Rohit D’Souza is a final-year student in a hotel management institute in Bangalore, but he is already learning the ropes of bartending from a separate coaching institute. And he has a clear-cut goal. “After around two years of experience in India, I hope to fulfil my dream of serving on a cruise liner and travelling around the world,” he says.
Till a few years back, the basic job of a bartender was to serve drinks and manage drunk customers without creating much of a fuss, and of course there was no specialisation or training required except for the knowledge of a few cocktail combinations.
But not any longer. Today, creative and talented bartenders are not only Page 3 stars but also most sought-after.
“They form the backbone of any bar or discotheque today. Reputations of stand-alone bars are built around quality bartenders,” says Irfan Ahmed of the Soho nightclub in Calcutta.
“There is no doubt that the demand for quality bartenders has increased over the years. And with the explosion of stand-alone bars, lounges, high-end restaurants and the coming of luxury hotels, the demand can only grow,” says Shatbi Basu, one of India’s top mixologists and director, STIR Academy of Bartending, Mumbai.
“I would say that the demand for bartenders has risen manifold. Nothing less than 10 times in the last five years,” asserts Dominic Costabir, director, Hospitality Training Institute Pvt. Ltd (HTI), Mumbai.
And if you thought that bartending was all about flipping glasses and juggling bottles, think again. “This is a serious profession, and the one thing a youngster must realise is that the basic job of a bartender is to serve the best drink. You can do that only by studying the theoretical part — various drinks and their combinations — and being creative. The theatrics can come later, and they are the least important part,” says Basu.
Performance bartenders, or flair bartenders, are undoubtedly in demand, but only if they are also good at mixing the right drinks. “I have to know mixology inside out, I cannot last long on my juggling skills alone,” says Prakash, a Chandigarh-based bartender.
Communication skills are also very important. “A bartender is like an ambassador for the bar. He should be diplomatic, have a pleasing personality and be a good communicator,” says Ahmed.
The holder of a bartending course certificate from a reputed institute is almost always assured of placement. Some of the places where they can end up include cruise liners, luxury hotels, five star hotels, night clubs, discotheques, resorts, restaurants, bars, lounges and beverage catering.
The career progression for a fresher could be something on these lines: He or she joins as an assistant at a salary of around Rs 5,500 and can go on to earn around Rs 8,000-10,000 as the barman. A senior bartender can earn anywhere between 12,000 and 18,000 while a bar manager can command a salary of around Rs 25,000 depending on the outlet’s hierarchy.
“Freelance bartenders earn Rs 1,000 to 5,000 per day depending on their popularity. Women freelance bartenders can earn more,” says S. Edison Amalraj, founder-director of the Indian Institute of Bartending, Chennai.
According to Basu, almost 70 per cent of trained bartenders end up on cruise liners. “The career is exciting and for youngsters who want to earn pots of money and also travel the world in luxury, a stint on a cruise liner is what they dream about,” she says.
“With a few years of experience, besides becoming a freelancer, people can branch out into teaching, bar designing, writing books / articles and joining wine and spirit companies for promotional campaigns,” says Costabir.
Some of the courses offered by the institutes include diploma in bar management for hotel management graduates, craftsmanship courses in bartending for people who have just passed out of Class XII and certificate courses in wines and spirits. A one-year diploma could cost anywhere between Rs 50,000 and Rs 1,00,000.
Although hotel management students look at a course in bartending as an added advantage, institutes also encourage youngsters without a professional degree but with a passion for bartending.
“To be successful in bartending one has to love the profession and constantly strive to improve, you don’t need to be a hotel management graduate,” says Basu.
Some of the training institutes include the School of Bar and Beverage Management, Delhi, the Institute of Bar Operations & Management, Delhi and Hospitality College, Calcutta. Some institutes offer facilities like on-the-job training, personality development courses and English improvement classes. While some institutes choose students on the basis of Plus Two marks, others recruit on the basis of entrance examination and job experience.
The career of course comes with a warning! “It’s a great field but one needs to really be a teetotaller or be very disciplined. Don’t drink on the job or at the workplace or you won’t have a job or a place to work,” warns Costabir.