Shaken economy stirs up interest in bartender classes
Saturday, June 6, 2009
By JOHN COLEMAN / The Dallas Morning News
Don Allen's biggest worries used to be instructing pilots how to perform a barrel roll and not bumping his head in the cramped flight simulator. Soon his job could depend on remembering whether to salt the rim of a margarita glass.
Laid off after a 40-year career as a pilot and flight instructor, Allen turned to one of his longstanding dreams: bartending.
Bartending "is something I have had in the back of my mind for a while; it's something I might have done for fun one day," Allen said.
Rather than a fun hobby to pick up, it might serve as a financial life preserver for Allen, who was to graduate Friday. He is one of many recession casualties who turned to bartending school, looking for another income option after being laid off – but a certificate in bartending may not be a quick fix.
Monthly applications to the local branch of the national ABC Bartending School have increased 15 percent to 30 percent year over year since December, according to Mark Stephenson, director of the school in Addison.
Certified drink mixers are on the rise, but area bar owners and recent bartender school grads agree that with limited jobs available, experience and a great personality – rather than a certificate – are the golden ticket.
ABC Bartending School grad Necole Elias said her lack of experience was a hindrance in the job hunt.
"Being a new bartender, it was tough. Especially in this tough economy," she said. Owners want to hire applicants "who have experience with customers."
Elias said she applied to five bars and received only two calls back because of the hole on her résumé.
Bartending school is just another bullet point on a résumé to Abby Starr, general manager of Idle Rich Pub.
"We mostly hire based on personality and experience," Starr said. "Bartending school won't hurt, but it certainly won't make someone, either."
Cory Wauson, general manager of Ozona Grill and Bar, said business is up and he is hiring about one server per week, but no bartenders. He said he's not a "big bartender school person" – applicants have to earn the position.
Bartenders have to work their way up the chain like everyone else. It is a privileged position. You can teach the bartenders recipes, but experience is what is really valuable to me," Wauson said.
The appeal of bartending is the ease of picking it up, short training time and the respectable income bartenders can earn, Allen said.
Bartenders can expect a dismal base salary close to minimum wage, Stephenson said, but with tips, a bartender can earn $20 to $30 an hour. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that in Dallas-Fort Worth, full-time bartenders make an average of $19,640 in wages annually, based on May 2008 figures.
All industries have been hit hard by the recession, Stephenson said, but the food service industry still needs workers.
"People are losing their jobs and looking for options to turn to," Stephenson said. "Happy, sad, rich or poor, people are going to eat and drink, and they need people to provide that service for them, and it's a good place for people to look for jobs."
Despite many restaurants downsizing, applications are still rolling in.
Wauson said his Ozona Grill is experiencing a spike in applications it hasn't seen in 10 years. Many of the applicants are returning to their roots, he said.
"We are seeing a lot of business professionals returning to what they did in their youth to earn money after being laid off," he said.
It's the same story for bartending school applications.
A larger, more diverse and educated group of applicants than usual is entering bartending school these days, said Stephenson.
"Usually this time of year, we see a lot fresh high school grads, but we are really starting to see the older crowd come in, many in their 30s, 40s and 50s," Stephenson said.
Phil Seger, 60, is a former senior project manager and 19-year industry veteran for a major telecom company. He recently purchased some ranchland in Fannin County to retire on. He was laid off five years before he planned to retire.
"I saw firsthand how rough the job market was," Seger said. "I tried to find a job for a year and a half and must have sent out several hundred résumés; no luck, because I was overqualified for most jobs I applied for."
After 18 months of frustrating results on the job hunt, a friend recommended Seger give bartending school a try.
"A friend of mine gave me the idea, and I am just loving every minute of it," he said. "I'm not sure I would ever want to go back to the corporate world."
Kacy Oden, director of membership relations for People Report, a Dallas restaurant research and consulting firm, said age wouldn't play a role in keeping older bartender applicants out of the industry.
"They definitely stand a chance in this industry," Oden said. "There are a lot of bars out there for the baby boomer generation, and they like to see someone like them behind the bar."
Students from 18 to 70 are attending the weeklong bartending program, and Stephenson said more of them have bachelor's and master's degrees than ever before.
"We are seeing a lot of educated professionals come through the doors. Some people have jobs for 20 or 30 years when they get laid off and come to us," he said.
Some bartending students don't wait until they get laid off to make a move.
James Cooper still has his job in the airline industry. With times still difficult, workers have to be prepared, he said.
"There still could be another big layoff coming. You have to be ready; you can't wait until the end to do something," Cooper said.
Passing the Bar
It's not unusual for someone to wander into ABC Bartending School and order a cocktail. The faux bar on busy Kennedy Boulevard looks authentic. Notice the Johnnie Walker rubber mats and Babe Ruth photograph on the wall.
The libations poured by the students are fake, though, a combination of food dye, water and a jellylike substance. Tiny bobbing balls mimic fruit garnishes.
This classroom bar at 4601 W. Kennedy Blvd. has offered instruction in what director Dan Bygden terms a "recession proof profession." "Good or bad times," he says leaning on one of two bars, "people don't like drinking alone."
ABC's Bygden says a certificate shows a potential employer that a person is serious about doing a good job.
Janice D. Froelich - The Tamp Tribune
Excerpts from the Chicago Tribune
Impress your guests, or find
a new career, behind the bar
By Jennifer Olvera
When it comes to throwing a bash, it’s hard to deny that libations play an integral role. In addition to being the festivity’s fuel, thoughtful beverage selection also can be a tasty way to show guests you care. The problem is, many people don’t know a mai tai from a Singapore sling---and cocktails more complex than, say, a rum-and-Coke can cause anxiety.
No excuses. The holidays are just around the corner, and it’s time to get with the program. Believe it or not, bartending courses can teach you to sport a superb salty dog, hone your creativity and become a better communicator.
“Both professional bartenders and housewives looking to throw parties are interested in learning to tend bar,” said Myong Park, a Chicago resident and former bartender who instructs at ABC Bartending Schools on Belmont Avenue. “It’s a life skill. It teaches you how to treat people well and make them feel good.”
In his free time, Park hosts parties for his nearest and dearest at home. “Being a good bartender means your guests don’t want to sit in front of the TV,” he said. “And it means you can be the life of the party. Who doesn’t want that?”
ABC’s classes teach everything from etiquette--women still get served first--to the difference between a highball and rocks glass. “Bartending classes go beyond the basics,” said Kelly Curtis, director of ABC. “You do learn how to make and serve drinks the right way, but you also learn what to--and not to-- talk about. A bartender, just like any good host, is there to please his guests.”
While most people don’t associate tending bar with keeping the peace (that’s the bouncer’s job), there is something to be said for a bartender who helps visitors get along.
ABC BARTENDING SCHOOLS: Offers 40-hour courses that meet on five consecutive days as well as weekend sessions, which last three weeks. Beyond learning how to create traditional drinks, bartenders-in-training begin fashioning beverages on the fly: 1034 W Belmont Ave, 312-664-0074. The school also has a location in MT. Prospect (1699 Wall St.; 847-228-0700
Instructor Myong Park says that learning to help people feel good is an important skill.
Bars are magical places, full of smoke, fried foods, happy people with lowered standards ...and almost always alcohol. But what happens when you entertain at home? Not only are you expected to have a fully stocked bar, but those baby pearl onions had better be at the ready, and you may hear reports that the drapes are on fire. Panicked, we sought guidance on the art of being your own bartender.
How to be your own bartender
BY PAIGE WISER
Q. Should I watch "Cocktail"?
A. "The Tom Cruise movie"? Never hurts," muses Jack McKim, the director of ABC Bartending Schools (847-228-0700). The air-borne, spinning techniques are called "flair bartending" -still very popular in places like Las Vegas and Disney World. But Pace warn that there's a distinction that Cruise missed. "The trick to flair bartending is making a drink while performing the tricks," he says. "Not so in 'Cocktail'. "
Q. What are the biggest mistakes amateurs bartenders make?
A. Taking shortcuts. A cocktail recipe may look convoluted, but every step has a purpose. Chilling a glass, blending the ingredients for the proper amount of time, twisting the lemon into a martini rather than dropping it -a little extra time translates into taste.
Q. What are some of the intangibles about bartending -the stuff you can only learn through experience?
Q. What are the latest fabulous cocktails?
A. It's all about the customers (or, in our case, guests). "They can have quirks on exactly how they prefer to have the drink made," says McKim. " 'Shaken, not stirred' comes to mind."
A. New and trendy is so... last summer. this year, the classics are back. "The Cosmopolitan, Kamikaze, Sex on the Beach, Martinis, Long Island Ice Tea, Woo Woo," Pace suggests. "I bartend at night in Vancouver [British Columbia], and the most popular drink was a Long Island Ice Tea." Just make sure the traditional drinks are prepared properly, say McKim. "Martinis, Manhattans, Rob Roys, Old Fashioned, Whiskey Sours. They have been made since Prohibition, and still are popular today."
Q. How can a party host stock a home bar without going bankrupt?
A. The basic liquors should do the job: vodka, gin, rum, tequila, scotch and whiskey. A popular brand name of each will run you about $10-$20 each. "You should also have things like dry and sweet vermouth, triple-sec, lime juice and grenadine for mixing cocktails," Pace says. If you're inviting more than 30 people, consider professional help, McKim suggests. His school can help stock the bar and juggle drink orders while you mingle.
Q. What about barware -is it necessary to invest in grappa glasses?
A. You should be alright with rock glasses, highball glasses, martini glasses and margarita glasses. Or you could simplify things with high-end plastic glasses. "A cordial glass can be used for grappa," recommends McK
The adventures of on bleary-eyed Texan at the Harvard of bartending schools.
By Adam Pitluk
Jeff Hoferer moseyed on down to Fort Lauderdale's ABC Bartending School from Dallas, Texas, to learn how to make a mean cocktail
A drunk, horny guy hits a drunk, horny town -- to learn how to make people drunk and horny.
American Airlines flight 2042 from Dallas, Texas, has just arrived at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. Pale, pasty South westerners file out like a flock of happy sheep, wide-eyed and excited.
Ever since he graduated with a marketing and international-business degree from Kansas State University in 1999 -- the 24-year-old Hoferer has worked as a bar and concert promoter in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
A few weeks back, though, he had an epiphany. Staring down the barrel of a shot glass he had just drained of Jägermeister, Hoferer saw his future: He'd move to Los Angeles and make it big as an actor-model, but not before jetting to South Florida to earn his license to kill... brain cells, that is.
Yes, Jeff Hoferer is here to attend Fort Lauderdale's ABC Bartending School, the Harvard of mixology. Sure, there are other bartending schools, but this is the big one.
He does pick up some rules of thumb to take into his first day of school: The more drinks you serve, the more tips you earn; a guy on a date is a bartender's best friend; and no real man ever orders a Tom Collins in public.
ABC has been schooling the supply side since before Hoferer learned to read. The largest chain of bar schools in the country, ABC boasts 13 schools nationwide (and five more on the way). It's a multimillion-dollar venture, granting 7000 degrees a year in cities coast to coast -- and Broward County is where it all began.
When Tony Sylvester opened his first bartending school in Broward County in 1977 on the corner of State Road 7 and Coconut Creek Parkway, he knew there was no guarantee. "It was a gamble," Sylvester says from behind his desk, His desk sits front and center of the establishment, flanked by framed thank-you notes from various bars around the country. "But just like the American Dream, a little hard work still pays off in this country," he adds.
This Bill Gates with a twist of lemon grew up in an orphanage. He has no more than a ninth-grade education, but despite his accomplishments he keeps his ego mostly in check: He doesn't want to forget his Passaic, New Jersey, roots. He keeps his reminders close at hand: His GED, crusty and faded, dated December 19, 1975, stands on a filing cabinet behind his desk, while a picture of him in the orphanage graces his desk at home. He still works ten hours a day, seven days a week.
But larger than life is a framed poster of the world's greatest celebrity bartender -- none other than Brian Flanagan (as played by Tom Cruise) leaning over a bar, baby blues glistening in the pink neon light of the sign that hangs above him: Cocktail.
So if your looking to learn how to bartend just call 1-888-COCKTAIL.
Ex-dot-commers belly up to the bar!
by David Lazarus
They've been joined by a variety of others seeking new opportunities amid the economic downturn - a trend that's seen enrollment boom at bartending schools in the Bay Area.
"This industry is pretty recession-proof," said Chris Grant, director of ABC Bartending School in San Leandro. "When times are good, people drink. When times are bad, people drink."
All local bartending schools say they've been deluged with former dot-commers and technology professionals seeking careers in a slightly less volatile field.
ABC Bartending School director Kim Chiacchiaretti and owner Tony Sylvester with his newest bartending school at 5036 Katella Avenue in Los Alamitos. ABC has schools nationwide and now has its first location in California. Founder Tony Sylvester is a third generation bartender, who opened his first bartending school and started teaching his craft in 1977. He plans to open three or four more schools in Los Angeles County soon. The 40-hour program can be done in 1, 2 or 3 weeks. To reach the school call 1-888-Cocktail (1-888-262-5824.)
ABC Bartending Schools
Where You Can Become a Master of Mixology
By Lauren Halperin
Today’s classroom of tomorrow’s bartenders includes Tony Genco, 22, a recent South Florida implant from New Jersey, and Craig Silverberg and Michael Barrows, both 31 and both looking for career switches. Perla Bodden, 21, wants a job in an area nightclub and knew ABC Bartending Schools was the best start to her new profession.
Since 1977, Tony Sylvester has been the key ingredient of the largest bartending schools in the country, matching the right faces with the right places. At ABC, students are taught to walk, talk and think like a bartender. Third generation in the hospitality industry, Sylvester has set up opportunities for his ABC Bartending School graduates across the country once they graduate from what has been called “the Harvard of Mixology schools.”
ABC now boasts 15 schools nationwide, including seven schools in Florida along with plans for further expansion before 2003. This multi-million dollar venture grants over 7,000 bartending degrees each year in cities across the country. Not bad for one man’s simple entrepreneurial belief: “Have a dream and work hard for it.”
“Many battles have been fought and won by soldiers nourished on beer.”
--- Frederick the Great ---
At first glance, the classroom looks like any other tavern or bar. Instead of desks, students sit at the bar, on barstools, next to sipping straws, strainers, and selections of garnishes. Behind the instructor are three shelves, which span the width of the bar, loaded with a kaleidoscope of liquor bottles. The bottles are different sizes, colors, and contain different types of alcohol, with recognizable brands like Bacardi, Captain Morgan’s, Crème de Cacao, Bailey’s, Absolut, and Peppermint Schnapps. The other side of the ‘desk’ is a full working bar, stocked with different size glasses, liquors, and ice.
21 co-workers sign up for bartending school after losing high-tech jobs.
By Tiffini Theisen
SENTINEL STAFF WRITER
Two Tuesdays after he lost his job, James Gordon sat at a bar along Mills Avenue. Gordon and the dozen others lined up at the bar at Orlando's ABC Bartending School.
A few minutes later, Noel Shaw entered the room. Shaw, the school's teacher and director graded their tests. Gordon did well: another 100% score. He was mastering the drinks taught in the week long course, remembering little things, such as what crème de cassis tastes like "currants" which drinks get a sugared rim "side car".
Their classroom boasts all the comforts of a hometown tavern: neon signs, a radio tuned to soft rock and an ice maker. In fact, you wouldn't know it was a real bar till you took your first sip: All the drinks here are made with colored water.
Other students in a recent session in the class included a laid-off dot-com work, a former marketing executive, and a car sales-woman and an air-traffic controller both seeking part-time jobs.
Those who were laid off in early April made about $8 to $16 an hour plus overtime and bonuses. Bartenders in the Orlando area can make $12 to $40 an hour with tips.
Others who signed up were at first skeptical about bartending. "It seemed like one of those surfer jobs", said Christy LeDuc, 33, a former process analyst.
But the idea soon spread among the clannish clean-room crew. Suddenly, ABC Bartending School was a hit with newly out-of-work microchip makers.
Many of the new mixologists aren't thinking of bartending as a new career, but a temporary gig while they go to school. "Look at it this way: If we go into a recession, people are still going to drink," said Bonnie Oster, ABC Bartending Schools' placement director.
Casino dealer students hopeful outside training will lead to jobs in 2012
By Stan Donaldson
January 02, 2010, 10:00AM
Lee Chau, right, works with student Gordy Bivens to show fellow students how to position themselves at a gaming table.
FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. — Before students get to deal a game of chance in Lee Chau's class -- and get a shot at a steady paycheck working in a casino -- they must learn how to shuffle and count.
"Come on now, 20 at a time," Chau coached Rose Leitaert, a 57-year-old laid-off restaurant worker from Michigan, as she tried to pick up a stack of chips with one hand in a recent class. "They aren't going to let you work unless you can hold them all at once."
Chau teaches poker and casino games such as blackjack, roulette and craps. The classes at ABC Bartending/Casino School use Monopoly money.
He instructs dozens of students weekly, mostly unemployed workers from Michigan and Ohio who are taking a chance at learning a new career that can pay up to $60,000 a year. Some hope their investment in his class will land them one of the 7,500 full-time jobs estimated to be coming to Ohio's new casinos. The jobs come courtesy of Issue 3, which voters approved in November to allow full-service casinos in Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo and Cleveland.
Gaming should begin in 2012.
Though dealers are not required to have certifications to work in casinos, graduates of the Bartending and Casino College say the courses have given them the skills to properly deal cards, a proficiency that casinos look for when hiring.
"I think this shows the community and residents of Ohio are anxious for the jobs Issue 3 will bring and they are preparing themselves," said Jennifer Kulczycki, a spokeswoman for Quicken Loans, owned by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who won the right in November's vote to build the Cleveland and Cincinnati casinos.
The ABC Bartending and Casino School plans to open a school in Cleveland next spring and add the casino course to a bartending school the company runs in Columbus.
"We figured it would only be a matter of time before casinos would come to Ohio because they were losing too much money to Michigan and West Virginia," Chau said.
Students at the ABC Bartending and Casino School Training practice the proper way to shuffle cards.
He said that since 2008, he has trained nearly 200 Ohio residents, many from Northeast Ohio. The former Atlantic City card dealer and Motor City Casino supervisor said he fields dozens of calls weekly from Ohioans who want to sign up for his course.
"Who wouldn't want this job?" Chau said. "You get 20-minute breaks every hour, you get to eat good food for free and work with people. . . . All you need is the knowledge and know-how of the game.
"The only bad thing is that you gain 40 pounds from all of the standing and eating you do."
John Pifer, who directs the ABC Bartending and Casino School in Detroit, said the casino jobs beckon to people who have been hurt by the economy.
"This is a very low-stress job, and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to do it," Pifer said. "It is something an average guy can go do and make $50,000 to $60,000 a year. Gaming survives all economies."
Hours spent at the tables
At the suburban Detroit school, aspiring card dealers spend 40-plus hours a week practicing with current or former professional dealers who show them the techniques they need to use while on the other side of the casino table.
For about $1,000, the students learn how to properly count chips, manage a game and deal blackjack and basic poker games, all while training close to 300 hours for a dealer certification. Tuition increases as students learn more games.
Instructors even test a student dealer's awareness by adding chips after the bet, causing distractions at the table by asking for change during a bet or hiding cards. The idea is to prepare students for what happens in a real casino.
When Leitaert was in class this month, the hardest lesson for her was counting and grabbing a stack of 20 chips with one hand while simultaneously paying another player.
Chau took a handful of chips, put them close to her eyes and told her to count by feeling the grooves. He explained that dealers must learn to handle chips quickly because it speeds the flow of the game.
"The most important thing is game management," Chau told his students. "You have to understand that at the casino, nobody trusts anybody. The player doesn't trust the dealer, the dealer doesn't trust the player, the floor doesn't trust the dealer and the house doesn't trust the floor."
Looking for an edge in hiring
A school like Chau's is not the only place for people to learn how to deal.
Bob Tenenbaum, a spokesman for the two Ohio casino developers, Rock Ventures and Penn National Gaming, said the owners would probably provide floor training for people they hire.
Northeast Ohio residents and others who have gradated from the ABC Bartending and Casino School said they think they'll have an edge when applying for casino jobs in Ohio.
"When the opportunity comes, I am going to take a shot at it," said Joseph Pandrea, a 35-year-old Canton native who works at Mountaineer Casino in West Virginia.
Pandrea, a 2007 ABC graduate who deals such games as Omaha, blackjack and Texas hold 'em, said the school helped him.
"I was hoping Issue 3 would pass before, but it didn't, and I had to come down here," Pandrea said. "I have some actual experience, though, and this will help me out when I apply."
During this year's Issue 3 campaign, Adam Smith handed out stickers and posters to urge voters to pass the measure. When they did, the 24-year-old Dayton-area resident traveled to the bartending and casino college in Michigan to earn a blackjack dealer certification. The airport worker said he is ready for the job.
"The more games you know, the better the chance you can end up in the casino," Smith said. "They say these jobs are for Ohio, and I am going to do what I can to be one of the first people to get one."
Jadia Norman of Cleveland spent several stints at the Hard Rock Casino in Seminole, Fla., as a blackjack dealer after graduating from the class last year. The nursing student said she spent a few weeks this past summer working at casinos to help supplement her income.
"To be honest, I don't think they will hire dealers around here," Norman said. "A person with experience is more attractive than a break-in dealer."
Though many students in Chau's class live in Michigan, they share a bond with Ohio residents: high foreclosure rates, unemployment and hard times. They said casinos offer hope.
Kulczycki, Gilbert's spokeswoman, said state legislators will decide how many tables a casino will run, which will determine the number of dealers a casino will hire. She stressed that the bulk of the jobs will go to Ohio residents.
"I am sure we will look to people with experience," she said.
Lenny Giampino, 53, of Wixom, Mich., has spent the last nine weeks at Chau's school. He has been certified to deal more than a dozen casino and poker games. The 30-year accountant turned to the school after he was laid off from a steel company two years ago.
"I spent a lot of money, but I look at it as a small investment into the future," Giampino said. "If I can get a job that pays well, it will be all worth it."
Gordy Bivens, 32, of Hastings, Mich., a former iron worker who has been out of work for more than a year, said he would move to Ohio for a casino job. He had been a student for two weeks.
"I've been out there looking for work, but it is hard without experience," the father of two said. "If the jobs are going there, that is where I will be."