How I Got Started In Bartending

A long time ago, in a galaxy far…far…..
No no, I’m just kidding! It wasn’t that long ago. It was actually soon after I turned 18 that I found myself into this wild world of bartending and I’m sure this is a story you’ll really enjoy!

FAU ’17

I started college at Florida Atlantic University back in 2013… wow that seems like FOREVER ago now, doesn’t it?! I guess time flies when you’re having fun. I was always the most talkative and friendly guy, easy to get along with, and the life of the party – which I’m sure my college buddies can attest to that. So when I thought about what career path to take, I can definitely say I never pictured myself sitting at a desk for hours on end.. Which is why I’m going to share with you my journey behind the bar and where it all started! Putting smiles on people’s faces began at this “spinning” sushi bar called Ninja (now under the name of Kanpai) in Boca Raton, FL.

Ninja – Boca Raton, FL

I am 17 going on 18. At this time, I’ve never had a job working for anyone else other than my father, (who owns the largest private auto transport company on the East Coast) so it’s safe to say I am nothing short of excited to start my very first job hunt!

Looking for a quick bite to eat, I happened to drop in Ninja one night with my high school gal, Agnus. I see the manager and feel pretty confident about myself, so I speak to him about giving me a job. Lucky enough, a few mins later, I’m PUMPED to find out I’m going to start the same week!

For those of you who don’t know, a “spinning” sushi bar can be referred to as one of those sushi stops featuring little boats floating around in a circle adjacent to the bar. The point is to pick and choose whatever you please that passes in front of you, while the men behind the counter refill what is taken. During this time, the “sushi-tenders” (as I like to call them) will usually switch up some of the dishes.

By the way, I happen to be a huge advocate of sushi and Asian cuisine, can you blame me?! (Sushi lovers click here. to see what I’m talkin’ about.)

Pay close attention though, your tab at the end of your meal can be much larger than you expect because of one distinguishing thing. The color of your plates! Each plate is color coordinated with different prices ranging from $4 – $8.

Don’t get too excited for me just yet though, my job at Ninja was as a busser……

I work at Ninja for about a month, got sick of being a busser and started taking tables. Working any sort of POS or “point of sale” machine in a restaurant is not hard by any means unless you can’t figure out how to press a button that does exactly what it says it does. I didn’t receive any training nor did I even ask, I just started waiting tables. Obviously, management took notice and just put me right on the floor after a month of bussing.

I was at the sushi bar for about 6 solid months and when my time there had come, I took zero time sitting around. During the end of my career at Ninja, I had made the stupidest decision to move out of my parents RENT FREE housing situation.

My parents, younger brother, and I were living at home together in Boca Raton at the time, just a few minutes away from campus. For some reason, I felt like making life harder for myself by moving out and taking on rent and bills, which at the time, was something I was completely unprepared for.

Since I had bills to pay at 18 going on 19, I needed another job as soon as possible.

*QUICK TIP*

If you want something, go get it. Go get after it. Make it happen. You’re not going to get anything you want if you wait for someone to give you permission or the “okay.”
Always been something I’ve stuck with and it has worked wonders for me.

Uncle Julio’s – Boca Raton, FL

My friends and I would hang out in Mizner Park quite frequently and this was my where my instincts took me to look.

I found an ad on Craigslist to Uncle Julio’s and to my surprise, they invited me in for an interview. I’ve always been great at conversations with new people, so handling interviews has always been something I shine at. My interview with Jason, the General Manager at the time, went smoothly and I found myself with a new serving job!

Uncle Julio’s was my first experience into the “corporate” world of restaurants.

When I say corporate, I don’t mean a big conglomerate you’d find on Wall Street, but rather more rules and regulations on what to do and say on the job. This includes following a script for greeting tables and abiding by a “work-your-way-up” scheme to make more money with the company versus just being better at your job than someone else.

I was in for a rude awakening when I found out I had to train for TWO WEEKS before I was able to start making any actual money.

As excited as I was to work, I was still strapped for cash and these two training weeks had me on my toes to say the least! Regardless of lack of money, my first two weeks were full of fun and tons of free food – which sort of made up for the fact that I wasn’t earning money yet, since most of my money in college went to food and alcohol to begin with.

I studied the menu, very rigorously, and had to take a test at the end. Both on the script and the menu itself. You could say I passed with flying colors. Quite shockingly, out of the whole training class of about eight or nine people, only Bryan and I made it through the whole two weeks.

The money was decent, some days good, some days not so good, but over the six months I worked there I definitely learned some valuable skills;

Being able to carry HUGE trays full of food (one handed I might add)
How to make fresh tortillas

And most importantly….

My first time behind a bar!

With the incredibly short time I spent behind the bar, (literally two whole days of it) I used it to my advantage and began a job search elsewhere. That elsewhere happens to be my favorite place in all of South Florida, Delray Beach on Atlantic Avenue!

In reality, my bartending experience was about as close to none as it could’ve been, but I told myself, “I can do this,” and so I did. I printed out about 15 resumes and took to the streets. Up and down Atlantic Ave between the hours of 2pm and 4pm, specifically.

*QUICK TIP*

If you’re ever looking for a restaurant job and want to even be considered, don’t be ignorant and waltz in during busy times in the morning, during lunch time, or during full dinner service. “Most” (and I’m putting quotations), restaurants are slower during the times of 2pm-5pm. It’s just common sense. Looking for a job during any other time just makes you look like a fool and you end up wasting your time.

 

Smoke BBQ – Delray Beach, Atlantic Avenue, FL – 2015

I received a large amount of negativity during my search on the Ave – as I like to call it. Nobody was really looking to hire anyone during that time, until I made the stop into Smoke BBQ. I walked right in and met their General Manager, Adrianne.

Adrianne was about to start her pre-shift meeting with the team but I caught her at the right time. Her words, “Let me start my meeting and we’ll talk in the back in 10 minutes.”

I WAS PUMPED!

She brings me to the back of the dining room in front of the large stage that sits in the back and gives me the 101. Thank god for my personality because that’s what sold her on me. Adrianne didn’t even look at my resume, she describes to me that one of her long time employees is moving to the Hamptons in two weeks and needs someone for after he’s gone but hasn’t started the search yet. Lucky for me, I came in at the right place at the right time.

Two days later, I start working. At this point in time, its 2015, two years into my college career and my 20th birthday had just passed.

Working at this gourmet Smoke BBQ restaurant/bar was like a dream come true. On the weekends after 10pm, it turns into a night club with a DJ and all until 2am. The inside bar was massive, housing 30+ seats and the outside had a second bar with outdoor seating and ANOTHER DJ if you weren’t feeling the vibe from inside.

Something I appreciate was the fact that it was entirely family-ran and operated. No ridiculous regulations and scripts to follow. Just working and enjoying the time with the customers and guests, being yourself. The way it should be.

Aside from how amazing I thought this place was, Adrianne and our team worked me like a dog. I would be at the restaurant from 11:30 AM ‘til close, two days during the weekend, and working during the week. It was BRUTAL!

Working at Smoke BBQ was an incredible experience. Even though the work environment was, to be quite honest, shoddy, I’d still take Smoke BBQ over a corporate situation any day. Unfortunately, this amazing establishment is out of business now.

I will never forget my favorite memory there. It was May 2, 2015, the Kentucky Derby was set for an early start and we had a huge party for the event on our big projector screen. That’s me pictured above there, all the way on the left, trying to catch a view during the shift! The other bartender and I took bottles of Fireball during the busiest time of the event, got on top of the bar, and poured shots into everyone’s mouths right before the horses took off the line! So. Much. FUN! I also can’t forget to mention that any of the employees had the opportunity to purchase handles of liquor from their liquor storage for $5 apiece. FIVE DOLLARS, per bottle. You can assume my fraternity’s parties were stocked for days back then.

Working at Smoke BBQ was the most fun and REAL bartending experience I could’ve experienced both in craft cocktail creation and in tending bar but it was clearly time to find a new job with all these bills I still had to pay.
Cantina Max – Boca Raton, FL.
I came across what looked like a brand new restaurant on Federal Highway just north of Yamato road in Boca Raton, and to my surprise it was!

Since I happen to be so silky smooth with my words, they took me on as their head bartender to work with their Mixologist, Mike, who had opened a few bars up in the past. Together, we created a few takes on the margarita for this upscale Mexican themed restaurant that they were going for.

The two drinks I was took the pleasure of created were the Raspberry Fig Margarita and the Piña-Rita. Links to these recipes will be in my blog soon by the way!

The space they acquired also turned out to be a big location that changed its name multiple times. Cantina Max had some big shoes to fill for keeping the many regulars that we received after opening, and for bringing in new clients to this odd location.

I had a blast working here, to say the least. I was the only male bartender, which I thought was very cool because I had all the ladies attention during shifts, and I pretty much had hold of the reigns to do what it was that I wanted with the bar.

About a month after the grand opening, food starting coming out bad. Inconsistent, long ticket times, and it was flat out un-edible for some guests. In South Florida, especially places like Boca Raton, restaurants thrive off their regulars because South Florida is very seasonal. Periods of the year, many of the native Boca Raton people leave to their second or third homes and that takes a toll on business.

This was a perfect example of that and the poor choice of management.

*QUICK TIP*

From my experience thus far into 2018, if you plan on opening a restaurant yourself or with family, you better plan on being there day in and day out. Not 3 or 4 times a week, not once in a while. All the time. Your service, your ethics, and most importantly, your profits will severely take a toll.

Three months after the grand opening and all of the publicity that was generated, the restaurant put a giant, “CLOSED” sign on its doors.

The rest of my coworkers, the kitchen, and the marketing team were out of a job just like that.

R.I.P. Cantina Max.

It was an amazing experience being able to see how a restaurant can go from under total renovation, to building publicity, working with a brand new menu and a brand new staff, and getting to a grand opening. It was without a doubt something I will always have with me.

Junior’s Cheesecake – Boca Raton, FL.

This is the place that got me to where I am today. Junior’s Famous Cheesecake. The #1 cheesecake in the world and that’s not a joke.

It was with a pretty humble start, this journey with Junior’s that took me from Boca Raton to the BIG APPLE! (Where I currently reside) I saw an ad on Craigslist, applied, and they called me in for an interview. Roy was the General Manager at the time and he hired me on the spot.

I was about to embark on, yet another, restaurant opening. This time with an established and proven track record and the right team behind it. Front of house and back of house employees were all hired and told to meet together for a big meeting to give everyone the inside scoop of that Junior’s was all about. The team met the chefs, the managers, and the owner, Alan Rosen who is one of the hardest working individuals I’ve ever met.

After the meeting, they give us a tour of the “almost” finished product right in Mizner Park, which is actually right across from Uncle Julio’s! It looks stellar. Brand new everything. New floor, new kitchen, and most important to me, a new bar!

The grand opening went without a hitch and the place was slammed! I never made as much money as I made here. What made it spectacular was the environment and people I had the pleasure to work with. Most places today, don’t predicate that all front of house staff and kitchen members should work and help each other out. Which is the exactly what Junior’s stressed – the need to help each other out all the time. It makes it easier for service, better team work, and everyone makes more money. It’s the craziest thing to understand that helping each other only makes things easier and Junior’s made sure that was apparent!

Working at Junior’s was the most enjoyable job I’ve ever had! And I seriously mean that. Everyone just got along too. There wasn’t much drama and going to work was something I actually looked forward to doing. Coming to work to make drinks for people, feed them some food, and hang out with my coworkers. I even made some of my best friends here that I still see and keep in touch with back home and that is what sold me on this amazing restaurant that Alan Rosen has put together.

This was maybe half of the front of house team during Halloween. They had us all dress up to work. I absolutely loved it!

Months after Junior’s got through the initial grand opening phase, I heard talks of opening a second Times Square location. With my school career coming to an end and my itch to get out of Boca, it seemed like an awesome opportunity for me.

Miles Ellis, the director of operations and really the guy that Alan goes to for answers, was in town for a routine check-up. I took a few minutes to drop a line with him about a possible transfer and he was more than ecstatic to have me move up there and help with the opening of their new location. He had been so impressed with my work ethic here and said it would be the perfect fit.

Little did I know, I was moving to New York – to work the hardest I ever have in my life!

Junior’s Cheesecake – Times Square, NYC – 2017

On May 10th, 2017, my parents wished me all the best luck after a nice lunch back home and I took the 23 hour drive with my whole life packed into my SUV I’ve had since high school. This was also the first time I’ve ever seen my dad cry. All because his boy was leaving to take on the big apple by himself.

It was the best moment I’ve ever had with my dad and I’m crying, right now, as I’m writing this because I will never forget it.

I start my drive up to New York in time while making a stop along the way, another favorite place of mine, Savannah, Georgia. Amazing pit stop for the night, I slept in my car to save money, and made the final trek to NYC.

Fortunately for me, my auntie Debbie lives in Queens, New York. She was kind enough to put me up for a few weeks while I get my feet wet in a new place and so I could save some money. As gracious as I was for that, my commute was over an hour and 20 minutes to the city! Every single day. Having to be at work at 8 am every day and usually not getting home until around 11 pm at night, you can assume it was quite a lot for me but I made it work. It all worked toward the goal I had of making my new move a positive one.

I worked one on one with James Gardner, the training director for all of the Junior’s locations. I was his right hand guy as well as the new face and manager for the new Junior’s staff that was coming in. I created floor plans for the new location, I created all the training packets and guidelines, I oversaw construction of the new location, and I got the opportunity to train all of the new employees for the front of house.

The selfie shot above is me with the crew in Boca that I worked with (top) and the new crew I trained up in NYC (bottom). Such a cool picture I think!

The hours were always long, but once I was through with working with James at the restaurant, I took no time wasted and explored as much of New York as I could. Between the work and all the fun I was having, we got closer to our grand opening.

We had “soft” openings and family openings. Free meals for people who walked in and for the employees families. All of which took place to make sure the employees and the kitchen were on the same page and the same Junior’s philosophy was put in place. Junior’s has an amazing plan in place to keep themselves up and profitable and it shows.

Sooner than later, we had our grand opening! Mayor DeBlasio comes in for a ribbon cutting with Alan and it’s off to the races!

I was kindly offered a full-time management position and was thrown off for a bit with a decision. For the cheap salary, I’d have to be working full time, 60 hr. minimum shifts, opening and closing. As great as it sounds to be managing a restaurant in the busiest city in the world, it didn’t seem like the right decision for me, since I knew I wasn’t going to be at Junior’s for the rest of my life. Not to mention I LOVE bartending and knew I’d make more money and have a more flexible schedule.

I turned it down.

I took on their head bartending position, which in the end, is what really made me the happiest!

I worked through the whole summer after our opening in June, which is supposedly, their slowest time of the year. By slow, I mean still doing 50k-70k revenue in one day versus the 100k their used to in peak times. (ABSOLUTELY MIND BLOWING MONEY). After summer, I continued to work into fall and winter, then onto the New Year 2018 and into this summer where we are now.

I made a ridiculous amount of money. By ridiculous, I mean between the slower first 6 months of 2017 down in Boca, combined with the crazy last 6 months in NYC in 2017, I made over 70k at Junior’s in one year. Want to ask me how much of that money I saved? Almost none.

With all this money I was making, my rent being only $1000, and a flexible schedule, I had the greatest first year in New York I could’ve ever asked for at the expense of not having money on the side for bigger and better things – but that’s part of the learning curve I guess.

Do I wish I saved more? Of course I do, but I don’t regret a single thing and this is what brings me to where I am today.

I took my leave from Junior’s, to get out of the crazy Times Square clientele, and try job hunting in NYC.

Junior’s Cheesecake, Alan Rosen, Miles Ellis, James Gardner, the Junior’s team and my experiences made with the company and in Time Square are invaluable. I learned so much about the restaurant world, I learned so much about people seeing and meeting all walks of life from every part of the world (I mean that literally), and most importantly, I learned so much about myself.

Fig & Olive – Meatpacking District, NYC – 2018

Lazy Point – Hudson Square, NYC – 2018

I currently work at Fig & Olive in the Meatpacking District and Lazy Point in Hudson Square! Who knows where I’ll be in the next few years but I can definitely say one thing.

Since being in New York City, I’ve started my first online business, what you’re reading now, Bar & Bowtie. I’m so proud and excited to see where this will keep taking me and I can only hope that I grow more as a person the more I experience life and learn the more there is with this great craft known as bartending!

I hope you enjoyed this, somewhat long, post on how I got started with bartending but hopefully you learned a few things and read what it took for me to get where I am now, and of course;

Stay tuned for the latest with ALL things Bar & Bowtie on social media and keep up for new bartending skills, guides and how-to’s!

THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING!

“10/10 would recommend, Yancy……OUT!”

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