Students cash out with bartending jobs


With their finances on the rocks during college years, bartending offers students the perfect pour for their wallets’ thirst. 

Due to the prevalence of tip-heavy salaries in bartending jobs, calls it one of the top part-time gigs for college students. Pennsylvania is one of 24 states where the minimum age to bartend is 18, according to the Alcohol Policy Information System, which is a project of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. For students at Pitt and their peers across the country, bartending promises a steady flow of cold, hard cash for people not yet of the legal drinking age. Yet, the decision to hire underage bartenders ultimately lies with the individual bar owners and managers, and, for some students, bartending leaves a hangover of conflicted emotions. 

While Amanda Boutain couldn’t legally drink the butter shots, mint and Kahlua she served in her small town bar in Minnesota, the drinks helped the then 19-year-old student put herself through college. Boutain, now 21, is a graduate of Ridgewater College, located in Willmar, Minn.

Similarly, Taylor Knight, a Texas native, now 22, dealt with her alcohol inexperience as she began bartending at the age of 18. 

“A friend of mine opened a bar and needed bartenders. I had zero experience and hadn’t even been inside a bar before. It was intimidating but exciting. I chose to take the job because it sounded like fun and I had friends who told me about the money they made bartending,” Knight said. “I was intrigued.”

Adam Reed, an officer working with the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (BCLE), said underage bartenders occassionally violate liquor laws by drinking on the job, but added that it’s not a commonly reported occurrence. 

“The minimum age was established when the law was enacted. I can’t speculate as to why that age was chosen,” Reed said. “It’s not a common problem. The violation is discovered on occasion, however.”

Underage violations by underage drinkers, though, are much more common than by underage bartenders, according to Stackiewicz.  

“I’ve got BLCE in here all the time,” Stackiewicz said. “If an underage [drinker] gets caught they get a $1,000 fine and I get a $1,500 fine. I don’t think a lot of people know that.”

Unlike Boutain and Knight’s bartending gig, Peter’s Pub in Oakland doesn’t hire underage bartenders. 

Andrew Stackiewicz, general manager of Peter’s, prefers of-age bartenders because he said underage bartenders may not be mature enough. 

“Mainly, they don’t know a lot about alcohol to begin with,” Stackiewicz said. 

Knight said she felt uncomfortable being the youngest in an atmosphere that was mostly, if not all, over the drinking age.

“Bartenders are allowed to take shots with their customers, with managers’ approval, and I obviously couldn’t do that,” Knight said. “I feel like that may have affected my tips as well. Customers couldn’t connect with me. Most saw me as the baby.”

Regardless, Knight said she found the job to be a positive experience while making “good money.”

“It’s a great way to meet people and have some fun,” Knight said. “You’re making money, too.”

After a few months, Boutain decided to leave the bar where she was working.  

“I left because the job started to change me. I started doing things I normally wouldn’t have been OK with. The people were nice, but the atmosphere was hard for me,” she said. “I ended up getting drunk for the first time. I hated it.”

Despite the struggles, Boutain said, the money was good and she made lots of tips on a busy night. 

“One of the best parts of the night was leaving on a busy night with a hundred dollars in [my] pocket,” she said.

Monetary benefits aside, Boutain eventually decided that, for her, it wasn’t worth the sacrifices she had to make.

“I let the job affect my studying and I ended up dropping out of a class, and it was just really bad. It made me not want to go to school,” Boutain said. “I would go to school in the morning and then work in the afternoon. I wouldn’t get home until 3 a.m.,” Boutain said.  

Boutain said before one can work as a bartender underage, one must be prepared to handle the environment. 

“I feel like it would be different if I did it now because I’m very different than I was when I was 19,” Boutain said. “I’ve learned a lot and I know who I am now. As a teenager, you’re still trying to figure out who you are and you’re kind of lost. You just want everyone to like you. I think I would not give in so easily now that I’m older.”