For student bartenders, a balancing act

Student bartenders learn to balance schoolwork and working in Philly’s nightlife.

For Stephen Recchia, happy hour is not the tell-tale sign of a long day of school coming to an end—it’s when he clocks in.

Recchia can be found pouring and mixing at Fado, a popular Irish pub on Locust Street near 15th. If you’re interested, he said he’ll “talk your ear off” about beer, from local brews to European pints.

Recchia, a junior film and media arts major, balances part-time schoolwork with full-time bartending.

“Fado is pretty much my staple in the industry, but I have worked for Cavanaugh’s River Deck and pull some guest gigs sometimes in the city as well as in the suburbs,” Recchia said. “I’ve done some private event stuff too.”

Managing multiple customers has become a challenge Recchia is accustomed to after two years in the industry.

“I can take three orders and compliment you on your T-shirt while singing to the new Justin Bieber track,” Recchia said. “I have fun, but try to be as efficient and steadfast as possible.”

He didn’t always handle large crowds with such ease. Recchia said the best experience he got was through bar-backing—watching the bartenders work and asking them questions.

“You’re not going to become a good bartender by taking a one-week course for $100,” Recchia said. “You need to be covered in beer, picking exploded glass out of your hand while taking three drink orders, all the while having to pee, to be good. You’ll get there with time.”

Junior journalism major Shannon Hurley, a bartender at Fette Sau in Fishtown, said one of the biggest misconceptions about student bartenders is they’re only in it for the tips.

“That’s a huge part of the job obviously, but speaking for myself, I genuinely love talking to people, getting to know them and making them great drinks,” Hurley said. “It bothers me when people think I am being fake friendly just to get a decent tip out of someone.”

For Hurley, bartending fell into her lap after a bartender at the restaurant quit. Ten percent of the job, Hurley said, is making the drink, but 90 percent is the social skills that make the customer’s experience enjoyable.

Though there is no “typical day in the office” for a bartender, Recchia said the most typical nightlife atmosphere can be seen on Friday or Saturday night around 11 p.m.

“Behind the bar, it’s loud and you can’t see that well,” Recchia said. “It’s all a part of the overdrive you’re about to shift gears into. Speed and precision become the policy while clear eye contact and lip reading becomes a skill.”

While Recchia enjoys making drinks, he says it’s just as important to be good at networking as it is to make a cocktail.

“Sure, you make the meanest alcoholic root beer float, but if you’re only posting your check-ins at work and not out there drinking and meeting people in other bar scenes, you’re not going to be much of name, are you?” Recchia said.

Logan Beck can be reached at

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