Female bartender holding a boston shaker.

Bartender Certification: Do You Need A License to Serve?

4 Min Read

In the final installment of our bartender series, we tackle one of the most important topics about working as a bartender: certification.

In our ongoing series, we’ve tried to answer as many questions as possible about becoming a bartender. We’ve examined pros and cons, the types of bartending jobs out there, and the tools of the bartending trade. We’ve run through what it takes to build a solid bartender resume and what bar employers look for when hiring. We also examined the question of whether or not bartending school was required or simply a nice-to-have. Now that you have all those answers, there may be one more question remaining: do you need a certificate to be a bartender?

The answer is that it depends on where you are – requirements vary by location. In many states, certification is mandated by the local liquor authority, requiring by law that anyone serving alcoholic beverages or supervising servers of alcoholic beverages be trained and certified.

In California, for example, requirements are wide-reaching. With the passage of Assembly Bill 1221 in 2017, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control developed a training and certification program for Responsible Beverage Service (RBS). As of July 1, 2022, this certification became a legal requirement for all on-premises alcohol servers, for those responsible for checking ID for admission into a licensed establishment, like bouncers, and for managers of servers.

If you don’t complete training and RBS Certification, you cannot legally work as a bartender in California.

As another example, the state of Michigan requires on-premises licensees and their supervisory personnel to complete alcohol server training from a provider that’s been approved by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC). Each shift during alcohol service hours requires supervisors (at a minimum) who have successfully completed this training.

If you are a bartender in Michigan, be sure to speak to your manager to confirm requirements.

No matter your location, obtaining a certificate in bartending/alcohol service is considered an industry best practice, and it is recommended for all bartenders and alcohol serving staff.

What is required to get a bartender certification?

To obtain a certificate in bartending in your state, you have to complete a training program and pass a final exam. For many states, the exam is administered by the training provider, but for some states, like California, the exam is administered through the liquor authority. Be sure to look up the requirements in your state to ensure you’re finding the right, government-approved program, and that you understand exam requirements.

The training program covers all aspects of the safe service of alcohol, including:

  • Understanding your role as a bartender, and the positive and negative impacts of alcohol consumption
  • Impacts of alcohol on the body and how to avoid overservice or serving those already intoxicated
  • State laws and regulations, your legal responsibilities, and the role of the liquor authority
  • Intervention techniques, including how to check I.D. and how to manage difficult customers

As mentioned above, once you’ve completed a training program, you will be required to take and pass a final exam to obtain your bartending certificate. Userve’s alcohol server courses also include course notes and additional materials to help you pass your exam and for future use on the job.

Bartender certification isn’t required in my state… Should I still get it?

Yes. As we have mentioned throughout our bartender series, there are upsides to getting your alcohol service or bartender certificate, even if you’re in a state that doesn’t require it by law. First and foremost, this training enables you to do your job better. Also, certified bartenders are more appealing to hiring managers, since they can show proof of the skills and knowledge to serve alcohol safely. State laws and compliance requirements often change, so becoming certified ensures that you will be ready and employable, no matter what the local requirements. Having a bartender certification even has a positive impact on your salary.

To find the alcohol service training program in your state, visit our course page by clicking below, and be sure to check out the rest of our series for more on becoming a successful bartender.

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