Earn behind the bar

Julie Sickel

Kent State students are seeing some familiar faces downtown when they order their pitchers of Keystone and shots of tequila. Students 21 and older are returning to their favorite bars around Kent to earn money as bartenders.

“As a bartender, I get the best of both worlds,” said Olena Bodnaruk, a senior fashion merchandising major and bartender at 157 Lounge. “I get to go out, but I’m not really going out, I’m behind the bar, and I’m making money.”

With a busy schedule of classes and studying, bartending allows students like Bodnaruk to have a job that doesn’t interfere with their daytime agenda.

“It’s an advantage to be able to work late at night and do schoolwork during the day,” said Brandi Bright, a senior interior design major and bartender at Water Street Tavern. “It’s pretty short hours and what college kid goes to bed before 10 anyway?”

Like restaurant waiters and waitresses, the student bartenders make a majority of their paycheck from tips. However, unlike a restaurant, the bars offer shorter hours for employees, and there is less of a window for conflict with classes.

“You can work three hours a night and still make the same amount of money as someone who works a nine to five job all week,” Bright said.

Katie O’Neill, a senior fashion merchandising major and bartender at 157 Lounge, said she loves the atmosphere and the experience. “Bartending gets me through school and brings in good money, but I get to meet a lot of people and have a great time too.”

Bright explained that an advantage of bartending is that she gets to hang out with her friends while she’s working.

The bar managers and owners of Kent know the advantages hiring students can have on business.

“We hire students because the majority of our customers are students, and it makes more sense for a student to come in and see a familiar face behind the bar serving them,” said Mike Beder, owner of Water Street Tavern. “Student bartenders bring so much energy and enthusiasm to the job, and they draw their friends in.”

Beder also pointed out that many of the students that work for him are students who were patrons in the past.

“I think they like working in a place where they’ve also enjoyed hanging out,” Beder said.

A drawback to student bartenders attracting their friends to the bar during work hours is the age-old request for free drinks.

“It’s a problem, but we just can’t do it,” O’Neill said with a laugh. “As much as I would like to sometimes.”

Bright explains that she just gives customers “the look.”

“I don’t go to a shoe store and ask for free shoes, so don’t come to the bar and ask me for free drinks,” Bright said.

“When you hire people to draw people, there’s always a factor of losing product,” said Matt Guska, owner of 157 Lounge. “We have loss prevention for beers and alcohol to make sure they don’t give out stuff to their friends. It’s just part of the industry.”

For students looking to become bartenders in the future, it’s important to ask around and see what each bar looks for when hiring.

“We look for people with experience. It’s a lot less training on our part,” Beder said. “We look for people that can be thrown into the mix right away.”

Brewhouse Pub, on the other hand, focuses less on experience and more on general personality.

“We try to hire people that are very energetic; that aren’t shy,” said Kaitlin Rossi, Brewhouse manager. “It’s very high-paced so they have to be comfortable with taking lots of orders.”

Taking orders can leave bartenders with some worthwhile stories, though.

“There’s this one guy that comes in, and he puts his number on his receipt every time he comes in,” said Jamie Ackerman, a junior English major and Brewhouse bartender. “I haven’t called him, but he does it every single time.”

Bright shared that last Halloween her costume got ripped by one of the coolers behind the bar, which left most of her rear end exposed for the remainder of the evening.

“Luckily, everyone else was too obliterated to care,” Bright said.

Contact Julie Sickel at [email protected].