Advice for New Bartenders: Chris Lowder

Chris LowderChris Lowder
Bar Manager at The NoMad, New York

My advice to new bartenders? Stop quitting your jobs. Seriously. Stop that.

New bartenders have a terrible habit. Many of them believe that once they learn all the recipes at a bar, and how to work efficiently behind it, they’ve stopped “learning.” They will eat the low-hanging fruit at a bar, make it through training, get pretty good at working in that particular space, hear about a cool opportunity down the street, and leave.

This is wrong for so many reasons.

First of all, beverage alcohol is a small industry and everybody knows everybody. Your boss right now is friends with your future boss. And all those bartenders you’re working with? Like it or not, you’re going to work with them all again in the future, whether it’s at an event, a conference, an opening of a new bar, or the next place you want to work. Word of mouth is far more important than your actual resume in this industry, and so your reputation is everything. If you are trying to get a job with me, I will absolutely ask around about you. If I hear that you’re a solid bartender with a great attitude and a strong work ethic, then that matters more to me than how many bars you’ve worked at, or how many recipes you know.

There’s a word for a bartender who gets a new job every six to twelve months: a Grasshopper. It’s not a word you want associated with you and your career. If you keep quitting jobs, then why would I put in the time and energy into training you? Grasshoppers will leave their job the moment they learn all the recipes and get tired of the playlist. They expect the bar to do everything for them, and not the other way around. A bar is an investment. Pick one bar that you believe in. Work there full time. Stay, build a team, and grow with them.

Something profound happens after you’ve been working at a bar for a solid 18+ months. You know the cocktails, you know the space, you know the regulars, you know the backbar, you know the wine, the beer, the rules for everything. You know where everything is stored. You know which ice machine is acting up, and how long before it’s getting fixed. You have learned everything about the bar, and are no longer asking questions.

Once you stop asking questions, you don’t have to focus as hard on your environment, and you can start focusing on yourself and your technique. How perfect was that pour? Did I face the bottle’s label? Did I spill anything? Is there a faster way I could have built that round? Was I smiling? Is the bar perfectly clean and organized? Is the music too loud? Am I pushing myself to learn new drinks or am I lazily making the same things? Could this recipe be better?

Focusing on these questions is what will take you from being a great bartender in that specific bar to being a great bartender in general. And it’s a lot harder than it sounds. You’ve eaten the low-hanging fruit. The space is no longer pushing you. Now you are pushing yourself. It means reading books and making flashcards and never getting lazy. But it’s important to note that you can never focus on any of these things if you’re constantly changing jobs. If you are always learning a new menu, then you can never focus on perfecting your craft and developing your own style.

Stop moving around and commit. You’ll be a lot happier in the long run.

Read more advice for bartenders from the experts.