Student bartenders say ‘family’ atmosphere among coworkers makes job worthwhile

Despite low wages and long hours, students say service industry is a good place to work

More stories from Courtney Kueppers



In Wisconsin’s drinking culture, bartender jobs are far from scarce. Students who work as bartenders say the job is fun, a learning experience.

“You guys want another one?” a 22-year-old barman asks a pair of patrons on a run-of-the-mill Wednesday night on Water Street.

The bartender, Ryan Peterson, mixes drinks behind Dooley’s Pub’s long wooden bar with ease. When it comes to the restaurant industry, Peterson is a seasoned veteran. He has spent nearly half of his yet youthful life working in restaurants. From bussing tables, to manning the grill, Peterson said “there’s not much I haven’t done.”

He landed the gig at Dooley’s, 442 Water St., three years ago, and despite the late night shifts, Peterson said the relationships he has with his coworkers and customers makes the toil worthwhile.

The senior information systems  and accounting student is far from being the only Blugold to bartend. Up and down either side of Water Street and across town bars are tended by students looking to make a dime.

Ryan Peterson, a senior information systems and accounting student, has worked at Dooley's since his sophomore year. Peterson has worked in a variety of restaurants since grad school.
Ryan Peterson, a senior information systems and accounting student, has worked at Dooley’s since his sophomore year. Peterson has worked in a variety of restaurants since grad school.

Consistently ranked on “best college jobs” by outlets such as DailyFinance and PayScale, being a bartender while going to school is generally accepted as a good way to make money, hang out with pals and snag free food.

But the job yields downsides as well. Trying to sweep up broken glass in a Friday night crowd, cleaning up puke and dealing with drunkards are all horror stories Peterson has endured in his bartending tenure, but those cons are few compared to the pros of the gig, he said.

Donning a black hat, glasses and a Minnesota Wild shirt Peterson said, “we’re like a family here,” while motioning to three fellow employees bellied up at the bar hanging out on a night off.

Across the street and up a block, Liz Kinderman has the same sentiments to say about the bar she mixes up cocktails at. While The Pickle, 341 Water St., and Dooley’s are largely accepted as being worlds a part in terms of atmosphere, both Peterson and Kinderman said it’s the family of their coworkers that makes the gig great.

“I love them all,” Kinderman raved about her coworkers, about half of whom are university students. “I would go to extreme measures to make sure they are OK.”

Known most notably for its cheap drinks and the wheel you get to spin on your birthday in hopes of winning big, Kinderman said she knows The Pickle has a reputation as a “dive bar.” Despite that, she wouldn’t change her job for anything.

The sophomore has worked at Water Street’s infamous establishment since April and said it has taught her lessons of perseverance and patience, noting she’s learned to defend herself when necessary and other times just brush off rude comments that come her way.

“It teaches you to be personable, to be understanding,” she said. “I have gained a lot of respect for myself.”

The Pickle was Kinderman’s bartending debut.

Yet, going to work is never much of a chore, she said.

“The job is hard, but what you do is fun,” she said. “I play whatever music I want to, I’m social with whoever comes in. It’s fun, I can never really complain about anything there.”

Kinderman, a Water Street novice, and Peterson the veteran said one misconception about their jobs is that they too are always drinking.

Kinderman said she can’t drink on the job since she’s not yet 21. And Peterson, despite being keeper of the booze, said it’s a rarity that he even has one mix drink while on the clock, and he doesn’t do shots with customers.

The pair are part of a larger demographic of 267,600 Wisconsinites who work in the service industry, according to National Restaurant Association.

The workforce in Wisconsin’s more than 11,000 pubs, restaurants and bars accounts for nine percent of the state’s population.

Peterson, who started his career at a small summer burger and ice cream place in Land O’Lakes called Dari Maid Drive In, which his parents own and operate, said restaurants are all he has ever really known.

He’s seen people buy $300 or more rounds for all of Dooley’s and he’s seen drunkards act a fool. Through the ups and downs of it, his time at Dooley’s has been brought him his fondest Eau Claire memories, he said.

Still unchecked on that restaurant bucket list is being the owner of his own place, however, after seeing the day to day grind the Dooley family endures for their pub, Peterson isn’t so sure his name will ever be on the door.

“It consumes your life,” he said. “You can make money doing it, but …
you’re going to be there every day … every single day.”