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Here's the scene: It's Friday night, you've been putting in extra hours at the office, you're friend is in town for this night only, and you're going to tie one on! After the pregaming, the Uber, and the obnoxiously long line, you finally get into the bar, pushing through the horde of people to get to the bathroom. Once the deed is done and you've located your long time friend, you venture to find you're truest best friend at the establishment: the bartender. Amidst the blaring music and the line, you eventually push your way forward and stand at the bar top until one of the staff makes direct eye contact with you. You ask for a round of shots, and watch as she pours an extra for herself, initiating a cheers between you and your friend. Money litters the bar for her coworker down the way, and all you can ask her after handing her your cash is, "How good is it to be you?" She scoffs and laughs off the comment, turning to the register before handing you your change, serving her next unruly guest, and thinking of all the things no one tells you about being a bartender.
You are always busy.
You are busy in all respects of the word. Say goodbye to your social life because Friday and Saturday night, when the rest of your friends are out partying, you're stuck in the weeds, people waiting to place their order, bar manager breathing down the back of your neck. Then you have to stock the bar, clean, and keep track of the bar back who's supposed to be getting you glassware. Even when you are not at peak hours (maybe I should say especially though), you are definitely putting in 60+ hours a week behind the bar. The hourly wage is awful, so you have to take all the shifts you can in hopes of making the same wage you pull in on a good night.
You are always dirty.
It's no secret you're practicing mise en place ["everything in its place" in French], but as you're wiping down that bar top, you will, ultimately, cover yourself in unidentifiable liquid. Think that's bad? You will also have to clean out the slop sink (yes, with your hands), maybe be sweating, and will somehow wind up sticky by the end of the night. If you weren't so busy, you could wash those clothes, but you pulled a double today and have to open tomorrow, so it looks like those black jeans are just going to live with a stain or two for awhile.
You are always prepared for the worst.
Watch out for flying liquor bottles! A bartender's worst nightmare is that somebody gets into a fight at their establishment. Sure, it might break up the monotony of a regular, hectic night, but chances are that as the one guy is tackling the other, an arm will drag all the way across the bar and knock over every drink within their wingspan. Then you're probably going to have to comp a bunch of free drinks for those people, and since they already tipped you, you're probably going to get stiffed. Trust me, there's plenty of weird shit you'll have to deal with as a bartender.
You'll have to do math.
I hope you remember all those elementary math class worksheets you were given, asking you to make change. Not only will you constantly be calculating how many times you pour the one and half parts gin, vodka, tequila, rum, triple sec, and a splash of coke in a Long Island Iced Tea for those drunk older women cackling at the lone hightop in your section, you'll also be responsible for handling cash, change, tips, and eventually percentages when you wind up declaring all that income you're pulling in.
You should have your own tools.
Like a painter's signature on their work, your wine key will define you for years to come for that nice, older couple who almost take up too much of your time telling you stories. This goes the same for the drunk regular who "just wants to hold" the souvenir bottle opener you got from the semester you studied abroad. You cannot expect the bar you work at to provide this tools, and even if they did at one point, somebody walked off with them "accidentally" a long time ago. Look at some if these mixologist starter kits if you're an aspiring bartender.
You should wear comfortable, practical shoes.
Not because they don't want to, but because they probably learned this lesson once and never needed to think about again, one of the things no one tells you about being a bartender is how badly you'll need a comfortable pair of shoes. First and foremost, you'll be standing for long periods of time, nearly running back and forth at points to make sure all those drink orders are filled. Secondly, you may very well be responsible for being your own bar back. Thirdly, you may very well be responsible for running food, too! If you think its going to be slippery behind the bar, wait until you get to the kitchen. There's a reason most bartenders wear rubber-soled shoes.
Bartending is a people-based business.
Most bartenders won't tell you this because it's second nature to them, but they are constantly dealing with passive aggression, over-complicated drink orders that customers have to tell you themselves (so you make it just right, like you didn't already make twenty of these before they came in), and just a whole lot of people. You will obviously need to know how to make drinks and work an operating system on a register, but being a people person is a must in this industry.
You will become a nerd.
You will know which gin has which aroma, which whiskey is aged 15 years or 25 years, and which vodka will send that cosmopolitan to the next level. You will read more then you did for your four-year degree, and you will absorb every conversation you have with other bartenders while you arguing over the intricacies of "the classic Manhattan."
It will be practically impossible to date outside of your field.
Birds of a feather, right? All that running around will eventually mean you're bumping into each other. Possibly even bumping uglies. You spend so much time with other bartenders, waiters/waitresses, and hosts/hostesses, you get to know them. Since you're already spending all that time together, you get to witness the small things that make them who they are as a person. They are humanized by their work, even attractive when they are handling their business so well, and since you don't have any free time to see anyone else, you will eventually wind up dating someone in the industry.
You should do it for a year before deciding you like it.
One of the last things no one tells you about being a bartender is that you should try it for at least a year before you make your final decision about it as your career path. Sure, there'll be nights you screw up every drink order and want to rip your hair out. There'll definitely be nights when you clean house and get that cute girl's number, too. The key is to lump up these experiences into one bag, sift through them individually, and weigh the outcomes to form an educated opinion about the industry. You will also get a great gauge for how much money you could be bringing in lieu of a salaried desk job. This tip is the most important to figure out if this success will be a stepping stone towards how you will become a bartender, or just a fun year in your life to get your money right.