Do you ever wonder if Bartending Schools really live up to the hype? Our pals at the Austin Outsider recently enrolled in the Texas School of Bartenders and wrote a pretty comprehensive review about life during… and after… Bartending school. We’ve reprinted it here with their permission!
If you listen to Austin radio at all, you’ve no doubt heard commercials promoting the Texas School of Bartenders. The commercials promise a fun career in the always growing Austin hospitality industry where you’ll be easily making $100 per night. Thanks to Texas’ alchohol laws, you can even start working as a bartender at the tender age of 18! To top it all off, they offer career placement and convenient financing plans.
I’ve always enjoyed the art of mixology but have never practiced it professionally. So, when I recently found myself out of work and very sick of starting at a computer monitor all day. I figured bartending would be a good way to make some cash, meet some interesting people and learn even more about the wonderful world of alcoholic beverages.
I checked out the website and called to get some information. The voice coming from the other end of the line sounded like a character from the Dukes of Hazzard, quickly reminding me that even though I live in Austin, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m still definitely in Texas. But the guy was nice enough and was quick to offer information about how many job leads they had for bartending positions. The tuition for the course was $600, but I could break that down into any type of payments I wanted to. After all, if I was to believe the Texas School of Bartending spiel, I would soon be making $100 – $300 a night!
Although it sounded interesting, I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t actually visit the school for a few months. By that time I was getting desperate enough that I wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t put off by the ramshackle nature of the school, tucked in the back of an industrial park on North Lamar. The interior of the school is obviously designed to look like some kind of bar – but this isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a bar you would actually want to spend much time in. 12 bar stations are set up around the room. The front of each station is equipped with a speed rack, a sink and a gun for spraying water, soda, etc. Behind each station is a pretty comprehensive selection of alcohol bottles filled with a variety of colored water. No actual alcohol is involved in the course.
You can take the course in the morning, afternoons or evenings and it will take about 2 weeks to complete. Or you can go all day and finish in 1 week. Each session focuses on a different type of drink, and the first of the class is devoted to making those drinks before the students actually get behind the bar and start running drills. Drills consist of making the drinks youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve just learned as fast as humanly possible. The instructor calls out drink orders and the students race to fill them. This is all in preparation for the final exam in which you must properly mix 12 drinks in 7 minutes. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a little bit harder than it sounds.
I signed up, paid my cash and was ready to mix some drinks. My instructor was Big Mike, a lumbering bear of a man who is a walking library of mixology. His sessions were funny and informative and easily the best part of the school. Unfortunately, he had to cram a lot of information into a very short amount of time. The school is very focused on following the textbook, even when the recipes included in the book wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t necessarily make for the best tasting drink. I talked to Big Mike a few times after classes and he expressed his frustration about the way the course was set up. He is someone who is genuinely interested in the Ã¢â‚¬Å“scienceÃ¢â‚¬Â of mixology and I could tell it was hard to keep everything in line with the course curriculum.
Speed pouring is the foundation of the curriculum and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s designed to prepare students for Ã¢â‚¬Å“high-volumeÃ¢â‚¬Â bartending jobs. Speed-pouring involves learning how to pour on a counting-based system. For example, the Texas School of Bartenders uses a 4-count system. Count to four and you should have an ounce of booze. It takes a little practice, but once you have it down it seems very natural.
The drink drills were completely overwhelming at first. There didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t seem to be any rhyme or reason to what I was doing. I was just grabbing bottles, icing glasses and pouring like crazy. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think there was any way I would ever be able to make 12 drinks in 7 minutes. I was having enough trouble just memorizing the drink recipes. By the end of each class, I was completely worn out and reeking of the rotten egg smell of whatever they use to make the colored liquids.
There is a written test at the end of the first week. I did okay, but I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t take advantage of the open book like the rest of my class mates. I wanted to see if I could really remember all the drink ingredients. I squeaked by with a barely passing grade and knew I was going to have to put more effort into memorizing drinks on the second week.
Week 2 was just like week 1 with different drinks. By this time, it was easier to make drinks quickly because grabbing glasses and speed pouring was almost second nature. But, there were also twice as many drink recipes to remember, so that kind of offset things. By the end of the second week, I was feeling pretty good about my pouring skills and about my knowledge of the different drinks. I did well on the written test and made all 12 drinks in under six minutes. No problem. I got a cheesy looking diploma.
Even though I had Ã¢â‚¬Å“graduated,Ã¢â‚¬Â I was left with a feeling that there was a LOT of stuff that the school hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t prepared me for. After all, we hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t actually made a Ã¢â‚¬Å“realÃ¢â‚¬Â drink, only fake ones. I hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t learned how to change kegs or C02 cannisters. We hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even touched on several drinks like Mimosas or Mexican Martinis that I would consider very important to know here in Austin. I voiced my concerns, but they assured me that I would learn that stuff on the job and that I was more than prepared to actually work in a bar. I wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t so sure.
Your job placement meeting comes the week after you graduate. Basically, you receive a sheet of paper with the contact information for 6-8 places who are looking for bartenders. Once you have applied to these places along with 15 places you have found yourself, you can come back and get more names. The only real problem with this is that all the students in your class get the same contacts and some of these are out of date, meaning theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve already been filled by the people who graduated from a previous class.
During my job search, I found that the bartending market in Austin is incredibly hard to break into. Every time I showed up for an interview, there were several other people waiting to interview for the same gig. There are a LOT of bartenders in Austin, even when you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t consider the dozens of newbie Ã¢â‚¬Å“bartendersÃ¢â‚¬Â being cranked out every week by Texas School of Bartenders.
Two weeks out of school, I was still unemployed as were all the rest of the people from my class. Except for a girl who got a job as a cocktail waitress at a strip club. We all called each other once a week, checking to see if anybody had gotten lucky or more importantly, had any job leads.
After going on dozens of interviews and applying for even more jobs, the only gig I was able to land was at a little restaurant in Pflugerville. My first nights tips were about $15.00. This wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t the glamourous, high paying world of bartending I had heard about at school. I had believed in the dream, and it had let me down. Things did get better moneywise, but I soon learned that I could make more money with less work at a non-bartending job. It was fun while it lasted and I definitely gained a lot of interesting life-experience.
So, if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re considering attending Texas School of Bartenders, here is an encapsulation of my thoughts about the experience:
You will learn how to speed-pour and how to make drinks very fast. This is the best component of the training by far.
You wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t learn much about how to mix drinks that actually look and taste awesome. The focus here is on the speed.
There will be some important gaps in your bartending knowledge that you will have to fill in yourself. Particularly in reference to beer and a few other key drinks.
The job placement aspect of the school is bogus, in my opinion. At the very least, it is very overhyped.
I had a good time at Texas School of Bartenders and I liked all the people involved. However when it comes to the real world, you are going to need to get your experience on the job. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not sure people who are hiring for bartender positions care whether youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been through school or not – in fact, it may even be a liability.
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