The face of tending bar is changing. Twenty or even 10 years ago, men and women got into bartending as a way to get somewhere else. It was a temporary job, “until you get a ‘real’ job or get through college,” says Kathy Sullivan, owner of Sidecar Bartending.
But that seems to be changing. Today, more people enter the industry seeking a career. And they need to start thinking of the job as a marathon rather than a sprint, says Jim Meehan, a bar operator and educator who opened the James Beard Award-winning bar PDT in 2007. In a speech about “responsible service” for P(our), a collective that connects drink professionals, Meehan talked about self-care. “On a daily basis, we all go into our jobs and our relationships with friends and family and loved ones in deficit,” he says. “We give too much to one thing and not another. If you do that too long, you will break down and those relationships will break down. We need to take better care of ourselves.”
Taking care of yourself means something different to everyone, but many bartenders agree that their job is both physically and mentally taxing. “A lot of bartending is repetitive,” Meehan says. “You shake, stir, lug cases up and down stairs, stand for 12 hours, there’s a lot of bending over. Over many, many years, that becomes a physical challenge as you get older.”
Marcos Tello, director of mixology and education for Mezcal El Silencio, has seen this as well. He says bartenders can get tennis elbow and pinched sciatic nerves, or experience changes in hearing, and even wake up with a “claw” hand, a hand literally curled up like a claw. “Being on your feet, repetitive motions, not eating properly, dehydration—a whole bunch of things can contribute to the deterioration of your body,” he says.