Bar work is one of the most flexible jobs you can find to make money quickly. All you need is good English and basic maths. Plus, it can be a great way to forge yourself an entirely new career. Read on to find out how.
- What does a bartender job involve?
- What you need
- How much can you earn?
- What costs are involved with bar work?
- Maximise your earnings with bar work training
Bar work isn’t exactly easy money. It involves late nights and being on your feet most of the time. You’ll get your hands dirty emptying drip trays, dealing with drunken punters and even cleaning toilets. And you’ll have to do it all with a smile on your face to get good tips.
Your work hours will vary but you can expect to work from four to 40 hours a week. Your shifts may range from four to 12 hours, typically with an hour’s break. That can include evenings, weekends and bank holidays.
Sometimes, your employer will require previous experience but if you show that you’re capable and a quick learner, they may give you a go anyway. Many will put you through a trial shift during the interview process, which should hopefully give you the chance to demonstrate that you’re capable of doing the job.
Larger clubs and bars require staff to have both the fire and health and safety training. They may also need you to learn their till system. This sort of training is often provided in-house, though.
If the establishment you work for has a dress code, you may be expected to provide at least part of this yourself. More often than not you’ll just need a set of black trousers and a black or white shirt. Don’t fork out on nice work clothes. Get something cheap that you can spill drinks on, sweat in and generally get grimy. This way, if it gets ruined, you can replace it easily. So go cheap but make sure your clothes are comfortable.
Top tip: You may be able to get money back for washing your uniform. Check your potential tax relief on job expenses with HMRC.
To work in a bar, you’ve got to be willing to slog it out a bit. While it can be easy when quiet, it can quickly get very busy which means running off your feet for long periods of time. You’ll need to be willing to put in the effort.
Your bar work earnings will depend on the venue and its location. Hourly rates vary according to region, experience and qualifications. According to the National Careers Service, you might start with the average salary of £12,000 a year, going up to £35,000 a year when you become more experienced.
As a junior bar staff member, you’re likely to get a base salary of minimum wage, which varies depending on your age – check gov.uk for the most recent rates. For instance, if you’re over 25, that will be £8.21 per hour. But your earnings may rise depending on experience. The average wage for a bartender is around £8 an hour, although it goes up to £9.34 in London. If you’re good at your job and manage to get a swanky gig at the likes of the Ritz, you could be earning up to about £12 an hour.
And of course there’re tips. Tips will depend on how good you are at your job and how nice you are to your customers, as well as on the wealth and generosity of your customers.
Provide top-quality service with a smile to absolutely everyone and you maximise your chances of tips. Don’t be unrealistic; you probably won’t make hundreds. About £20 extra in tips per shift is a reasonable amount to expect and improve on.
If customers tip on credit cards, the money will go to the company that runs the pub. They’ll then share it equally between employees on the shift. This means they’re automatically taxed. Beware, though, as some companies keep these tips for themselves. It’s mean and nasty but we have come across quite a few that do. Our advice is to walk straight out if you find yourself working for a company like that. Make sure you pass this on to Springboard UK, a charity supporting the hospitality and catering sector.
You’ll get your cash tips directly. Technically, you should declare these as taxable earnings at the end of the tax year.
Most bar staff are trained in-house by the publican or licensee, the bar manager or more experienced bar staff. Typically, your employer will provide training on the job so you’re paid while learning.
However, if you really take to the job, you can look into qualifications to improve your pay. Staff can take NVQs/SVQs in Catering and Hospitality (Food and Drink Service) at levels one and two. You’ll learn basic food preparation and cookery skills, for instance. You’ll also train to manage people, maintain customer care and work with others efficiently. Course costs vary.
For example, a course in London for a Hospitality Certificate in Professional Food and Beverage Service Level 1 is £1,370 for those aged 19 and over, with an additional £100 exam fee.
To find your nearest course, have a look on Hot Courses or the City&Guilds website. Alternatively, contact your local college.
If you’re more interested in staying at the bar, you can pursue a bar-tending qualification. Start by joining some of the most recognised industry associations. The United Kingdom Bartenders Guild (free membership) are currently developing new training courses, while by joining the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, you could up-skill in all things wine, spirits and sake.
For example, if you choose to do a beginner level introduction to spirits course, you’ll learn about things like:
- Basic rules of spirit production
- Key types and styles of spirits
- How to serve them
- What affects their flavour
Alternatively, check out Shaker, one of the UK’s leading bar-tending schools.
To stay up-to-date on news in the industry, keep an eye out on the British Beer & Pub Association website.
And remember, while additional training could be a good investment into the future, it isn’t obligatory.
Minimise the cost by applying for jobs near you. You’ll save on travel and get home from work late at night quicker and safer.
Working in a chain pub can be beneficial. You may get a lower starting salary, but the brand will attract customers, guaranteeing you tips. Chain pubs and bars also offer good career progression so you can make more money. You also benefit from professional employment practices and extra training that might not be available in smaller establishments.
However, if you work in a smaller pub, you could get paid cash in hand.
It’s possible to get a job without skills and progress through experience. However, getting training increases your employability which means more money and a better work place.
For the best working environment and to maximise your earning potential, pick an establishment that you would go to yourself. The chances are the clientele will be people in your age group who you’re likely to get on with. It’ll make it easier to be friendly and socialise, hopefully increasing your tips. You’ll probably find your job a lot more fun too.
To find work, drop your CV into all the bars and pubs in your local area, or check out Indeed, Gumtree and Total Jobs.
Is it for you?
Although working at a bar or pub could be a convenient short term job, you can also make a living from it.
We spoke to Daniel Crebesse, former UK Bartenders Guild President, about what attributes you should have if you’d like to pursue a role as a bartender for a career:
“If you want to work in an office, it’s not for you; you need to have a bubbly personality and like to meet new people. You’ve got to be attracted to the role, otherwise you’ll struggle. Bartenders who see the job as just a bit of extra cash won’t get very far and a certain level of dedication is needed to succeed as a bartender.”
You can find jobs through:
- Springboard UK, a registered charity promoting careers in hospitality with a vacancies page