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My Experience as an 18-Year Old Bartender

Wait… how can I make a ‘good drink’ if I don’t know what they’re supposed to taste like?

This past summer, I tried my hand at bartending for the very first time. I knew right when I turned 18 I wanted to get my bartending license so I could move up the ranks from busser to bartender at my summer job at the golf course. I knew stepping behind the bar at 18 would come with some trials and tribulations, but I did not expect the experience I endeavored.

At the start of the season, I was trained by one of the vet bartenders. She was brilliant and confident not only with customers, but with crafting each drink. I was amazed when someone would spout off a random drink name and she immediately knew what ingredients to grab, whether it needed shaking and which of the million glasses it came in. I remember thinking there was absolutely no way I was going to understand how to make all these drinks after just a few training shifts.

I stood corrected on most of that front. I found that at the golf course, men are very predictable. Take any typical guy and you can assume he’s walking into the bar for a quick draft beer. That was always a safe guess. With older men or even some upper 30s men who wanted to appear sophisticated, a safe bet was an old fashioned. For all my young golfers who stopped in for a quick drink to-go, I could bet they wanted a vodka mix of some sort (most of which had all the ingredients in the title). 

But still, there were some stragglers and outliers who ordered bizarre and out of the ordinary drinks. Here’s what I found: men are extremely easy to flatter. When a man walks in and orders a drink you’ve never heard of, if you can’t sneak away to look it up, simply ask him how to make it. I discovered early on that telling a man I was only 18 and had never made that drink before was quite the opposite of the bad omen I thought it would be. These men ate it up when I would tell them it was my first time making a drink; it was almost like in their eyes, they were taking my that-drink-virginity (which was very creepy, but better than the alternative of a customer getting angry). I found out quickly that this trick was a lifesaver and almost always guaranteed a healthy tip and a round two. 

Another fear I had going into bartending was being heckled by creepy old men. Especially working at a golf course, we’ve all heard the horror stories of young girls constantly being sexualized by customers. Let me tell you, these stories are no joke, no exaggeration. I once had a customer tell me, “I’m the guy your daddy warned you about” (he was about 75 years old and flirted with me throughout the entire service). Women do not deserve to be sexualized at work, and no tip gives a guy the right to say whatever he pleases. 

On the plus side for us girls, we can manipulate these situations in our favor. We may not be able to stop men from making creepy advances, but we can try to make the best of the situation. One time while bartending, a customer whom I had no contact with asked me for my Venmo information. I asked him what it was for, and he said he wanted to give me my tip. I gently reminded the man that I was not taking care of him and that the tip should go to his server, which he then assured me that we would both get tipped. So, I did what anyone would do and I gave the man my Venmo. He proceeded to send me $100 and asked me if it was “worth it” to give him my Venmo. The man, about 45 years old with a ring on his finger, then proceeded to ask me on a date, literally begging to take me to an Italian restaurant. So, what did I do? I smiled and asked him if he knew how old I was. Once he heard from me, and my manager who stood right beside me, that I was 18, he knew his $100 tip wouldn’t persuade me to go on a date with him. Rejection is the best form of revenge against a creep, and I walked away with the satisfaction that he was (literally) paying for being a creep to a young girl.

To sum it all up, bartending at 18 can be a warzone. From drink knowledge disadvantage to creepy guys expecting to take you home, it definitely comes with some interesting stories to take home. However, the income at the end of the day can make the bad scenarios worth going through. If you find your niche and discover ways to make the job into a game, you can overcome all these obstacles. My pro tips to maximize that tip are: one, remember that you can put on an act; fake it til you make it baby, two, make your customer feel special and they won’t even care if you don’t have every single drink memorized and three, the creepy guys will get theirs, if you play the game you can get that tip and still put them in their place. That’s a win-win if you ask me.

Maddy Scharrer

Wisconsin '26

Maddy is a student at UW-Madison who loves to write. She plans to major in Journalism and Communications. In her free time, Maddy loves watching movies and hanging out with friends.