There are many ways to begin a career and most involve some sort of education at a dedicated program. Professional bartending is a little different. Though there are schools available that will give you a crash course, teaching you the basics of stirring, shaking, pouring, and run you through some memorization of popular cocktails, these are typically not the way to go if you want to be a pro behind the stick.
The question comes up to all of us in the field more often than we'd probably care. Though it is a viable one and I'm glad that it is asked because the majority of bartending schools are not what they're billed as and promises of great job opportunities afterward often go unfulfilled. This is not to say that there are some reputable schools available to learn the basics, but you need to be aware of the ones that are not.
Lance Mayhew took on this question in Is Bartending School Worthwhile? It's very clear that his experience has led to the same conclusion many of us have and he makes some valid points for those contemplating enrollment to consider that will save both time and money. I also have a list of bartending schools and training programs, though I cannot endorse any of them with the exception of training courses such as BAR and BarSmarts developed by mixologists I know. The best advice is to do your homework.
So, what does an aspiring bartender do? Nothing is better in this industry than real world experience and often that means taking the menial job of a bar back and working your way up through the ranks of the establishment. Studying is also helpful: learn drinks and spirits, practice techniques at home, and read as much as you can about the profession. Camper English recently wrote a piece on Alcademics that has more great advice, and there is no shortage of professional bartending discussion all over the internet.
Read more Professional Bartending articles here... including service tips, drinks to know, and advice from experienced bartenders and mixologists.
We'll be continuing the discussion on making this craft a career, but for now I'd like to know how you started bartending and if you have any advice for others.