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By Dana Krook
Not sure how to become a bartender?
We’ve got you covered (and no, you don’t have to go to bartending school).
Creating magical cocktails. Soaking up the social atmosphere. Chatting with guests from all walks of life. Putting a smile on someone’s face. Any way you slice it, bartending is a tempting career.
But becoming a bartender can feel like an impossible task:
“Should I attend bartending school?”
“Do I skip school and get some work experience instead?”
“What about a bartender’s license?”
The good news? Becoming a bartender is easy if you use these 17 “how to become a bartender” tips.
From tips on understanding the bartending business to developing your skills to getting your first job — we cover it all.
Regardless of your chosen occupation, it’s always a good idea to understand what your job involves.
For bartenders, this includes:
The first thing you need to know is that bartending isn’t all glamour. Second, the job almost always includes the following duties:
We’ve mentioned the perks of bartending. But, like every job, there are also downsides to the role.
Compare the following pros and cons to decide if bartending is right for you:
You’ve been to scores of bars, but have you really paid attention to the operation?
Learn about bartending without ever getting your hands dirty by visiting your favorite bar. Here’s how.
Order a few drinks. See how the bartender makes them and works with other restaurant staff. Watch what they do between drinks to keep operations humming. Notice how the bartender interacts with customers, too.
As a bartender, your salary depends on many factors: the minimum wage in your state, individual tips, shared tips, the type of establishment you work in, and your skill level and seniority.
Salaries can be as high as $132,000 per year for highly skilled bartenders or as low as $11,000 for junior ones.
That being said, there are certain averages you can use as a guideline. Here are average bartender salaries by state, year, hour, and month:
The more you know before you jump in, the better equipped you’ll be on the job.
You can get this information while working in bars, but it doesn’t hurt to improve your skills in your spare time.
Knowing bartending language will make your job easier. Do you know these terms?
For more bartender lingo, check out this comprehensive list of bar terms.
Beyond knowing the lingo and learning how to make popular drinks and cocktails like martinis – consider specializing in something.
For example, you might focus your talents on one type of alcohol like whiskey, and develop your cocktail knowledge and drink-making ability around it. This knowledge will help you:
Let’s get this out the way.
You don’t have to attend bartending school to become a bartender. You do not need formal education because you’ll learn the majority of your skills on the job.
If you do opt for the school route, you’ll get to learn the basics of bartending in a structured way without having to find this information yourself. For instance, you’ll learn different pouring techniques and even how to craft the perfect cocktail.
But, bartending school does not guarantee job placement, and you won’t suddenly be able to handle a busy night. Bartending school can also be expensive. Basic online courses can cost up to $200 and in-class sessions anywhere up to $600. For example, the New York Bartending School costs $595 for a 40-hour class.
Ultimately, the decision is yours and will depend on your goals. You can always start out by getting a job in a bar – working as a barback to help replenish the bar inventory, bus glasses and plates, and clean the bar area – just to get some experience first.
This could be as simple as visiting your local pub to watch what the bartender does, ask questions, and learn about bartending skills and culture.
But why not take things a step further?
Tell the bartender that you want to become one and want to learn more about how they got into the business. What were the exact steps they took to get their job?
You’d be surprised how many people like to talk about their own careers and are happy to share information with those who are really interested in learning more. People love sharing their stories and talking about themselves.
Age requirements for serving alcohol and certification differs by state.
The alcohol serving age is between 18 and 21 in the U.S. Be sure you know the age requirement for servers (not drinkers!) in your state.
For example, in New York it’s 18, but in California, 21. Here is a breakdown (by state) of how old you need to be to serve alcohol.
Most states don’t require you to have any licenses or certificates, but there are a few places where a certification course is required
In Washington, for example, you have to complete an alcohol serving course and obtain a permit.
Check the requirements by contacting the liquor control board in your state. Below are the liquor control boards of New York, California, and Illinois:
In Ontario, Canada, everyone involved in serving alcoholic beverages must pass a short online course called Smart Serve. The program trains restaurant and bar staff in responsible alcohol consumption and service.
Becoming a successful bartender requires a shot of hard skills and a shot of soft.
Hard skills are the ones that are teachable, like measuring and pouring drinks, creating cocktails, processing orders, and keeping inventory. You can learn these skills on the job or in school.
Soft skills are harder to define, hard to measure, and even harder to teach.
Here are three critical soft skills you’ll need to be a good bartender:
By now you should have a pretty good idea what bartending involves, understand the state laws, and know something about the different skills you need.
TIP: it’s highly unlikely a restaurant will hire you as a bartender without any previous experience. Instead, expect to start as a barback. A barback is basically the assistant bartender who helps refill inventory, clean the bar area, and support the wait staff.
Writing a strong resume is key to getting a job and it’s easy if you follow these tips:
Finding work can be hard, but if you know where to look and you’re flexible, you’ll improve your chances of getting a job. Here are three ways to find work:
Once you get that response, it’s time for the interview. Yes, this can be a little scary, especially if you’ve never had an in-person interview before. The trick is to prepare. Here’s how:
It’s common to be asked to work a trial shift on your way to getting the job. This is your chance to show them that you bring solid skills to the job – and that you’re coachable and willing to learn how they do things. The manager will tell you what you need to bring and wear, as well as when to arrive. Be there on time and be prepared to work.
If the trial shift goes according to plan, you’ll likely start as a barback, the bartender’s assistant. It’s possibly the best way to learn about bartending and how to run a successful bar.
The other upside is that when the hiring manager needs a new bartender, you’ll be at the top of the list. You’ll know how their restaurant and bar works, and when that moment comes, you’ll be ready.
Getting into a new industry takes some work and preparation. But armed with these 17 tips, you now have a better idea of how to become a bartender.
Dana is the former Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, sharing tips for and stories of restaurateurs turning their passion into success. She loves homemade hot sauce, deep fried pickles and finding excuses to consume real maple syrup.
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