So, you've recently retired, but you're craving human interaction. Or maybe you want to supplement your savings with a little weekend work. The place for you might be as close as the local pub.
No, not tossing back cocktails, but serving them yourself. As retirement funds dwindle and layoffs strike even the most tenured employees, bartending is appealing to 50-plus workers who want to meet new friends, sharpen minds and boost incomes.
"Since the recession, older people who wouldn't have considered bartending a profession before are enrolling," says J.D. Klipper, director of placement for the Professional Bartending School in Arlington, Va. "Bartending is a diverse trade, and it's not just for young people. It isn't splitting atoms. In the end, it's sales and people skills."
A first chance at a second career
Bartending doesn't have to mean late nights and loud crowds. Many fitting opportunities are available for the mature mixologist — regardless of age or background. Take Paul Costanza, 60, from Gainesville, Va.
A master's degree and a six-figure salary didn't prevent him from being laid off in July 2010 after four decades in urban planning. For the first week, he was "frantic" until he remembered how much fun he had in his college days, serving drinks at fraternity parties: "I thought to myself, ‘What have I always wanted to do?' Hell, I want to be a bartender!"
He took the two-week training course at Klipper's school, shaking and stirring his way through alcohol history, flash card recipes and speed tests behind a real bar (minus real liquor). With his résumé and leads from the school and Craigslist — "a marvelous tool for bartending ads," he says — Costanza set out on interviews. Only a week after graduation, he landed a daytime bartending shift at seafood restaurant Ford's Fish Shack in Ashburn, Va.
"I sold them on how I was brand new and therefore had no bad habits," he says. "I had great customer service skills from working with politicians for so long. And I had managerial experience and a master's degree."
Make bartending work for you
Even if you've never poured a beer, you still might have experience like budgeting, sales or bookkeeping. Bar managers will also tell you that customer service and a warm personality are critical. Anyone can get behind a bar, but engaging customers, remembering their names and drinks, listening to them — these are the assets that will make more money for the establishment, and for you.
You can bartend full or part time. The pay fluctuates greatly with location, tips and shifts, but the U.S. Labor Department estimates bartenders bring in around $10 per hour with tips. Significantly higher pay is possible, and some chain restaurants even offer benefits.
Think beyond traditional bars and restaurants. Catering companies continually seek bartenders and servers of all ages for events. Cater only when you want, and make $15 to $20 an hour plus tips. Bartend a private party and you could be looking at up to $50 an hour, says Klipper, the bartending school manager.
Extra cash is always nice, but if you like a job where every day is different and the faces ever-changing, then bartending may be for you. If you're single and looking, you never know who might walk in the door. And bartending involves math, memorization and quick thinking — all skills that can keep your brain healthy.