The Hospitality Hunger Games: Getting Hired in NYC as a Bartender or Server

May 4, 2016 Antasha Durbin


When I graduated with a Bachelor's degree I had stars in my eyes and the world at my feet. I packed up a small car of belongings and moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn where I shared a tiny prison style bedroom with my older sister, Chardèt.


We immediately started searching for jobs—a task I was sure would take no longer than 30 days. Day after day, application after application, I received nothing back. I kept seeing posts for servers and bartenders, and I figured working in hospitality would be a quick and easy way to make money while I was still searching for my ‘dream job.’ I spent weeks applying once again with no reply. I was confused—I had a college degree, I was young, smart and capable—why was no one replying to my applications?


Frustrated, I started going to open calls to get the attention of hiring managers. By my 20th open call I became desperate. I pleaded with the interviewer, “Please, I need this job. I have eight days to make enough money for rent or I am out of a place to live.”


He looked at me with a half-smile and said, “Okay. I have something you can do, but it’s not bartending or serving. We need someone to control our social media, I will pay you $10 an hour and can offer 20 hours a week.”


I gladly accepted—while $10 an hour was hardly enough to cover the iceberg of my post-college expenses, at least it was a start. I started work the next day and I have been working in the service industry ever since.


I quickly learned NYC hospitality is like a Hunger Games race where you are competing against the most beautiful, intelligent, experienced and talented people for a serving or bartending position. Why? Because working as an NYC bartender or server is lucrative, flexible and fun. You meet interesting people during every shift, and network like you’re living in a real life LinkedIn.


Everyday hundreds of restaurants in NYC post jobs looking for bartenders and servers. Here are seven tips to help you get hired:



1.  Research the Venue and Write a Real Cover Letter

You are competing against hundreds, if not thousands of people for the same position. The minute a Craigslist (or any other) posting goes live, the hiring manager’s mailbox is inundated with emails from hopeful prospects. If you are not researching the venue, and you’re sending out the same cover letter to every job posting, don’t expect to receive a reply.  Research every venue you apply for, and tailor each cover letter to that particular establishment.



2. Treat your Hospitality Resume with the Same Respect as Your “Professional” One

Update your resume accordingly and have all of your relevant work experience outlined. Proofread—bartending and serving requires you to be a communication aficionado, if your resume is full of grammatical errors the hiring manager may assume you’ll half-ass the job like you did your resume. Or that communication isn’t your strong point, in which case hospitality is definitely not the industry for you. If English is not your first language, have a native speaker edit your resume for you.  



3.  Be Professional and Punctual

If you show up to an interview in jeans and a t-shirt expecting to get hired, you are in for a reality check. You need to bring your ‘A’ game to a restaurant or bar interview the same way you would for any other interview. This is NYC, not some small town in the middle of nowhere. Show up 15 minutes early, dress professionally, have a printed resume on hand and be ready to sell the manager on why you’re the best fit for the position.



4.  Do your homework

When you go in for an interview, have an understanding of what the menu entails and be familiar with the cocktail, wine, and beer lists. If you are going in for a bartending interview, be prepared to answer questions about how to make specific cocktails. Do a Google search on the venue prior to your interview and read online reviews to get a sense of the culture of the establishment and how it operates.



5.  Be Memorable During Your Interview

Most hospitality jobs in NYC take 5-7 days for the interview process to be complete. If you do not stand out, your resume will be swimming in a paper sea alongside dozens of other similar candidates.

  • Have a picture on your resume in case there are other people involved in the hiring process who will also review your credentials.

  • Be prepared to take a test on the spot to prove your industry knowledge.

  • Set a timer on your phone and practice explaining in one minute or less why you are the perfect person for the position.

  • Offer to role-play and have the interviewer act as though they are a patron and you are the bartender or server. Memorize one dish or cocktail and sell it to the interviewer. There is nothing more powerful in a hospitality interview than a person who has mastered the art of selling.



6.  Have Open Availability

Be flexible. When you go in for your interview, be prepared to work whatever shifts are open—usually those will be the slowest and least desirable. Once you are fully trained and are considered to be a reliable and valuable employee, you can then begin asking for specific days and shifts. If you are working another job or are unavailable certain days or times, be upfront about your prior commitments immediately, but try to be as accommodating as possible. After all, if you can’t work the hours offered, there are a hundred of other people who can.



7.  Fake it 'til you make it

Every NYC job posting expects its applicants to have three plus years of hospitality experience—in order to be taken seriously you have to play the part. This doesn’t mean you need to go to bartending school or go on a drinking binge in order to fulfill your quest for information. Instead you should:

  • Research classic cocktails, understand liquor variations and learn about different genres of food.

  • Role-play with your friends and pretend to serve them.

  • Demonstrate your knowledge of the industry and sell your skill set—owners and managers are profit-minded and if you can sell them on your abilities then you will be successful as a server or bartender.



I used these seven strategies to land my dream bartending job in the competitive and cut-throat NYC industry, but these tips are sure to help stand out and get hired no matter where you are in the world!


Let the Hospitality Hunger Games begin! Happy hunting!




About the Author

Antasha Durbin

Antasha is an Online Marketing Specialist at TouchBistro where she spends her days advising restaurateurs on their point of sale systems and her nights writing hospitality-related content. A veteran bartender and server, Antasha enjoys bringing her industry experiences to life through blogging. Her three-year-old son and BFF, Elijah, is her self-proclaimed muse for all things creative.

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