Raising the bar
Bartending has evolved into an exciting and viable career. JAM gives you the complete dope. He pours a little vodka into a glass, mixes in a little orange juice, flips the glass in the air, does a 360-degree spin and punctuates the performance with a backhand catch. He is your resident bartender – serving up screwdrivers with the skills of a circus acrobat. Bartending has perhaps, been one of the most neglected disciplines in the hospitality and service industry. In reality, working as a bartender entails learning a host of skills and having just the right proportion of attitude and chutzpa. “In the earlier days, bartenders had to be teetotalers. That was the basic criteria for recruitment, but not anymore” says Dominic Costabir, Director, Hospitality Training Institute. Not too long ago, bartending meant spending long hours serving cranky customers in sleazy bars, while earning a pittance in return. In comparison, today’s new-age bartender is a Page 3 star. But at the same time, only the hardworking and disciplined can thrive in this physically challenging arena.
Where can I learn bartending?
Hotel management schools teach bartending as part of the Food and Beverage Service subject. However, what’s taught is very theoretical and not many practical sessions are imparted. The need to teach bartending as an exclusive subject was realized when the STIR Academy of Bartending and the Hospitality Training Institute, both in Mumbai, came into existence.
How do I get in?
Ideally, you need to be a hotel management graduate. This gives you an edge as you already have sound knowledge of the hotel industry. You can even start off right after junior college. Both the STIR Academy of Bartending at Chowpatty and the Hospitality Training Institute (HTI) at Mahim conduct many short-term and long-term courses for those wanting to learn the the art of mixing cocktails.
What are the growth prospects?
Gladvin Rego who teaches bartending at HTI says, “You start off as a trainee bartender, then move on to being a Head Bartender. If you stick around for a while, you can become a Bar Captain and finally a Beverage Manager.” A trainee bartender gets paid about Rs 2500 – 3500 in a restaurant and about Rs 4500 in a five-star hotel. Most rely on tips to help pay the bills. Rohan Patil, a student of Rizvi College of Hotel Management says, “The tips you earn can make you feel like a rich man.” After gaining a few years of experience and developing some contacts, you can freelance for private parties. Another option is to become a consultant for liquor companies in India and abroad. Teaching is also a lucrative aspect that need not be ignored. Vijay is an alumni of the STIR Academy of Bartending who won ‘The Bartender of the Year Award’ at the All India STIR Bartenders Meet in 2000. As an Assistant Bar Consultant at STIR, he now helps design bars and menus for new hotspots in the city. Many move on to work on cruise liners, as that’s where the big money is. “On the cruise liner, you start of as a Wine Waiter on a salary of 600 dollars a month plus tips. You gradually move behind the counter where you could make as much as 1500 dollars” says Mr Rego. While cruise liners have the lure of phoren currency, they offer little scope by way of career advancement. According to Mr Costabir: “You rarely reach managerial level because most cruise liners hire their foreign staff for the higher positions.”
What does it take to be a good bartender?
“Product knowledge is very important. Unless we know what we are selling, we can’t be better bartenders,” informs Shatbhi Basu, Director, STIR Academy of Bartending.” You need to be self-disciplined and should never, ever drink on the job”, says Mr Costabir. Moreover, you need to be a real people’s person. “You need to have excellent communication skills and be a quick thinker,” he says.
Interview with Shatbhi Basu, Director of STIR Academy of Bartending, India’s first bartending school and author of ‘The Can’t Go Wrong Book of Cocktails’
What is the focus of the STIR Academy of Bartending?
STIR Academy is the first professional institution focused on imparting serious academic instruction to aspiring beverage professionals, bartenders or otherwise. We are the first serious academy with a full-fledged academic course focused only on all aspects of bartending.
What is the curriculum like?
The curriculum is a balanced mix of product knowledge, mixology, technique, interaction, attitude and performance. It is broad-based and friendly and keeps an open ended approach. The idea is to send out informed and efficient bartenders, not just certificate holders.
Since the STIR Academy opened, there has been a sea change in the demand for bartenders. Today, bartending is a respected profession.” – Shatbhi Basu
What is the procedure for getting into STIR Academy?
The selection of the students is strictly on the basis of interviews. We have two batches at the moment. The first batch is for freshers who have passed 12th and have some exposure to the hotel industry, not necessarily in the bar. The second batch is for those with a 3-year hotel management diploma or one or two years in bar service.
Does your academy give job placements?
We don’t guarantee any jobs but we do assist our students with placements. We have a good industrial interface.
Has STIR Academy helped in bringing about a change in bartending?
We have a long way to go towards recognition but we have made a great start. In the three and half years since the academy opened, there has been a sea change in the demand for bartenders. Today, hoteliers and restaurateurs want professionally trained bartenders with style and skills. Bartending is now a respected profession.
For courses in bartending contact:
- Shatbhi Basu (Director)
- Dominic Costabir (Director)
Behind City Light Cinema, Mahim,
A day in the life of a Bartender
Amandeep Singh gets out of bed at 11:30AM – when the rest of the city is already bubbling with activity. After his daily ablutions, he scans the morning papers for a good movie. He watches an afternoon show – his post-lunch program on most weekdays and then catches up with friends with conventional 9-to-5 jobs. Soon it’s time for him to report to work at Insomnia, the nightclub at The Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai. He spends a couple of minutes joking around with colleagues, gets into uniform and starts setting up the bar.
Dinner is eaten at 7PM, after which he and his fellow bartenders rehearse for the nightly ritual of synchronized dancing on counter tops. After breaking a few bottles, they open shop at 8PM. The next few hours are spent chatting with customers, taking orders, mixing drinks and serving them with style and panache. At 11PM, it starts to get crowded and the grind begins. Then it’s time to do the counter-top dance. Luckily no errant bottles injure audience members. After the applause, it’s back to the counter till 5AM. Tired and weary, Amandeep leaves for home just as the early risers get ready for their morning walk.
At 11PM, it starts to get crowded and the grind begins. Then it’s time to do the counter-top dance. Luckily no errant bottles injure audience members. After the applause, it’s back to the counter till 5AM.
He says he misses out on social life and that after a while, the loud music and dancing take on the monotony that comes with routine. Although his family is supportive, his friends have their fair share of comments to make. At the end of the day, it is his inner passion for the job that keep the cocktail glasses clinking.