats. Turned out to be the best investment we could have made.

Second piece of advice that I have is more for the vets. I once told this to my bar staff, and have heard it repeated by them many times since then. “As soon as you start to believe what people write and say about you, you are fucked.” We all get good press, and it’s nice to get recognized for your hard work. But as soon as you start to think that you are the shit, because you get your name in print, win a few drink contests, write a book, open a bar, etc., you are already losing in my book. Bartending is not about the bartender, it is about our guests and taking care of them and providing service.

Final piece of advice is to read the front page of the paper. You know that thing that gets delivered to some peoples’ houses and gets your hands dirty when you read it? Fine, you can read online if you like, but read about what is going on in the world. Our job as bartenders is to be able to communicate with our guests about their interests.

Yes, I am impressed that you know thousands of obscure cocktail recipes, but 98% of your guests will not want to talk only about those. They may work in real estate and would love to be able to talk about a mortgage that fell through, or what the stock market is doing, or how the local sports teams are doing. These things may not interest you, but you should be able to hold at least a basic conversation about them. Remember it is not about you, it is about our guests.

Read more advice for bartenders from the experts.