If you’ve already been to a few Bartending interviews, you’ve probably noticed that the same kinds of questions come up a lot. Well that’s because there are only about 15 questions that ever come up in Bartending Interviews, and they’re the same 15 questions regardless of what kind of bar it is. They’re simple questions like “What’s your favourite drink?” and “Why do you want to work here?” They’re easy questions that should be just as easy to answer, but for some reason, we struggle with them in the interview.
The reason we struggle to answer these simple questions in the interview is because it’s difficult to think under pressure. It’s not easy to come up with an answer when we’re put on the spot, so we start with “Oh, err, I, err, hmm. Good question!” which is shortly followed by the first thing that pops into our head, no matter how short, vague, or irrelevant it may be. Those really aren’t the kinds of answers we want to be giving when we’re trying to get a job. What we want to give are specific, detailed, and relevant answers that show off how knowledgeable and confident we are, answers that you just can’t come up with on the spot. So what we need to do is prepare our answers beforehand.
What you’ll find below are the questions that get asked the most often in Bartending Interviews (i.e. the questions you need to prepare for), and then their usual “on the spot” answers. Underneath those you’ll see “Better Answers”, the clear, detailed kind that are going to get you the job.
These first three questions are really simple, so simple in fact you may not even think you need to prepare answers for them. But I warn you, if you don’t have answers ready for these simple questions, you’re going to come across as kind of simple yourself.
“Tell Me A Little Bit About Yourself”
Usual Answer: “Oh! err… Well I’m 24, I’m from Vancouver, well no, actually, I’m originally from nantucket, and err, I’ve err-“…and so on.
Better Answer: “I’m 24, I’ve been Bartending since I was 20, mostly in fine dining, but have spent time working in clubs, public houses, and chain restaurants. I’m a big fan of everything whiskey from introducing my customers to classic cocktails like a Rob Roy, to making myself an Old Fashioned at home.”
“How Long Have You Been Bartending?”
(Now if you answered the last question properly, you’ll save them the time it takes to ask this one, but lets just pretend you didn’t.)
Usual Answer: “Hmm, I think about three years – wait no! Hold on. I worked at Smith’s Pub for just under a year, William’s Restaurant for like a year before that errr – took a year off when I went to Tahiti-“…I thought that was a pretty straightforward question
Better Answer: “Four years total: Two years to begin with at Johnson’s Cocktail Bar, one year at William’s restaurant, and then most recently a year at Smith’s Pub.”
“Why Do You Like Bartending?”
Usual Answer: “Huh. I guess, err, I guess I like meeting new people and, um like actually making cocktails-“…huh, haven’t heard that one before
Better Answer: “Because I think it’s important. After a weeks work, people need somewhere to unwind so they can to do it all over again the following week. Bars are where a lot of people go to do that, and seeing as they’re willing to spend the money they worked all week for, I think it’s really important that they’re given great service. I get a kick out of providing that service.”
(Seriously, how are you not going to hire someone with an answer like that?)
With those basic questions out of the way, they’re now going to start asking you questions to find out why you’re applying there in the first place, in order to guess if you’ll be a good employee.
“Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”
Usual Answer: “Errr, well, I kind of, umm, felt I’d achieved all I could achieve there, like I’d reached a ceiling, you know? I wanted to kind of see what else I could achieve somewhere else”…not exactly sure what that means, but moving on…
Better Answer: “I wanted to work at Smiths pub to learn more about Craft Beer, but the end goal was always to work at a bar like this. After a year at Smiths, I felt like I’d taken a great step towards learning about Craft Beer, so I thought it was time to pursue a job in a bar like this.”
“Why Do You Want To Work HERE?”
(This might just be the most important question they ask, so if you’re only going to prepare one answer, make it this one.)
Usual Answer: “Oh, well, I saw you were hiring online, and, err, I’ve always liked this place-“…so you’re just applying wherever is hiring?
Better Answer: “Because this is exactly the kind of place I go to as a customer. I believe that you’ll only enjoy working at bars you actually enjoy drinking at. Your customers are the kinds of people I like to hang around with, your staff are the types of people I like to be served by, and your drinks menu is exactly what I like to drink. I think my transition here from one side of the bar to the other would be seamless.”
By this point they’ve worked out if you’re the type of person they want to hire, now they need to find out if you’re the type of Bartender they want to hire. This means that the answers you give to the following questions need to be shaped to match the kinds of drinks that that particular bar sells a lot of (i.e. at an Italian restaurant you might say your favourite drink is a Negroni, whereas at a pub you might say your favourite drink is an India Pale Ale).
“What’s Your Favourite Drink?”
Usual Answer: “Oh! Errr, ummm, hmmm, not really sure that I have a favourite, I guess I mostly drink beer”…uh huh, right
Better Answer: “An Old Fashioned with Booker’s Bourbon. The overproof strength of Booker’s really lets the Bourbon stand out, even after the sugar and bitters are added.”
“What’s Your Favourite Drink To Make?”
(Don’t repeat what you just said, it’s a different question, so they’re looking for a different answer.)
Usual Answer: “Oh, umm, I like making cocktails, definitely cocktails, you know, complicated drinks that you can spend a bit of time on, err, unless you’re kind of in the sh- in a rush-“…just stop, please, just stop.
Better Answer: “I know it sounds simple, but I actually love pouring draft beer. Every beer is so different in texture and carbonation, and every tap is different. I love working through all of that and pouring the perfect pint regardless, the kind of pint that makes a customer remember why they should order draught instead of a bottle.”
“How Would You Make A Negroni?”
(I just chose a cocktail at random here, but what they’re going to ask is how you’d make a cocktail that is popular there – you’ll need to research their menu to find that out.)
Usual Answer: “Oh, errr, 1 part Gin, 1 part Campari, and err, 1 part sweet vermouth”…that’s the correct recipe, but how would you make it?
Better Answer: “I’d use 1 part Tanqueray – because I like to use a premium gin, but nothing as distinct as Hendricks or Tanq 10 where you’re just going to lose the flavour when you add the Campari – I’d use 1 part Campari – Aperol is an ok substitute, but it’s just not the real thing – and then I’d use 1 part Cinzano Rosso – I think it has a bolder flavour than Martini Rosso, so it’ll stand out better in a cocktail. I’d put all that into a double rocks glass, easy ice, and then with a cocktail stirrer give it a good stir for about 15 seconds, so the customer gets the well mixed, well balanced cocktail they expect when they order a Negroni. Then I’d finish it off with an orange twist.”
They should be able to tell that you know your stuff by now, so next they’re going to try to find out if you can actually use that knowledge to sell drinks.
“What Would You Pair With Our House Burger?”
(Again, I just picked a dish at random; they’re going to ask what you’d pair with a popular dish of theirs)
Usual Answer: “Err, probably a beer, I like the classic beer and a burger combo”…why? what kind of beer?
Better Answer: “It would heavily depend on what the customer has ordered up to the point of ordering the burger, but in general I’d go with something dark and full flavoured to compliment the taste and texture of the burger. If the customer was a beer drinker, I might offer a Pale Ale, if they were a wine drinker I’d go with an American Red, and if they were more into spirits, I might just suggest a sweet highball, but recommend they have it served tall with easy ice, so there’s a constant refreshment while they work through the meal.”
“What Would You Recommend As An After-Dinner Drink?”
Usual Answer: “Oh, umm, probably something light, like a white wine or something”…care to be a little more specific?
Better Answer: “My usual instinct is to go straight for the speciality hot drinks, but I also like to sell regular hot drinks with a shot on the side such as Sambuca, Frangelico, or Baileys. I also love recommending a brandy too, something to swirl and savour as they let everything digest.”
Next they want to know if you can deal with difficult situations. Common questions for this are “What would you do if a customer didn’t like their drink?” and “How would you deal with an underage customer?”, but the most difficult to answer, and the one they ask the most is…
“How Would You Cut Someone Off?”
Usual Answer: “Hmm, I guess I would politely tell them that they’ve had enough”…WRONG!
Better Answer: “First off, I’d do everything I could to make sure my customer didn’t reach that point, but if they did, I’d start off by telling the other Bartenders that that customer shouldn’t be served any more alcohol. Then I’d tell a manager that I intended to cut someone off, just incase I needed support. Then I’d speak to the customer’s friends before I spoke to the customer directly – I think they’d respond better to their friends advice. If that failed, when they ordered their next drink, I’d discreetly and empathetically tell them I don’t think it would be a good idea for them to have any more alcohol, and that I could no longer serve them any – would they care for a non-alcoholic alternative?”
As things start to wrap up, they’re going to ask you questions like “What shifts are you looking for?”, “What’s your availability?”, and “How do you plan to get to work?” These are really important questions, so you need to have exact answers for them. Know exactly what shifts you want (and which shifts you’d be willing to start off with), exactly when they can reach you, and exactly how you plan to travel there. This will show them that you’ve proactively thought about what you’d do if you got the job – they want to hire someone who can plan ahead.
So that’s it, you’ve made it through the interview – stand up, shake hands and leave right? Not quite, there’s still one more question
“Do You Have Any Questions For Us?”
Usual Answer: Err, no, not really. I don’t think so. No.
Better Answer: Almost anything other than “No”!
You want to work for these people in order to make your living, do you really not have anything you want to ask them? If you want to know something (as long as it doesn’t have something to do with money) then ask them! Even if there’s nothing you want to know, just ask them something. Most applicants don’t ask anything at all, so you asking a something is going to help you stand out. It’ll also show them that you can think for yourself, unlike all the other applicants that just show up and react to the situation.
Here are a few good questions to ask if you’re struggling to think of any:
Can you tell me about the experience of your other Bartenders?
What are your bar brands?
What do your bartenders struggle with the most?
How long before service do your Bartenders come in?
How many Bartenders work at the same time?
Now before you leave, there’s still one more thing you need to do, and that’s ask them another question. Not just any question, this question:
When do you expect to have made a decision by?
You HAVE TO ask this. Again, it’s going to help you stand out, but much more importantly, you NEED TO know the answer. If they tell you they expect to have hired someone by Friday, then Friday comes around and they haven’t called, you know that you either need to follow up or move on, don’t wait around any longer.
There you have it, the most common Bartending Interview Questions and how you should answer them. Just make sure not to use the exact answers I gave above, those are great examples of how detailed and clear your answers are supposed to be, but you’ll need to come up with your own answers so you can stand behind them.