Behind the Bar The Business of the Bar

4 Powerful Ways The Bar Institute Can Affect Your Career

A cocktail-making Bar Institute class in Austin Image: Johnathan Garza

Without a doubt, Lindsey Johnson is committed to enriching the lives of bartenders. Each year, Lush Life Productions, the company Johnson co-founded, is responsible for hosting some of the biggest (and most popular) educational events for bartenders across the country, from the summertime favorite Camp Runamok in Kentucky to an annual fall juniper harvest with Death’s Door Spirits on Washington Island, Wis.

The heartbeat of the learning experiences, though, is The Bar Institute. What started out as a once-a-year happening in conjunction with Portland Cocktail Week has grown into a multi-city, year-round tour during which bartenders gather to learn about everything from how to build eco-friendly bars to financial planning to polishing their personal brand. As the industry grows and shifts, Lush Life is committed to using The Bar Institute as a way to ensure bartenders have the tools they need to plan for the future.

The Bar Institute in Miami. Ian Witlen

“Lush Life and, more specifically, The Bar Institute, is dedicated to bar education because, quite simply, there isn’t another place to find the kind of education that’s focused entirely on careers [built] in and around the bar,” says Johnson.

Below, Johnson shares her thoughts on why ongoing education as a bartender is so important and how long-term thinking is more critical than ever for those who are building their lives behind the stick.

A Bar Institute class in New York. Blake Jones

1. Career Sustainability

“The larger issue here is career stability. The bar business is a young one, and as such there’s significantly less infrastructure built in. Salaries are laughable, hours are long, the work is hard, and there are no benefits to speak of in most cases. We endeavor to equip our students with the tools to not just be better bartenders but to build out more sustainable career paths and develop strategies to protect their health and finances.”

2. New Opportunities

“Many bar professionals also aren’t aware of all of the opportunity that exists in this industry. One of the goals of The Bar Institute is to share the myriad opportunities that exist and partner eager and intelligent workers with employers looking to fill those positions. We have a number of success stories in businesses ranging from small single-spirit-focused cocktail bars to hotel chains and everything in between. Just showing up to a program like The Bar Institute opens doors for you.”

Portland, Ore., Bar Institute class. Cameron Smith

3. Peers

“From a more tactical point of view, the exchange of ideas that happens is also vitally important. We can share new techniques, brainstorm strategies for management and generally talk through the issues that we face in this very specific subset of the hospitality industry. When we all work together to solve problems, we are able to come up with some really brilliant stuff. As always, the sum is greater than the many parts.”

4. Leadership

“In a program like The Bar Institute, we’re able to identify leaders who may or may not have had the opportunity to share their voice before. The opportunity to structure a class and share it with peers is really enriching. It forces the speaker to examine their process, which typically yields a more thoughtful approach for them in their day-to-day life. It also gives attendees a look into the best practices of a highly successful member of the industry. For those speaking for the first time, we are able to see leaders blossom and grow, which is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.”