Tending bar can be a very exciting job. The pace of your night can go from a crawl to an all-out sprint in less than a minute, and you have to be ready for anything. If you know what you're doing, it can be a lot of fun.
Just like with any other job, there are pros and cons to being a bartender. Here they are:
If you're easy-going, confident, and like to have fun, there are many pros to being a bartender. For one thing, you don't have to work a typical 9 to 5 shift. Bars are usually open late, so you probably won't have to get up early, and if you're working less than an eight-hour shift (which is quite common) you have a lot more of your day free than you otherwise would.
One of the most obvious pros of bartending is the tips. If you work in a busy establishment and you're good at what you do, the earning potential is enormous. It's not uncommon for a bartender at a busy club in a big city to bring home six figures a year. Of course, most bartenders won't make that much money, but you can definitely earn as much or more as many white-collar folks. And you'll have much more fun doing it.
Another pro is that you don't need a lot of training. There are bartending schools across the country, but many working bartenders have never attended them. A lot of bartenders started out as servers who got promoted, which can be an easy transition because you already know the menu and the establishment. Even if you do decide to attend a bartending training school (such as the Maryland Bartending Academy or the Phoenix Bartending School) it's usually only a couple of weeks long and not very expensive. In addition to mixology and measurements, most bartending schools will teach you valuable customer service skills and basic customer-intoxication awareness.
The cons of being a bartender are many, but most are not deal-breakers. Bartenders almost always get paid a low hourly wage. (Often, this is the state's minimum wage.) As a bartender, your paycheck is only a fraction of your actual income, unless you're not making any tips.
Depending on where you work, you'll probably be working nights and weekends. While this means you get to sleep late, it also means you'll have less of a social life, especially if you're working many nights a week.
There can be a lot of turnover in the bartending world. Even if you think you're doing a good job, you may suddenly find yourself looking for a new place to work and not really sure why.
Bartending is certainly a marketable skill, but moving from bar to bar can be a difficult transition. You'll have to learn the new establishment's rules and regulations, as well as their customer policies, prices, and any "special" drinks they may offer. Some places serve draft beer, some don't - some places have a fully-stocked bar while others just carry the basic liquors and liqueurs. Adjusting to a new bar can take time.
As a bartender, you always have to be "on" - smiling, laughing, and joking with your customers. Even if your dog just died or your girlfriend left you that morning, you have to be in a good mood, ready to listen to your customers complain about their morning commute or how their boss yelled at them. It can certainly be hard at times, but you have to smile through it for the sake of your tips.
You must have a good memory to be a bartender. There are countless drinks and countless variations on each drink, and you have to know as many as you can, and be able to figure out the rest. You also need to be able to pour drinks quickly and accurately, which means learning the levels of your glasses so you don't have to pour into a jigger or other measurement tool to get the right amount.
Memory is also important with regards to your customers. Your regulars will expect you to know them by name and remember what their favorite drinks are. It also helps if you can remember details about them, such as what they do for a living or where they went on vacation. The more interest you take in them, the more likely they are to tip you well.
There are many resources available to bartenders to help keep you up to date on the latest trends and recipes. Consider subscribing to an industry magazine, such as Bartender Magazine, or signing up for an online newsletter (like the free one put out periodically by the New York Bar Store) for current information.
The last con is possibly the most serious. You must be good at judging how intoxicated your customers are getting, and whether or not they need to be cut off. Depending on what state or country you work in, you may be legally liable if a customer gets drunk at your bar and then gets in an accident on the way home (or worse). Take the time to research your local dram shop laws, and if possible, take an alcohol awareness class from a local bartending school. They're usually only two or three hours long, and they'll provide you with all the legal information you'll need.
As you can see, there are many pros and cons to being a bartender. For those who tend bar, the pros usually outweigh the cons. It's definitely not a job for everyone, but those that do it tend to love it. Bartending is a job that brings out your personality, and if you're sociable and friendly (and moderately intelligent) you could have a successful career as a bartender ahead of you.