Following on from the previous 3 Blogs, Another great way to make extra money as a Bartender is get on the Freelance circuit! Or picking up Hero & Rock Star Shifts.
What is Freelancing?!
Quite simply, it’s doing extra Bartending shifts on the side, quite often at higher rates of pay than normal high street bar jobs.
I remember my first 3 gigs well. 2004. I’d got my name on the list to work at the Brit Awards! Purely by luck and chance if I’m honest. This whole freelancing world was totally new to me. But at the Bar I trained at, there was a couple of lads that had worked the previous 2 years and worked a bit with the Events Company who had the gig. They put my name forward and I got a call from one of the Team Leaders. All’s I had to do was do a couple of smaller parties to prove that I was good at what I did. 2 low key corporate events…but this was my first experience at Event Bartending, which is a whole different skillset in itself. You go from making 3 different cocktails every 5/10 minutes, to making 100 Mojitos in 20 minutes!
After I passed those tests and became quite friendly with the Team Leaders, I was on for the Brits. A Tuesday night (my Day off anyway). Bonus! I had to be at Earls Court (sadly, non-existent anymore) by 2pm to get ready for a 7pm Start. Fruit and Garnishes needed Prepping. Stations needed setting up. Ice needed to be sent to each Bar. It was full on even before the guests started to arrive. Then it was even more full on!! It’s pretty safe to say I didn’t know my arse from my elbow for a good 9 hours or service. That included a quick taxi ride for 4 of us to serve at one of the After Parties.
I’ll never forget that night. Not because the Darkness seemed to be a permanent fixture on stage collecting awards, not even because I was this close to Beyonce for 5 minutes while she hung out with Alicia Keys and LL Cool J (plus an entourage of 20+) near the Bar. NO, it was the fact we didn’t finish till 4am, I hadn’t slept and I was due to be at my Bar, some 50+ miles away for 10am! Those Stansted Breakfasts were a life saver back in the day. (we didn’t have a direct train back to Cambridge until 6am ish, so we jumped on the Stansted Express from Liverpool Street, had 45 mins at Stansted to get a Cooked Brekkie before the other Stansted Express to Birmingham…stopping in Cambridge…left just after 5am.
So how do you get these kind of gigs, these days?!
Well, they’re still out there! LOADS of them. Very few Mobile Bar Companies have an endless number of Bartenders working full time. So when they get bigger gigs, they need more Bartenders. These Events can be anything from Weddings, to Birthdays, to Celebrity Events, to Corporate Events. Any Celebration that has drinks will normally have a Mobile Bar company running the event. So, you obviously need to get in with Mobile Bar Companies. Or even Agencies. But I’d advise going direct to a Company
A quick Google of “Mobile Cocktail Bars” will give you an endless list. Do your research, look at the bigger companies, then drop them a line offering your services. To give you some idea, in the earlier years of Thirst First when I did the bigger Events, I used to take on a couple of Bartenders for the odd bigger Corporate Event. I didn’t have enough work to employ Bartenders full time, so I used to rely on Freelancers to help me out.
I’m not going to list all the Companies, as you may be reading this in the future and they may not exist...for example, Shaker Events, big players during my early Bartending years are no longer. But currently you do have the likes of Coxtails, theBartender, Hire the Barman, Zest, Mix & Twist, Barz8 to name a few that all take on big events, that may appreciate a hand from time to time. So just drop them a line and see if you can help. Or at the very least, get some experience of Event Bartending.
The other way to get some of these Event Shifts, is to look at Facebook. At the time of writing this blog, there are some big groups on Facebook where I see Bartender Requests all the time. Bigger Groups are the IBA, Bartender and Mixologist, BarLifeUk, Worldwide Bartender Community. Some of the above companies that I’ve mentioned may also use this avenue, if they’re taking on Events outside of their area. They may need a team of Bartenders in London, if they’re based in Leeds (Yes I’m slipping a nod to you Mix and Twist).
Hero Shifts & Rock Star Shifts
I’ve mentioned Freelancing, but what are Hero Shifts and Rock Star Shifts?
Well, do you know what, I don’t have an official answer for this. I assume I’m correct and this definition is most definitely how I’ve known them for the bulk of my career. But like in all sayings, things get flipped up and meanings change over the years. But below is my interpretation!
A Hero Shift in my book is where you help out another Bar when they’re short. It could be shifts like New Year’s Eve. It could be the busy Festive season in the run up to Christmas. It could be because they’ve got a busy Summer event going on. Or it could simple be helping out when they’ve had a spate of illnesses and people calling in sick…normally after working 14 days straight during December!
I’ll be honest, I haven’t done a Hero Shift for years, mainly because I’m working most Friday & Saturdays anyway, so don’t have that free time. A lot of the Hero Shifters I see are Bartenders that left the game a while ago in favour of the 9-5 grind, but occasionally like a little bit of pocket money on the odd weekend.
Rock Star Shifts
Now, I have done a few of these over the last few years and come once you’ve built up a little bit of a brand for yourself. Basically, a Rock Star shift is a Bar using your Brand, Skills and Drinks to draw more people on a certain night. If you’re a big local name, then they may book you a month or so in advance and promote you being there to draw the crowds.
I’ve done 2 types of Rock Star Shifts over the last few years. I’ve done nights which has been all about me and my menu! I’ve created a one-off Cocktail menu for the evening. Then I’ve also done nights where 3 or 4 of us have been brought in to do the Bars Cocktail List, but we’re kind of there for our Skills, Flair and Customer Service…or in my case, Banter!!
The big difference between Hero Shifts and Rock Star Shifts for me are the £££. Hero Shifts will generally be lower hourly rates, maybe a few pennies above their normal rate of pay because they need shifts covering. However, if they are desperate, you are in a little bit of control here. You can always negotiate if they’re that desperate. Where as Rock Star Shifts are paying you to be an attraction, so will obviously pay more. But it’s also a 2-way street. Honestly, I’ve done Rock Star Shifts completely for free to help build my own brand. It can be great for new Facebook and Instagram Fans. Just remember to have a bit of branding about, so people can follow you. But normally, the followers come after interaction with guests. If you just serve them a Drink with no chat, you’re no different to the normal guy that serves them!
How do you get these shifts?!
Well, most Towns/Cities should by now have Facebook groups set up for industry banter. The Cambridge one “The Dead Liver Society” has been a thing now for at least 10 years that I know of and was started by a couple of Bartenders and a Bar hosting industry training nights. Now, it gets used for plenty of Hero Shift requests and Industry Tasting Nights.
As for Rock Star Shifts, this will come after you build your brand enough to be an attraction. But normally you’ll have to be the one planting seeds to the Bar. It can come after a little negotiation.
A piece of advice though...
Don’t just let the Bar do the promoting! It’s your brand too. You need to do as much promotion as the Bar, if not more. You need your fans and followers to be there. After all, what is the benefit to the Bar if they just get their normal regular customers. Yes, they want to give them a treat, but they are also paying you more money as they’re hoping you’ll bring in new faces! So, if the night fails, it’s as much on you as it is them!