When Shawn Greig finished school and joined his friend working at a bar in Victoria, he didn’t realize he had taken the first steps in what would be a 30-year career as a bartender.
“I started out there as a bar porter and when that bar closed, I moved across the street to another bar,” said Shawn. He started bartending and never looked back. Shawn, who currently bartends at the Blue Crab Bar and Grill, an award-winning restaurant and lounge in Victoria, has been pouring drinks for the last three decades. There’s not much he hasn’t seen.
Shawn stresses that to be a bartender you have to have a good personality. “Having the skills of a bartender might get you the job, but it’s personality that keeps you there.” Prospective bartenders need to learn how to talk with sincerity. They need to master their tone of voice, sound enthusiastic and have a great attitude. “A little get up and go doesn’t hurt either,” said Shawn, who says the job can often get busy. That’s why successful bartenders pay attention to detail and have strong organizational skills.
He suggests taking a few courses and getting practical bar experience. “You have to learn how to put everything together — knowing the drinks, placing napkins and straws, facing people — it basically comes down to getting work experience,” he said.
One of the challenges of the job is dealing with the busy periods. “You can get a lot of work thrown at you at once,” said Shawn. “You have to learn how to deal with your own frustrations.”
Another challenge: bartenders usually don’t get rich. “I haven’t made a lot of extra money compared to other jobs,” he said. But you can certainly make money. He cautions younger people not to lose sight of school just because they have a lot of cash in their pocket at the end of the night. He’s talking about tips, of course. On a good night a bartender can take home upwards of $25 an hour. “Don’t expect tips. Just do your job and the tips will come.”
Successful bartenders bring the customers back again and again. “People want to find a bartender who has some depth and interest,” he said. “People like to talk about real things in life and that’s one of the great things about this job.” Bartenders meet interesting people. He described how he recently met a chemist who quit his job and now fixes washing machines. “He didn’t want to die when he was 40 like a lot of chemists do, apparently,” said Shawn.
That customer was the perfect example of a unique person you probably wouldn’t meet unless you were a bartender. “Getting to know all these people from different walks of life makes it interesting,” he said. “When you learn how to deal with all kinds of people, you can use that skill the rest of your life.”