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Career Change At Age 40

Paul Costanzo – Happily Bartending At Age 60

A Stunning and Successful Career Change

Update–July 12, 2011. Two weeks ago Paul started his latest bartending job, at Seasons 52, the high end/restaurant/bar/wine bar just opened in Tysons Corner Mall.  Opening has been a huge success.  In a relatively short period Paul has progressed from student to bartender to “corporate bartender” which means he is getting corporate benefits on top of great tips.

Unlike any previous endeavor, when Paul Costanzo started his new job  friends, relatives, old colleagues, and coworkers exploded with a chorus of comments including…
“I’ve always wanted to do that…”
“I wish I could do that…”
“I’d like to do that….”
and how did you do that??”

The “that” in this case is bartending and those comments are to be expected when you, like Paul, are over 60 and spent 38 years in one industry. Rising through the ranks in the private and public sector, he’s been stationed nationally and internationally, and ran a major planning office while being responsible for the productivity of 75 staffers.

So how did a lifelong white-collar professional with a strong track record and a glowing resume find himself slinging drinks and loving it? Enter the recession. Like many others, when the economy tanked Paul’s job opportunities dried up and he found himself out of work.

He quickly realized the recession severely limited opportunities in his chosen profession, and that geting even an entry level job in the industry was unlikely. Not one to lament the uncontrollable, Paul moved on. He focused on a skill he always liked…the above referenced “that”/bartending. (It appears many of his old friends have held similar thoughts.)  Paul researched the field of bartending and bartender training  and ended up calling our bartending school. He spoke with our admission staff as well as our full time placement director. For Paul the key was that we offer continued placement assistance long after graduation. With that knowledge in hand, he took the plunge and enrolled.

Paul at Food Matters
One very happy bartender

Its now 9 months after he first started and Paul loves being a bartender. He’s progressed from his first position as a daytime bartender and now works in a solid bar with strong bar revenues and great regular customers. When asked about comparing it to his old professional 9 to 5 (or 6 or 7 or 8PM grind) Paul said something like….How is Bartending  BETTER

“I don’t go to bed worrying or thinking about my job, I don’t wake up worrying or thinking about my job. And I don’t put up with the complexities of corporate world nor do I have to be a boss.”

Paul regularly mediated on hot-button issues between powerful and opinionated people. He was in the middle of controversial topics all the time. It was financially and professionally rewarding. But a career like that has its price too.  It  wears on you and it had its impact on Paul.  Frankly, these days Paul enjoys bartending.

What was Bartending School Like

We provide a 40 hour program made up of 10 different 4 hour classes, each one primarily providing tremndous time and opportunity behind the bar in a hands-on environment.  Paul started class and quickly found he was the oldest student.  Not surprising.  But like any group environment he bonded with 3 other students.  Nine months later and he is still in touch with 2 of them.

Returning to school was unnerving.  Paul hadn’t spent extended time in a classroom in over 35 years:  however, bartending isn’t rocket science.  Like his fellow classmates, he proceeded through the entire program.  His hands-on efforts  included rotating behind the bar with his partners within the larger class:  sometimes he played the budding mixologist, other times the customer calling out requests for dirty martinis, sex on the beach and rum & cokes.  His main fear centered around making shooters.  Youk now those drinks with crazy names that 20′s and 30′s like to gulp down.  Needless to say, they were totally unfamiliar to Paul.    Nevertheless, Paul plowed through the program, and like many students was nervous before the final exams.  Of course, he passed, albeit with more than one try than he would liked…but not unusual for our grads.

Well its been 9 months and Paul has only served two shooters. Neither of them were among the popular and well known shooters  we teach or describe. But Paul found that the overall instruction was priceless. Paul handled the drinks exactly how his instructor, Patrick, suggested.  By asking his guests questions it enabled Paul to make an appropriate drink. In both cases they were a big success.

After graduation Paul did one thing which was very clever and always available: he kept in touch with  his instructor, Patrick. Both he and Pat have enjoyed the process. It has helped Paul immeasurably as he worked his way through bartending experiences and Patrick was able to watch his guidance come to fruition.  Strangely very few students take advantage of our on-going support.  From Paul’s perspective in that except for a very few people bartending school is a necessity.

Finding that bartending job

Paul was not complacent. You probably gather that much by now. He quickly found a job on his own which included using guidance from our placement office about the specifics of a bartender job search.

His first bartending position was as a daytime bartender at a new suburban restaurant, Ford’s Fish Shack in Ashburn.

Pauls first jobIn a very short time period this restaurant has become tremendously popular both for its food, service, and happy hour. But a day position like that is not the end of the road for most bartenders and certainly not for Paul. While it was a great way to get his feet wet in the industry, after a relatively quick 3.5 months Paul moved on. He quickly landed at a very solid restaurant/bar in Alexandria’s West End area in the Cameron Station neighborhood, Food Matters. Paul describes it as an organic specialty restaurant that serves as the Neighborhood Cheers. How is that for a unique description? Quickly Paul himself as their evening bartender going on for about 5 months. He is currently working in a bar and at a pace that reflects strong daily rings and consequently great tips. And that is all within the first 9 months. Fast work.

How does Paul characterize bartending and what advice does he have for others?  “Its fun and relatively easy”.  “You need a slightly thick skin.”  Just let the bar comments roll off your back, don’t worry about them, and come back the next day to serve those customers.  Very professional advice from a seasoned pro.

So what does Paul think about bartending and bartending school?

How did it help with his Career Change?

He states that bartending school is a necessity for most people. In Paul’s case it certainly worked out. Bartending so far has been a blast. He is relieved from the day to day headaches of an office job. Even as he has bar managers, managers and owners, Paul spends most of his time as his own boss. Customer service is the number one quality every bartender must possess and continually refine.   At his current bar the management is keenly aware of keeping their regulars happy, and when you get a sense of that Cheers-like environment Paul appears to meet those needs very well.

He loved the bartending classes, and specifically Patrick’s lessons. In fact he stated that it wasn’t as much the specific drink recipes that have stuck with him, but rather the “behind the scenes” comments about bartending and the real world of the business that were priceless and right on target. Whether in Maryland, DC, or Virginia, the instructors at this school know the industry.

Go Visit Food Matters

One of the chic things about Food Matters is that besides changing their menu monthly to work with the deliveries of organic food from local producers, they create a monthly cocktail that has been a big hit with the customers. Take April’s selection as an example of a creative tasty cocktail: The Bit Mo’ Honey/: tequila, Barejager Honey Liqueur, Koslsch Style Beer,Lemon, Honey, and Salted Rim. How is that for a creative cocktail? During March, to connect with St Patrick’s Day, the staff including Paul, designed a drink that included Jameson’s, vanilla and citrus vodka, with muddled ginger and ginger beer. It was very popular!!!  The restaurant is airy and attractive, there is plenty of parking and the combination of an “Everybody Knows Your Name” comfortable environment, with a wide selection of beers and wines, classic and artisan cocktails makes this an attractive bar/restaurant to visit!!

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