Surviving Bar-Work When You Don’t Want to Do Fucking Bar-Work

By Liv Wynter



Sometimes the hardest part about bar work can be the insufferable nature of the customers. None of the Millwall fans are going to care about my pronouns, my boss might be clued up on feminism but he doesn’t like homeless people, and I serve unfathomable amounts of tories and BNP members. In my community, in my home-life, in my friendship groups, I’m committed to calling-in and discussing shit behaviour. I am committed to bystander intervention, both at work and in public spaces. However, conversations with a man whose so coked up he’s eating his own cheeks whilst he stutters out ‘what does trans even mean’ is absolutely not my form of direct action. Try and only have political conversations with people that are going to actually remember them, or else you’re just wasting your time and using up your own capacities.


My first full-time bar job had basically no perks, but I didn’t know any better when I was 17 and just happy to be working. My next bar job had perks that were not only valuable to me as someone who likes to drink (Jager bombs on shift, 25% off all drinks) but were valuable to me as an artist. This was a wakeup moment for me where I realised that rather than a coffee job or working in retail (I suck at both), bar-work  was going to actually be a good way to research my personal practice. I got a job in a theatre bar, where I was able to see live performance constantly. I suggest, if you’re gonna be creative and work in a bar, try and work in a theatre bar. Everyone that works there is a suffering artist – you’ll be right at home.


I’m a writer, and I’m very lucky now to have a pub job where the pub is full of incredibly interesting regulars who don’t give a shit about art but do give a shit about me and what I’m up to. This means I get to speak about my practice, and ask questions and develop ideas, in a completely non pretentious space. I’m also a story teller, so working in an Irish pub full of drunk Irish men is potentially the best research space I could find.


Working in bars is fundamentally shit, so make sure that you drink for free when no-ones watching, take the tips your offered from sleazy guys and put them straight in your pocket, and if your boss is a cunt (and there’s no cctv), just steal straight from the till. You aren’t paid enough, your time isn’t valued enough, and you don’t owe anyone shit. If you work for a chain then you’re definitely not being respected the way you deserve, so I suggest covering the bathroom with anti-fascist or very political stickers, maybe form a union, who knows. Make the most of it.


Working anywhere full-time makes it very easy to start believing the bullshit, getting invested in the drama, so it’s vital for your survival and well-being you remind yourself that chances are, when you eventually quit, you won’t see any of those people again! Enjoy their company, of course, and enjoy pints with em – but don’t get upset if Chris who’s training to be an actor is annoyed you put your bag on his coat. Fuck Chris. And fuck his coat.


It’s easy to let partying become your life and get lost in the sea of constant free – or at least cheap – booze. Its also easy to end up working 16 hour days, drinking just to fall asleep, burning up and burning out and essentially losing your mind. There’s no other job in the world where we care so little about each other’s substance abuse and mental health – and a functioning alcoholic is still an alcoholic. Try and make sure you’re not drinking to survive the day.


Let’s be real, you work on a bar because you like to party! So if you’re gonna work hard, play hard. The bar I work in at the moment has a dedicated Sunday Sesh, where all the staff get together on Sunday night and get outrageously drunk over a few bottles of Jamesons. We also, sometimes, if its been a really hectic night, sneak our way into the trashy club over the road for the final few hours of service. These moments of comradery are really fun and important – enjoy them! Just try not to let them happen every day.


Don’t let your partner (who secretly thinks their job is way more important than yours) expect you to move your shifts or take the night off work, or suddenly be super available every weekend because they work a 9 to 5 and wanna hang out with you on Saturday night. Your work is how you pay the bills and although it might not be impossible to swap a shift, do that shit on your own terms and because you want to.


This is one I’m still learning but I think a really good tip for being bar staff – when it gets shit, quit. That business isn’t invested in you, so you don’t need to be invested in it and you definitely don’t need to stick around when the shit hits the fan and the perks start dropping off. If your free drinks or staff discount suddenly disappear, go find somewhere that does both. Your skills are completely transferable, the wages are all the same, so work somewhere that’s better than the last place – and don’t feel guilty for leaving and doing whats right for you.


If what you want to be is the manager of a bar, or a publican, or a brewer, then props to you stick at your bar job chase the dream etc. But if in your heart what you want to do is be an artist, or a musician, or a carer, or a teacher, or a fucking astronaut – don’t let your bar job get in the way. These kind of jobs rely on you desperately needing the money and getting swallowed in to their system. Try to resist this as much as possible. Prioritise the things that really matter to you, try and use your time off to chase the dream, and cancel your shift to play that show if you can afford to do it. You are a fucking person in the world, and you are so much more than the pints you pull.


Liv Wynter is an artist, educator and bar-worker based in South East London. 


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