Welcome! I already know what you’re thinking: Dante is three posts in and already using clickbait to get people to read his articles, tragic. As much as I’d love to sell out and start making the big bucks to crank out articles with headlines that hit like Ivan Drago filled with Charmin soft content, I’m not that poppin’ yet (bear with me; the moment I can do that I will). So unfortunately for you that trigger headline is what we’re talking about today, and if you’re feeling irrationally triggered — great, then this article is written especially for you.       

If I had to guess, your next question falls along the lines of, why is he bringing this up? Well, I’m doing it because no one else will. I’m doing it because whether you work in a bar, a hospital, or a high-level accounting job where you can afford to pull up in a Louis Vuitton Tesla equipped with autonomous drive mode, because you can’t be burdened with poor people problems like paying attention to the road — you deserve more out of your life. There’s untapped potential for you and all of us alike. How? Why? Let’s dive right in.

Jumping back to speak in reference to the bar scene, let’s look at your career right now. Let me guess…you think you’re killing it because your rent is current, you can go out whenever you want and pretty much buy whatever you want (let’s be real though, you aren’t shopping for a new Audi or Porsche, but you are snatching the big bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Hemp soap from Target without batting an eye). Also, you probably, at least to an extent, have the ability to take off when you want with no real consequences.

All in all – sure, you are killing it — right now. So, what’s there to critique? Why am I choosing to be such a hater?! Simple. You are only focused on the “right now.” Currently in our market, a consistent, high paying bar job can range from $50K to $90K annually for key positions (think salaried head bartender or bartender at an extremely high volume bar). This type of income in Louisville, KY gives you plenty of disposable income (in most cases…i.e. single and no kids), but with that income often comes a level of complacency. Complacency in our industry, or really in any career path, is the kryptonite to success and furthermore, happiness. Ready for the real tea?

By only focusing on the “now” you are robbing your future self of the same level of comfort you’re enjoying currently.

At this moment, you’re probably a little more annoyed with me, and the reason is because somewhere inside of you, these words are waking up a little part of you that you knew was already there. Yes, server who walked with $300 from one table, I’m talking to you. I’m also talking to you, bartender who worked a solo shift and left with $500. Hell, I’m even talking to you, Susan from the accounts receivable department. All of you are annoyed, and you know it because you fall into one (or multiple) the categories you’re about to see. So, what am I here for? To be the voice asking you some soul-searching questions, challenging you and giving you inspirational and education information (i.e. the categories), so that I can be the mirror you’ve been refusing to look into.

CATEGORY 1: I only took this job so that I can make good money until I find a brand I believe in to work for.

Is this you? Awesome. Working for a brand can be a great way to go from bartending as a job to working with spirits as a career. This path gives you consistent money, benefits, and the unicorn in the service industry, health insurance. Sounds great! But ⁠— all that comes with the cost of taking a pay cut from your existing bartending job. This is typically only a short term obstacle, but are you prepared for that reality? Do you have money set aside for the adjustment period? Can you even afford to take that hit upfront, or would you have to sacrifice things in your life to make that happen? Furthermore, are you willing to do the necessary changes/take the needed risks to actually make that happen?

If you are, I’m here to shove you right out of that “I’ve got this” mindset and back into reality (you know, that place you like to avoid). And while this statement applies to the service industry more than most, there is a large population of 20 and 30 something humans out there who are accountants, lawyers and HR professionals who need to hear it, too:

Learn. To. Budget. Your. Life.

It’s a necessary lesson you’re going to learn the easy or hard way (if you’re like me, you’ll probably choose the hardest route possible). I’m here to give you the easy way on a silver platter. 

Budgeting 101: Stop spending your money without realizing where it’s going. If you’re jumping to a high-paying job, or have been in one for six years, you should still understand where your money goes (do the math on how much you spend on food and drink each week on average if you want to get in the Halloween spirit). If you don’t know where to start, use the Clarity Money App. It will break down your life (but only financially, sorry – you’ll need to get a tarot card reading for the rest) so you can begin to save yourself from yourself. The more you are aware of what’s going on in your financial life, the more willing you are to begin taking control of it.

CATEGORY 2: I’m just working here until the money dries up, then I’m on to the next.

From an income perspective, I understand that completely. Why not keep striking while the iron is hot? And when it gets cold , you can just move to another iron that’s heating up. Makes sense if the only aspect of your work life you care about is money. But what if the trends shift from “whiskey and cocktail bars” to “hard seltzer taverns” or “streamed series themed” bars. Are you willing to make that leap just to keep making that sweet $400 a night? Maybe yes. But, probably no.

You can’t tie in happiness to a place of money just because “you’re making more than you ever have” or whatever your reason may be. You need to realize that, if you do this, you’re setting yourself up for not only complacency in your professional life, but more importantly — unhappiness. How do you know if you’re headed down the inevitable professional depression path? Take this category as a wake up call to learn about who YOU are. Money doesn’t buy happiness, so look for things that do. Explore some hobbies — if you enjoy any of them, learn how to monetize them. You can also look at what you enjoyed doing before you got into the service industry. If anything you want to do has a start cost, start setting aside money to make those things happen. Because I firmly believe a good bartender can go into any career path and succeed.

CATEGORY 3: I’m doing this until I open my own bar/company.

So you actually want to run your own business? Super dope, man. A few things: How much money do you have saved to go towards that? Have you been looking at commercial real estate properties? Rent? Own? Met with any investors that believe in you and your vision? And if you want to do it all on your own, how’s your credit? Will you be able to get a loan? If not, are you actively doing things to improve your credit so you can? Typically, bars don’t see any profit at all in the first year, so are you prepared mentally and financially for that? 

Ideas are nothing but fantasy without the proper action to manifest them in reality. You know what’s better than telling people your concept for a bar? Actually executing the concept you love to talk about. In order to accomplish, you have to shake the feeling of security and complacency you have from your current job. Starting a business is hard. Harder than what you daydream about during smoke breaks and at red lights. To get that business open is going to take focus, dedication, setbacks, missed deadlines, burned money, and time, sooo much time. If opening a bar was as easy as you tell your coworkers it is — everyone would own one (and they would never close). I’ve seen great concepts never make it because of poor execution but wack concepts become cash cows because of the high level execution and detail that went into the whole process. 

If this is you, the best advice I have for any bar (or company) is start out with writing a plan. Focus. Get a clear idea of the staffing, capital, equipment and space needed to make your dream a reality. If your credit is poor, work vigorously to get it up so you can take out a loan. Don’t spend all your money at other bars not owned by you and put money aside towards your own. Draft a business proposal and run it by someone more accomplished than you. This way you have all your ducks in a row; making it hard for banks and investors to tell you no. 

CATEGORY 4: I’m just a lifetime bartender and am completely willing to adapt my lifestyle to the ups and downs that come along with that. 

So, you’re in it for life? I also feel that completely. And for clarification, this isn’t just referring to “lifers” for bars. This is also talking to you, small business owner. Or to you, hair stylists/barbers. We’re all in this together. Our lines of work are exciting, unpredictable, but also draining. Yes, you can absolutely have a very solid career and life bartending (or whatever). But do you have personal health insurance? (No, CBD oil and GoFundMe are not health insurance.) Do you have any money to fall back on if you injure yourself? Bartending, hairstyling, catering (I can keep going if you’d like) all take a toll on your body, so intermittent injuries are a very real possibility. It’s also highly unlikely that your body will allow you to do it forever. So with that being said, do you have anything set up as a safety net for when you slip and fall, or hell, when you turn 75 and want to drink more whiskey than you serve? 

How do you survive this world as a lifer? Well, first off you should have a bare minimum of three months salary saved up. This effectively covers your ass if anything comes up that stops you from working, such as injury, business closing (which owners love to give you heads up on), remodel, or the dreaded “I got fired.” This feels like a big ask, but it’s not. Saving little increments of money each week can get you there and in the long run you’ll thank me. Try $5 a week to start. You’re welcome.

Next, get health insurance. If your job provides health insurance, great, (also are you hiring???) then you can skip this paragraph. If not, you’re really playing with fire. You are on your feet everyday; it’s literally how you make your money. So you’re really gambling if you’re walking around without health insurance. Nothing will drain that savings account that you’re so proud of faster than medical bills. Most major insurance companies have catastrophic health insurance options. Your boy (me) even has it currently. It’s less than $150 a month (if you go out 5 nights a week you can afford this) and has a deductible of $7K. Yes, I know what you are thinking $7K is high and you’re right, it is…but it beats the hell out of paying an easy $20K in medical bills in the event of an accident or injury.

Finally, start an IRA. IRA = individual retirement account. Let’s be real. As badly as you want to, you can’t do this career forever and more than likely you won’t want to. You are going to get old. I don’t care how much you exfoliate, how clean you eat, and how many wellness crystals you buy from Etsy — it’s going to happen. You need to be prepared for it. The last thing you want to do when you’re 75 and trying to remember where you left your reading glasses is figure out how you are going to pay your rent/mortgage. Starting an IRA literally means you’re starting to put money aside for when you can’t or don’t want to work anymore.

For the person who’s like “I have a 401K trhough my job” …cool story, start an IRA. It costs you nothing and you can put extra money aside if you’d like. If you ever leave said job, you can merge your old 401K into your IRA for easy access because, once again, you’re old. It takes you 15 minutes to pull into a parking spot at Kroger. You aren’t going to want to track down a 401K from a place you worked at 40 years ago that doesn’t even exist anymore, so do this now for your future self.

*moment of silence*

Alright, you reached the end of the categories and blog as a whole. If you’ve been hit by one, or all four categories, you can take a deep breath now because it’s over. But I hope I made you think. I hope you realize that your decisions dictated by your “sweet gig” could be serving you in a negative way. Yes, I asked you the questions you didn’t want to think about. But if I didn’t, were you going to do it? (Nope, sure wouldn’t have.) So to bring it full circle, go back and think about what I said in the beginning. If you put yourself in a position of only focusing on now, you may be putting yourself in a position of stagnation; a place of never reaching your ultimate happiness or potential.

(This has been long-winded AF and my beer is getting warm, so let’s wrap it up.)

Make sure you have personal health insurance, download that budgeting app, start an IRA. Most importantly, figure out who you are and what you want out of life. Don’t waste time getting caught up in making a bunch of money and avoiding what you really want. This is your life and it’s the only one you get. Know that growth comes from a place of discomfort. Know that whether you make the world’s best cocktails or the prettiest spreadsheet, if the money is the only thing keeping you where you are, you will eventually find yourself unhappy and unaccomplished.

Sips for Thought: 

Cocktail #2

1 part whatever booze you have in your house

That’s it…. 

You need to save money. Stay home.

For more from Dante’s series #BeyondTheBar or #TheBarExam CLICK HERE!

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