Behind the Bar The Business of the Bar

It’s Not You, It’s Me: 5 Tips for Breaking Up with Your Bar Job

Image: Valero Doval

It’s an exciting time to work in the bar industry. With cocktail culture spreading across the globe, there are endless opportunities for talented bartenders to advance their careers both behind the bar and in the spirits space.

But with so much opportunity to grow, it’s not unusual for bartenders to explore a wide range of roles throughout their career. Maybe making drinks is your thing, but maybe it’s marketing a product or launching your own consulting firm or agency. Until you settle on that permanent or semipermanent gig, you’ll need to get good at breaking up with bar jobs, graciously and tactfully.

As always, utilize common-sense professionalism. Just because this isn’t an office gig doesn’t mean it should be treated any less seriously. Communicate promptly and clearly, express gratitude for the opportunity you were given, and provide insight into why you are leaving. These are universal codes of workplace conduct that will help you avoid burning bridges.

But what are the nuances of leaving bar jobs, specifically? In such a tight-knit community, everybody talks. And working side-by-side in tough environments, loyalty can often play an outsize role in decision-making. To help you navigate these tricky conversations, this is our guide to breaking up with your bar job.

1. Stay Positive

First, prepare yourself mentally. If you’re leaving a job that was difficult or emotionally draining, there’s a time and place to air specific grievances. Barring a situation that was truly harmful or toxic, perhaps save that conversation for an exit interview or setting in which it can be best received. If you’re simply leaving one job for another, or maybe because you’re relocating, focus on the positive during this initial chat in which you inform the bar you’re leaving.

New York City bartender Rob Rugg-Hinds recently transitioned to a new job at Tribeca restaurant Holy Ground. “Emphasize the opportunities you’re pursuing rather than what you’re leaving behind,” he says. “Whatever your relationship with your soon-to-be former employers, give them the benefit of the doubt that they care about you as a person and will be happy for you—after they get over having to hire a replacement.”

2. Speak Sooner Than Later

Speaking of replacements, consider how your absence will immediately affect not only your supervisor or boss but also your colleagues with whom you worked side by side. To leave on the best terms possible with everyone you worked with, give as much advance notice as possible, especially if you’re not in any big rush.

“The service industry is always in flux, so it’s not as though you’ll be shocking any manager or owner by telling them you’re leaving,” says Effie Panagopoulos, a former bartender and the founder of Kleos Mastiha Spirit. “Giving two weeks is nice because if staff is tight and you leave without allowing enough notice for them to find your replacement, you create a huge burden on the rest of the staff.”

3. Have the Conversation in Person

At the same time, you also want to wait to have your conversation in person. Even if it doesn’t come as a surprise that you’re leaving, texting and email often leave room for miscommunication. As with any sensitive conversation, quitting a job deserves a face-to-face interaction. Adjust your timing accordingly.

“As a manager, the best thing is to have a verbal conversation about it, preferably before or after service, and then a follow-up with a written notice,” says Las Vegas bar consultant Alexandra Farrington. “Everyone wants to part as friends and be able to refer people to the bartender they loved.”

4. Give It 100% Until the End

Don’t check out, mentally or physically, just because you’ve handed in a two-week notice. Provide the same level of attentiveness and care on your last day that you provided on your first day. Not only is it the right thing to do; it will also leave a good impression with employers should you ever need a professional reference.

“Make it clear that you’re not going to duck out early from the notice that you gave; as long as you’re there, you’re there 100%,” says Rugg-Hinds. “Continue to not just do a good job but also keep an eye out for ways you can improve the bar and the bar program. Take the point of view that Boy Scouts do toward campsites: Leave every bar better than you found it.”

5. Keep It Classy

They say friends come and go, but enemies accumulate. In an industry where your reputation is everything, don’t allow a moment of unprofessional behavior to create long-lasting enemies that could limit you and your opportunities. “You never know where you’ll work in the future and with whom you will work, so always leave with class,” says Panagopoulos.

That means offering as much kindness as possible but also refraining from bashing or bad-mouthing your bosses and colleagues publicly or on social media. But in situations that were simply less than ideal, you’d rather have things fizzle out and move on than come across as petty or vindictive.

In cases where you’re leaving a job you truly loved, this could also mean offering helpful, constructive feedback about the job and the bar, if you’re in a position to do so. Continue to champion your former colleagues’ successes and speak highly of the bar you helped shape.