In this post, we provide an easy guide on how to become a bartender.
Thinking of becoming a bartender but unsure where to start? We’ll talk through each of the recommended steps, tips to keep in mind if you’re taking the plunge, and supporting resources to help you along the way.
What does being a bartender entail?
First, it’s important to start with an understanding of the role. You’ve likely seen bartenders in their element – pouring beers, fancily shaking martinis, adorning the rims of glasses with just the right garnishes to make the perfect cocktail – but is there more to it? What about behind the scenes? What else is involved in the role?
The role of bartender can be demanding, both physically and mentally. Responsibilities are varied and include the following:
- Pouring, mixing and serving drinks
- Taking customer orders, answering questions and addressing concerns
- Checking customers’ IDs
- Observing customers for signs of intoxication/avoiding over-service
- Managing payment and point-of-sale system
- Taking inventory and assisting with ordering
- Ensuring the bar is stocked and moving/re-stocking as needed
While the job can be demanding, it’s also very rewarding. The ability to earn tip income is strong and the role has a good economic outlook with the number of bartending positions projected to increase by over 30% by 2030.
For a few more pros and cons to consider, check out our blog below. Ready to become a bartender? For the first step, read on.
Related Blog: Pros and Cons of Bartending
1: Get Your Diploma or GED
The first recommended step in how to become a bartender is to obtain a high school diploma or GED. High school courses like math and accounting can help prepare you for working with cash and balancing inventory. Social studies can help you develop the skills needed to interact and engage effectively with different types of people. Elective courses like computer studies and food and nutrition can also contribute to the skills you’ll need as a bartender.
2: Consider Bartending School
The role of bartender doesn’t require formal education, but for those just starting out, bartending school can be a very viable option. It allows you to gain some experience before starting the job, particularly if you have no prior service or hospitality exposure. Additionally, going to bartender school offers a great way to learn from experts, in a focused environment, without the hecticness of a busy Saturday night loaded with bar patrons.
Courses can be taken online or in-class (handy if you want experience with a full bar set-up) and range in duration from days to weeks. The curriculum can vary from just the basics to more advanced techniques and learnings. There is a cost associated with bartender school, but depending on your needs, learning style and desired experience, it’s a worthwhile investment. For more information, see our related post.
Related Blog: Should I Go to Bartending School?
3: Get Alcohol Server Training and Certifications
Alcohol server or responsible beverage service training teaches bartenders practical lessons that help them serve alcohol safely and responsibly. Lessons include the social impacts of alcohol, understanding alcohol service laws, and preventing service to minors. This education enables you to do your job better while reducing incidences of harm related to alcohol. While bartending school isn’t mandatory to become a bartender, alcohol server training and certification is best practice and often a state requirement.
For example, California responsible beverage service training and certification is a legal requirement for all alcohol servers and managers in the state. In order to work at a licensed establishment in California and states with similar mandates, you’ll have to obtain alcohol server certification. Be sure to check the requirements in your state before you start applying to bartender jobs. Securing your certification in advance will ensure you’re legally compliant and make you more appealing to hiring managers.
Related Blog: Bartender Certification: Do You Need a License to Serve?
4: Prepare Your Resume
Once you have any schooling and certifications under your belt, it’s time to prepare your resume. If you have little or no experience, this can be a daunting task, but we’ve gathered up some of the best tips on the most important things to include.
Certifications: This should come as no surprise, especially given that these are often a state requirement. More than that, they indicate to a prospective employer that you’re dedicated to advancing your skills and knowledge to provide a stellar service experience to customers.
Recipe Knowledge: While some establishments may have guides to help you learn recipes, demonstrating knowledge of the most popular drink recipes can go a long way with employers.
Bartender Skills: At first thought, it may seem like you don’t have any bartender skills if you haven’t worked as a bartender, but we’re happy to report that isn’t so. Bartenders rely on a variety of soft and hard skills that can be learned outside of the role itself. For example, bartenders use soft skills like organization, collaboration and communication. Perhaps you worked at a grocery store and managed customer service – call it out on your resume. Then think of hard skills that might apply. For example, maybe you’ve used a certain type of POS system, inventory management or accounting software. Take the time to generate a list of all skills and then choose the top ones that align to the description of the role.
Related Blog: 5 Tips for the Best Bartender Resume
Related Blog: Bartending: What Hiring Managers Look For
5: Gain Bartending Experience
As with many jobs, success relies on gaining relevant experience. This can be a challenge as you’re just starting out since many hiring managers value hands-on experience vs. bartending school training. So, if many managers only hire those with experience, but you’re trying to gain experience, where do you start?
A great option is to start as a server. Another even better option is to start as a barback.
A barback is similar to a busser, except behind the bar. Their job is to support core operations of the bar with duties that include: washing and restocking glassware, cleaning the bar and tables in the area, changing beer kegs, restocking shelves behind the bar, and more. Barbacks often require no experience to get started so it’s a great way to get your foot in the door. From there, you can move up into a service bartender position and then into a full bartender role.
For more information on each type of bartending position, visit our blog post below.
Related Blog: 4 Types of Bartending Jobs and How They Compare
6: Learn the Lingo
To walk the bartender walk, you have to talk the bartender talk, and learning some of the frequently used terms early can help with your understanding on the job. Here are a few examples of some popular bartender terms:
Back: A small glass of something (like water or cola) that accompanies a drink.
Jigger: An hour-glass shaped measuring device for ounce measurement. One side measures one ounce or 30ml and the other measures 1.5 ounces or 45ml.
Rocks: If a drink is served “on the rocks” it means it’s served over ice.
Speed Rail: This bar term usually refers to the long stainless steel shelf connected to the ice well at bartender stations behind the bar and the front of the sinks. It holds the most frequently ordered liquors, including vodka, gin, whisky and rum, and can also hold other liqueurs or mixes.
7: Develop Your Skills
Have you ever seen a bartender spin a bottle on one finger before seamlessly pouring exactly the ounce that’s needed into a glass? Once you’ve mastered the basics of being a bartender, you can shift your focus to developing your skills. In the case of the example above, this may include a focus on flair bartending. Flair bartending is the practice of dazzling customers with fancy manipulations of bottles and bar tools to put on a show as you pour.
Related Blog: Flair Bartending: 5 Moves You Can Master
Another aspect of developing your skills may be to build up your bartender kit, ensuring you have all the best tools of the trade. Your kit may include a cocktail strainer, jigger, muddler, wine key, bottle opener, and more. Many bartenders have a preference for the type of tool and brand to ensure an effective experience.
Related Blog: 10 Tools to Build Your Bartender Kit
There are also additional courses you may wish to take to develop customer service skills, step up your mixology game or get started down the bar manager track.
Additional FAQs on How to Become a Bartender
Now that we’ve covered each step of how to become a bartender, we’ll look at answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
How old do you have to be to bartend?
The minimum age to be a bartender depends on the state you’re located in. Most states require a minimum age of 18; however in some states, you can’t legally serve alcohol until you’re 21. Contact your local liquor authority to learn more.
What responsible beverage certificate course is available in my state?
To find the course available in your state, please visit contact us or visit our course page.
How much do bartenders make?
Bartender salary can vary depending on your location, the type of establishment you’re working in and your years of experience. Income can also vary depending on volume of tips vs. base salary. According to Indeed, the average base salary for a bartender in the US is $16.06/hour (as of August 2022). With 1-2 years of experience, salary hovers around $14.85.
Since different states (and countries, if you’re looking abroad) have different standards, minimum wages, etc. it’s useful to do some research and inform yourself on what to expect.
Related Blog: What is the Average Bartender Salary?
What if I want to bartend in a food truck instead of a traditional bar?
Lots of bartenders enjoy working outside of the traditional brick-and-mortar model. If you’re interested in becoming a mobile bartender, you’ll want to research whatever permits and certifications are required, and, if you’re starting a mobile business, what you’ll need from a licensing and permits perspective. For more information on the ins and outs of mobile bartending, visit our blog post below.
Related Blog: Get Moving with a Mobile Bartending Service
Becoming a bartender is a fun, lucrative career that requires time, patience and practice to build. Follow our guide above as you get started and don’t forget to complete the server training certificate program in your state to ensure you’re ready and permitted to serve.