More Than Mixing Drinks: What Is Bartending?

what is bartending
Joe | Last Updated: November 24, 2023
I'm Joe, a veteran bartender with over a decade in the industry and a burning passion for mixing drinks.

The bartending world is truly fascinating, it’s been around for centuries and is a vital part of the hospitality industry that sparks creativity, innovation, and excitement in bartenders globally.

Behind every perfectly crafted cocktail is a bartender who knows how to shake, mix, and stir with precision, with each individual having their own unique story to tell.

But what is bartending, exactly? What are the nuts and bolts of this captivating profession that make bartending a thriving industry?

In this post, we’ll break down the ins and outs of bartending, from its long and ancient history to the different types of bartending, and everything in between.

By the end of this post, you’ll know lots more about the roots of bartending and why it’s still a popular profession among creatives today.

Let’s get into it…

What Is Bartending?

By definition, bartending is the practice of preparing and serving drinks in establishments such as bars, nightclubs, restaurants, and hotels.

But it’s more than just a job, it’s an art form that requires bartenders to have a combination of excellent customer service skills and the knowledge and skill to craft any drink on the menu eloquently.

Bartending involves the creation and presentation of a wide range of beverages, from classic cocktails to modern mixology masterpieces.

It requires in-depth knowledge of ingredients, techniques, and tools to create drinks of all shapes and sizes, as well as the ability to adapt to the preferences and requests of the customer.

what is bartending
Photo by Taylor Friehl

As well as creating drinks, bartending requires charisma, charm, and exceptional conversational skills to keep customers engaged whilst in the establishment.

It’s all well and good creating drinks, but if bartenders haven’t got decent chat to go with it then this can leave the guest unengaged and a little “meh” about the establishment.

Managing inventory, maintenance of equipment, and creating an atmosphere are all parts of bartending that are often overlooked, but they’re just as important as creating beverages.

Bartending is much more than just mixing drinks, it’s a creative profession that encourages self-expression and growth, which is why it’s so attractive to so many people.

The History Of Bartending

The history of bartending can be traced right back to ancient times when taverns and alehouses were the social hubs of communities.

In fact, modern-day bartending as we know it is a relatively recent creation, as most of human existence, we drank wine, beer, mead, and flavorless distilled spirits that we’re brewed on-site.

The first cocktails were believed to have been invented in the early 1800s in the United States, but they were a far cry from what they are today.

Early bartenders would make sours or punches, which were essentially mixing alcohol with large amounts of juice and sugar to mask the taste.

It wasn’t until 1862 when the first cocktail recipe book was written by Jerry Thomas, and whilst cocktails were created prior to this, nobody had thought to take the effort to write them in a structured recipe book.

A stroke of genius by Jerry.

As the popularity of cocktails grew, so did the demand for skilled bartenders. This ultimately led to the creation of formal bartending schools which were created with the goal of training bartenders in the art of mixology.

Bartending has evolved significantly since then, whilst it was once seen as a low-class profession that was generally tended to by women, it’s now a respected profession that many have fallen in love with.

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What Is The Role Of A Bartender?

Bartenders have multi-faceted roles that have a number of responsibilities, including working directly with customers to create and serve them drink orders.

At its core, a bartender’s primary role is to prepare and serve beverages to customers in a friendly and efficient manner.

what is bartending
Photo by Timothé Durand

But it goes far beyond that, with bartenders being responsible for verifying age requirements, handling cash, opening and closing the bar, cleaning duties, and much more.

It’s a complex role that not everyone is cut out for as it requires excellent time management, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills.

Whilst it may appear that bartenders are simply mixing drinks and having the time of their life, they’re actually managing and operating the bar in a way that ensures customers are being served efficiently whilst also having a good time.

Bartenders are responsible for creating a welcoming and hospitable environment for customers while also providing high-quality drinks and exceptional customer service.

It’s not as easy as you might think and requires a lot of creativity to create a certain “vibe”.

>> Read more: why do bartenders always polish glasses?

What Makes A Great Bartender?

There’s a big difference between a bartender and a GREAT bartender, with the best bartenders possessing a combination of technical skills, social skills, and personal qualities that set them apart from the rest.

Truly great bartenders have a deep understanding of various types of alcohol, mixers, and ingredients, and know how to make delicious drinks with ease and efficiency.

As someone who’s been around the block in the industry, let me tell you, truly great bartenders are hard to find.

Whilst crafting their masterpiece, they must be able to engage with customers by having exceptional communication skills and a high degree of confidence.

Great bartenders can speak with anyone from all walks of life and provide them with good conversation whilst also crafting their drink in a timely manner.

They should be able to listen to the customer’s request and make recommendations accordingly, whilst also being able to handle multiple tasks at one time.

what is a bartender
Photo by QUENTIN Mahe

The best bartenders have an excellent memory and can remember long cocktail orders as well as how to make them without relying heavily on a cocktail sheet.

This takes time and practice, but it speeds up service drastically and allows bartenders to focus on the conversation part of service.

Great bartenders are confident with all bar tools and can use every tool in the shed with confidence and efficiency to complete long cocktail orders quickly and with accuracy.

Above all, a great bartender is someone who is passionate, creative, and committed to providing the best possible experience to guests of the establishment.

>>Read more: How long does it take to be a bartender?

Different Types Of Bartending

The bartending industry is incredibly diverse and there are many different types of bartending for different occasions and settings.

Let’s take a look at some of the different types of bartending and what to expect from them:


Mixology is a branch of bartending that focuses on creating cocktails by combining different ingredients such as spirits, mixers, bitters, and garnishes.

These are skilled bartenders that can often be found working in high-end cocktail bars and resorts, they’re incredibly knowledgeable about the different types of alcohol and keep up with the trends within the cocktail world.

Mixologists can impress their guests with their extensive knowledge of drinks and may even put on a display by adding certain ingredients, resulting in unexpected visual effects.

Flair bartending

Flair bartending is a style of bartending that is sure to make your jaw drop, it involves the use of acrobats and theatrical techniques to dazzle guests while making drinks.

These bartenders are HIGHLY skilled in their craft and have specialized in this particular area of bartending, which often allows them to make significantly more money than regular bartenders.

Flairtenders can usually be found at events, high-end resorts, and competing with one another in competitions all around the world.

Tiki bartending

This type of bartending involves serving tropical drinks with elaborate garnishes and decorations, often working in tiki bars that focus on rum cocktails, fruit juices, and tropical ingredients.

what is bartending
Photo by Kike Salazar N

They’re essentially mixologists who have niched down into tropical cocktails, making them highly desirable in holiday destination resorts.

>>Read more: Is bartending dangerous?

More On Bartending

Bartending has evolved significantly since the early days, whilst it was once a frowned-upon profession, it’s now a respectable career that many creatives pursue.

The rise of mixology has made bartending a classy and elegant way to serve drinks, with bartenders using innovative and creative techniques to impress their guests.

Many bartenders even create their own drinks which can attract customers into their establishment to give it a try.

The industry as a whole is booming, with more and more people looking to escape their mundane nine-to-five and get into the bartending world.

And who can blame them?

In fact, employment of bartenders is expected to grow 18 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is much faster than average for all other professions.

As more bars, nightclubs, and restaurants open, this creates an increasing demand for skilled bartenders, so there’s plenty of room for newcomers in this profession.

The barrier to entry is low, and those without any prior experience can land a bartending job relatively quickly if they dedicate themselves.

what is a bartender
Photo by Bon Vivant

With an ever-growing hospitality sector, the opportunities are endless in the bartending industry, from traveling the world to becoming a self-employed bartender.

Final Thoughts

To wrap up, bartending is the practice of preparing and serving drinks to guests, often in bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and other establishments.

It’s part of the hospitality sector which is why it requires bartenders to focus on exceptional customer service as a top priority.

Contrary to popular belief, bartending is much more than simply serving drinks, it’s a dynamic profession that requires a particular set of skills to become successful.

Anyone can serve basic drinks, but not everyone has the conversational skills or creativity to thrive as a bartender, which is what separates the good from the great.

Thanks for taking the time to learn more about bartending today and I hope this post has been helpful and provided you with new insights into the industry.

Catch you in the next one!

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