5 Ways Bartending Prepares You for a Career in Sales



It’s often debated: everyone should work in the service industry at least once in their early career. Those who agree believe service work teaches social and emotional intelligence. In my experience, these soft skills are invaluable, in and out of the hospitality industry.

At the age of 15, I plunged head first into the hospitality scene as a busboy. By the end of my (unintentionally long) 11-year journey, I found myself creating high-end craft cocktail menus at rooftop bars for the business and social elite. Whether it was the classic encouragement from guests, “you’re destined for something great” or the sub-par tips received along the way, I learned a thing or two about people, society, and, of course, myself.

After my hospitality career, I’ve succeeded in multiple roles in sales development within the highly competitive SaaS space. Sure, the numerous sales methodology classes I’ve taken, countless sales enablement meetings and constant testing of “best-practices” have all aided to my success. But I owe my foot-in-the-door and raw knowledge to my background in the service industry.

In this blog, you’ll find five reasons working in hospitality creates a solid foundation for successful sales professionals.

Host-based Mentality

It is necessary for guests of a restaurant to feel comfortable from the time they walk up to the host-stand to the time they walk out the door, and every moment in between. There is a similar correlation in sales. When a prospect first interacts with your brand to the time they sign their renewal, and all of the interactions along the way. The customer should be carefully guided through the sales cycle with their needs as the priority. They should be pointed in the direction of a solution that not only meets their requirements but offers a vision of future options. And this should be done with THEIR timeline in mind.

“Manhattan or Martini; Vodka or Gin”

As a bartender, I always responded to the inevitable question of “What do you recommend?” with another question: “What do you like?” Rather than spitting out a drink recipe, it’s best to do a little discovery of your guests/prospects so you can tailor an experience to their unique taste, needs, or business model. Doing your due diligence in discovery ensures the alignment of problems and solutions resulting in more meaningful product demonstrations or pitches.

“Empty Your Mind, Be Formless, Shapeless–Like Water”

Hospitality and sales professionals must have thick skin to be successful. The amount of rejection and disappointment they go through on a daily basis can be crushing to anyone’s soul. Bartenders are constantly told a drink tastes bad or forced to run to and from a freezer to restock their supplies because something didn’t go as planned. This especially translates to the sales development role considering the many times SDRs are hung-up on during their cold calls or berated with not-so-professional words via email.

<Insert Inspirational Quote Here>

Get up and grind! Bartenders are known to go weeks without a day off, yet still find time to maintain a social life in the late hours of the night. All too often sales role descriptions say they are looking for a “self-starter,” “team player,” “willingness to go above and beyond,” the list goes on and on.  There are three things I learned in the hospitality industry which have translated directly into my work ethic as a sales professional: D.E.A–Drive, Enthusiasm, and Accountability. The drive to get to work early, hit the phones, and leave after everyone else. The enthusiasm to continue learning about a skill or industry—resulting in consultative sale cycles with a high propensity to close. Accountability to learn from mistakes and turn them around into success in the future. It’s not the easiest way to learn, but it’s certainly effective.

Please Sign on the Dotted Line

Working corporate events provides access to C-level executives on a daily basis. Not only are you upselling them from the bottle of box-worthy merlot to a 2009 Chateauneuf-du Pape (fancy French wine) prior to the event, you’re asking them to pay for it at the end. Asking for payment is the quintessential function of making any sale. One thing that seems to resonate with all executives is they want to be treated like any other normal person because they are normal people (in most cases) with high-brow titles. Knowing how to interact with executives breaks down barriers and relieves the anxiety some sales professionals struggle with their entire careers.

To those recent graduates who think they aren’t qualified for a position in sales because they lack professional experience, and to those hiring managers who are “on-the-fence” about a candidate because they worked in a different industry,  I hope this list provides clarity of the value a hospitality professional can bring to any sales organization.

Former hospitality professionals (and those who have hired hospitality veterans!) let me know your experiences with making the transition from hospitality to sales in the comments below.