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from a Real Vegas Cocktail Waitress

 

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Judging from the number of e-mails I've received asking how to be a Vegas cocktail waitress, I can only assume that people aren't really reading my web site.  Or they're masochists.  Whatever.  So I've compiled a little guide as to how to break into the business.  Keep in mind, just like the rest of my web site, I'm not speaking as an authority on this topic, just from what I know to be true.

I'm not trying to be a bitch but please, please, please stop e-mailing me to ask questions I've already answered on this page.  Occasionally I get e-mails that ask a question I haven't answered.  Actually, I think I've gotten only one of those.  But others are more like the one I just received: "I'm only 19, can I be a cocktail waitress?"  Yes, dear, but you must move to Thailand.

You must be 21 years old or older.

This seems like a given, but you never know.

Get your cards.

You will need two work cards: a health card and an alcohol awareness card.

A health card can be obtained by going to the Health Department, paying a $35.00 fee, watching a movie on safe food handling, and getting a shot.  They used to let you pay $5.00 and skip the movie, but now you are forced to sit through the 2-hour snoozer.  They give you a schedule of movie times, and it's also available in Spanish.  You might want to watch the Spanish one just for kicks.  Anyway, like the DMV, the line is usually long and you can't make an appointment, so be prepared to waste a few hours there.  You have to renew the card every 3 years.  Be careful of the V.D. clinic just down the hall.

An alcohol awareness card can be obtained by attending a class given by any certified instructor.  The most well-known in town is TAM of Nevada, but there are others that may cost less and the classes are less crowded.  There is a fee and the class is roughly 4 hours.  The instructor will give you the basics of the laws of NV, how to spot a drunk, underage drinking, and you may have to watch a movie.  At the end of the class you will be given a test which you have to pass.  Everyone passes.  You can call to get class times and fees, and they don't take reservations.  The cards have to be renewed every 5 years  The renewal class is 2 hours.

Cocktail waitresses used to also be required to have a Sheriff's card, but that no longer applies.  However, bartenders still have to have these.  For jobs that require a Sheriff's card, you have to be hired first before you can get a referral to get one.

You will have to take a picture for these cards too, so smile pretty!

I suggest that you have these cards in hand when you apply for a job.  The applications will ask if you have them and what your I.D. numbers are.  If you are hired, you'll have to get these cards for sure, so it always looks better if you're already prepared.  Also, if it's between you and another girl for the job and you have your cards, that may be the deciding factor.  You will never do worse by being more prepared.

Join the union.

Whether or not you are a "union" person, joining the Culinary Union will help you tremendously when applying for a job.  Most of the big casinos are union, which means they can only hire union members.  Union dues are taken out monthly as a payroll deduction.  If you decide to work at a non-union casino, being part of the union won't hurt you, so that won't matter.

When you join the union, they will send you out to casinos that are hiring.  Even though you can't afford to be too picky at this point, ask if the casino is in a "safe" location, or if you want to be blunt, if it's a dive.  No job is worth your risking your safety, and chances are, if it's not on or near the south side of The Strip (starting from Sahara Ave.), or a big casino downtown, or another "well-known" name, you'd be better off waiting for another job opening.  Or if you want to see for yourself but feel scared for your life as you're driving there, turn around, go home and call the union and tell them that you wouldn't feel safe working there.  They will understand, believe me!  Having said that, most nicer and bigger casinos won't even interview you if you don't have at least 6 months casino cocktailing experience.  (The union will only send you to a casino to fill out the application, they don't set up interviews.)  This means that even if you've cocktailed or bartended somewhere else for your whole life, it may not mean a damn thing to a casino.  It's just a different atmosphere and procedure when you're working in a place where you have to work with so many departments, laws, and being inundated with people from all over the world.

You can apply on your own without a referral from the union, but it may be a waste of time.  If you do go door-to-door you may find that most casinos won't even let you fill out an application if they're not currently hiring for cocktail waitresses.  You can apply at non-union places too, of course, but they will probably also want 6 months experience.  Most casinos have a web site, so you can fill out an application online.

There are a couple of ways you can join a union casino without joining the union first.  If you are juiced in or just lucky enough to be hired, you will be sent to the union afterwards to join, then you can be officially hired.  If a casino hasn't opened yet and is taking applications, they can hire whoever they want.  After they open, you have the option of joining the union if you want to.  It's very hard to get into a brand new casino.  Most of them hire or transfer employees from other properties, and they can get 30,000 or more applications for new hires.

A little known fact, one that the union doesn't want people to know, is that once you are hired at a union casino, you can drop out of the union and stop paying dues and it will have no affect on your employment status.  You will also continue to receive all the benefits of a union employee including the pay rate, insurance, and union representation.  So why stay in the union?  I look at it as the right thing to do.  There are very different opinions as to just how useful a union is, and I'm not interested in debating the issue here, so let's just say my opinion is if you're benefiting from their services, you should pay the dues.  Here is their web site for more information.

Get juiced in.

If you get juiced in, you don't have to worry about experience or the union.  Depending on how high up your juice is, you may have to prove yourself to keep your job once you're in.  If you're the casino owner or CEO's daughter, you're probably untouchable.  But then, why the hell would you want to cocktail for a living?  If you're a friend of the beverage manager's neighbor, you may get the job, but it'll be up to you how long you'll keep it.  If you do get juiced in, no matter who you know, do yourself a favor and keep that information to yourself.  Eventually word will get around, but it's just in bad taste to flaunt it.  And if for some reason your juice gets fired or leaves, your job may now be in jeopardy if people don't like you.  If a casino really wants to get rid of you, they can.  This is a right to work state, so be a good worker if you really want to keep your job.

Are you a pothead, Focker?

Drug tests are mandatory, so kiss Mary Jane good-bye.  I'm not sure how far back the tests can go, but they test your hair, and I've heard it's got a six month history.  If you have to smoke pot for medical reasons, I'm not sure how that's handled.  The lab techs aren't interested in hearing your sob stories, so don't even bother.  And by the way, those pills that promise to erase all traces of drugs are a scam.

Prescription drugs shouldn't be a problem.  They don't tell you what they're looking for, but I'm assuming it's just recreational illegal drugs.  They have to pay for each drug being tested, so I can't imagine that they say, "Test for everything."

How's your credit?

They will run a background check on you including your credit report and criminal activities.  Bad credit may not hurt you, but filing bankruptcy could.  I guess they assume that anyone who files bankruptcy may be desperate for money and be at a higher risk for theft.  They say that an arrest won't affect your employment chances.  Yeah, right.  However, be truthful on your application because they'll find out anyway.  "I had to butcher my ex-husband 86 times and stuff his family jewels in his mouth in self defense because he wrote me out of his will," is a perfectly understandable predicament.

Buy a tray.

There is a restaurant supply store on the same street as the Culinary Union that has everything you need for cocktailing.  Buy a rectangular brown tray, not the neon or round ones.  I have a round neon-orange/pink tray that I sometimes use, but I wouldn't recommend it for you.  Don't be a rebel just yet!  Also, buy a cash caddy or tip jar.  There is another thing I highly recommend: a book called How to Become a Casino Cocktail Waitress.  (I know this book is unavailable from Amazon.com now, but it may still be available at the restaurant supply store.  I don't receive, and never have received, any money or kickbacks from recommendation or sales of this book.  As far as I know, the author has no idea who I am.)  I bought this book when I got my first job here.  It's written by an ex-cocktail waitress and it's not very long, it's more like a handbook.  But it gave me so much information as to the calling order of drinks, basic drink garnishes, the different glasses each drink goes in, and other basics such as sidework, dealing with other employees, and even a little history of wines and bourbons and such.  I read that book until it almost fell apart.  I was determined to not be the new girl who didn't know what she was doing.  The more prepared you are, the more your co-workers will like working with you and will have patience when you do ask questions.

At the interview.

Dress nice but not stiff.  I don't know if a plunging neckline or short skirt will help or hurt, I assume it can go either way depending on where you're applying and who's interviewing you.  Here's a tip: if you're applying at a non-union casino, they will most likely make you do a "uniform fitting" where you try on a uniform and they can see what you look like in it.  Union casinos are not allowed to do this, at least none of the union casinos I've applied at have done it.

Being a flirty ditz at the interview is not the way to go.  You may get a date with the beverage manger, but you won't get the job!  Whether you have experience or not, you should know the basic ingredients of most drinks and their garnishes.  Most casinos don't have pineapples or umbrellas or celery, unless you're working in a specialty bar or restaurant, so knowing that a lime goes in a Bloody Mary may not seem like a big deal, but it's something you should know.

If you have no cocktailing experience you could possibly "wow" your interviewer by offering your knowledge of drinks and calling order.  If you have cocktailed or bartended before, stress your knowledge in what you know.  Tell them you are available to work any shift and don't mind working the lounges or pool.  They are not allowed to ask you questions about your age or marital status, but you can offer information such as, "I'm only 23 and I want to concentrate on taking care of myself so I don't have time for a boyfriend or even think about getting married and having kids."  Who cares if that's true or not, it sounds good.  If you do get hired, they'll never remember what you said.  Availability and reliability are top priorities, so if you have a perfect attendance record from your previous job, make sure to say that or show proof if possible.  Be eager but not desperate.

Regardless of all this advice,  I think the determining factor of whether you will be hired or not comes down to if the interviewer "likes" you.

I'm a guy and I want to be a cocktail waitress!

There are only two places I know of that have male cocktail servers.  One is The Rio, but they are known as Bevertainers, where they dance every once in awhile, so they are not cocktail waitresses in the traditional Vegas definition.  The other place is Bally's, where both the male servers are gay, so that may be a requirement.  I'm kidding of course (they really are gay), but I don't know if they still work there.  They had been there since the place opened, when Bally's used to be the old MGM.  Other than that, I'm afraid you guys are shit out of luck.  "But isn't that discrimination?!"  Yeah, I'm sure it is.  But no employer is required to hire anyone, so unless you can prove that someone was stupid enough to actually say to you, "We can't hire you because you are male," you'd have a hard time winning your case.

Can you afford to do this?

There's no question that once you get established or are working consistently that you will be comfortable financially, but at the beginning you will most likely be working only a couple days a week in the "worst" areas and shifts.  Some casinos will "train" you for a week or two, even if you've been in the business for years, just so you know their way of doing things.  You will probably be assigned another cocktail waitress as your trainer, and during this time, if she allows you to serve her customers, you will have to give her whatever tips you receive.  Even if you are juiced in you have to start at the very bottom of the Extra Board, which means you will have to be available to work any shift, including a lot of graveyards, and may have to come to work on just a few hours notice.  You will be filling in for girls who go on vacation, have asked for days off, or have called in sick.  The Extra Board gets a weekly schedule, but being on the very bottom may mean that you have no work scheduled and will be on call the entire week.  Your time and life are not your own, and your sleep may suffer, as well as your personal life.  If you have a jealous boyfriend, a baby to take care of, or just like to party, you will have to make sacrifices for this job.  If you get hired during the slow months you may not work for weeks at a time!  And if for some reason there's a lay-off, you'll be the first to go.  And finally, during the first 120 days you are on probation, which means they can fire you for any or no reason, and even the union can't help you there.

So before you quit your job and pack your bags for Vegas, consider the realities of what you're up against.  Have a backup plan, like a sugar daddy.  If you still decide to take the plunge, good luck and I wish you the best!