This is the ultimate guide on how to become a bartender. The purpose of this guide is to walk you through the steps to starting your career as a bartender, even with no prior experience, and provide resources to help you research and prepare for your job search.
This guide will cover the requirements to become a bartender, how to prepare to become a bartender, and discuss the most effective application and interview strategies.
We will also review the heated debate over whether bartending school is worth it or not as non-biased as possible so you can draw your own conclusion.
So without any further adieu, here is the ultimate guide to becoming a bartender.
The age restriction for bartending varies state to state, typically you must be between 18 and 21 to begin bartending. There are some odd additional restrictions, that again vary by state, such as Indiana where you can become a bartender at 19 but must first pass a free course.
There is no such thing as a "bartending license". In some states, you must acquire a license to serve alcohol before you begin your bartending position, while other states may give you a grace period to obtain your license to serve alcohol while you are working. Just to be clear though, no establishments will require a bartending school certificate.
Additionally, some states such as California do not require a license to serve alcohol at the state level, but certain counties will require individuals to obtain a license to serve alcohol before starting a bartending position.
Further, if you are working in an establishment that serves food you may be required to obtain a food handling and safety certificate while working as a bartender since you might be asked to help run food. But, you don't have to worry about that until you start your job.
If you find that you are required to hold a license to serve alcohol before starting your position, you can either get your license before you apply (which may be an advantage over other applicants) or wait until you have a job offer as the process to obtain certification typically only takes about 3 hours total.
In order to check if you need a license to serve alcohol and the age requirements to become a bartender in your state check out this state by state guide.
The first thing you should do in preparation for becoming a bartender is start developing a mastery of identifying different types of alcohol; by taste, by bottle shape, by presentation, by color, by smell, by type, and by brand. This is crucial because, as a bartender, you will need to make recommendations and quickly locate requested spirits.
Here is a guide to different types of alcohol to help you learn the basics, so you can have a competent conversation about alcohol and start mixing delicious drinks.
You might also want to explore beeradvocate.com to learn about all the different types of craft beer, so you can confidently recommend an IPA to a lumberjack bearded hipster with a septum piercing.
Finally, you should have a decent level of knowledge regarding wine. Possessing the ability to tell the unique stories of wine varieties, and describe their finer points could sell your customer a more expensive bottle, and earn you a bigger tip. Wine folly is the web’s leader in wine education and they have great resources to help you build your vino knowledge.
The number of drinks a bartender should know is a tricky question, the short answer is, it depends. The number of unique drinks bartenders are asked to make varies by the clientele and type of establishment. For instance, a bartender at an Applebee’s will need to know fewer drinks than one at King Cole’s Bar in Manhattan.
A good rule of thumb for the number of drinks a new bartender should know is around 60. Bartenders should know most of the International Bartenders Association official drinks and most of the popular drinks ordered regularly at bars across the world. Also, you should look up some drinks that interest you and discover some unique/inspiring elixirs that you can impress your friends and potential employers with.
In short, as long as you have most of the classics and some of the popular/trendy drinks committed to memory you will be more than capable of impressing a potential employer and more importantly doing your job.
You should not stress too much about trying to learn every drink out there since you will find that when a customer asks for a unique/complex drink many bartenders often simply ask the customer what all goes into the drink, or worst case scenario Googles it while pretending to be busy.
Just make sure you have a couple of favorites you can rattle if someone asks for a suggestion.
An often overlooked aspect of learning about drinks and bartending are the different types of glassware that cocktails are poured into. This may not be essential to landing you a job at a local watering hole, but if you want to jump into a unique or high-end establishment (which you should) learning about different glassware can set you apart from other job candidates. Below is an awesome video from PBS that addresses why all drinks aren’t served in the same glass.
In addition to glassware, the tools of the trade are often overlooked and under appreciated. Learning how to use different types of shakers and putting names to some of the tools found behind the bar might help differentiate yourself from other applicants!
This should almost go without saying but, because this is the ultimate guide to becoming a bartender it’s in here: you must practice bartending!
The first step in practicing bartending is perfecting your pour for a variety of alcohol types.
How to pour liquor
You can practice pouring liquor by pouring drinks of water, maybe colored water, inside liquor bottles. Practicing the feel of pouring appropriate amounts of alcohol with water before you pick up a bottle is important so you don’t end up accidentally give grandma 4 ounces of Grey Goose in her screwdriver. In order to practice pouring you will need to pick up a speed pour, these are the metal spouts that you see on all bottles in bars.
Below is a video by Danny, from Nightlife Bartenders demonstrating how to pour liquor like a professional.
How to pour a beer
In addition to pouring liquor for mixed drinks, you should know how to pour a beer from a tap, a bottle, and a can correctly. The video below illustrates this nicely.
How to pour wine/champagne
Pouring wine and champagne may seem easy enough but if you were handed a bottle of prosecco right now would you know how to open it? Check out the video below to get a handle on how to pop bottles better than T.I. and Drake.. and not spill.
This may not seem like rocket science at first but if you were asked to make a drink right now would you know which order to add the ingredients or which drinks are typically shaken and which stirred? We didn’t think so. Brushing up on this is just another way to help step up your game and increase your chances of becoming a bartender sooner. Here is a simple guide to mixing cocktails.
Shaken, not stirred.
When preparing to become a bartender you should practice taking orders and making real drinks. The next time you find yourself at a family event ask your relatives if you can refill their cocktail and ask them how they like it prepared, you might pick up on some lingo or learn a drink preparation style you might not have heard of before.
This can also be done for friends at a house party, or some other social situation where alcohol is involved.
Below, we have another video by Danny where he walks you through some different liquor preparation methods you will encounter and the proper way to serve them.
Finally, you should be tasting some of your own medicine (or poison) to make sure you are getting the flavors down and learning the intricacies of each liquor.
Try different combinations of liquor and maybe even make a few of your own signature cocktails to impress your friends and family.
The bottom is line is you should be making drinks for yourself in addition to others, because as Kanye West famously said “never trust a bartender that don’t drink, b***h!”.
Knowing how to make a bunch of drinks and use the tools of the trade is only half of the equation to becoming a bartender. For example, you need to be able to be the entertainment for the bachelorette party at 10 and then cut them off when they start dancing on other customers tables at 1:30.
This section of the guide could be a whole book in itself but, we won’t be giving you a step by step guide on how to make small talk.
We are assuming you already have an outgoing personality, or else you wouldn’t want a bartending job, or at least you shouldn’t! You can’t change your personality and you shouldn’t want to but, you can definitely improve on your professional people skills.
Here is an awesome video from Rockstar Bargirl on how to build connections and increase tips as a bartender.
The importance of soft skills cannot be overlooked when preparing to become a bartender.
Once you have become comfortable with your knowledge of alcohol and skill level pouring and mixing drinks you will probably be feeling ready to make a resume and start applying for positions.
Before you start this we recommend you reach out to a friend or family member who is, or might know a bartender and ask them how they get their job and some tips on how to get hired. They might even know of a place that is hiring and could put in a good word for you.
The nightlife scene in cities is usually pretty tight-knit so networking is a huge factor in landing a job, especially if you lack experience.
If you don’t have anyone in your network who is a bartender you might want to go to some of the spots you would like to work for and take a seat at the bar. If you find the bartender is sociable, and it is not too busy you could strike up a conversation about how you are interested in bartending and ask if they have any openings.
You might even want to try an online forum like the bartender subreddit to see if there are any members in your area who could point you in the right direction.
Bartending school is one of the most contentious issues in the bartending industry, on one side you have the people who went to bartending school and felt that it equipped them with some valuable skills and helped them break into bartending.
On the other side you have folks that believe bartending school is a scam and anyone who attends one is a sucker, as you can learn everything you need to know to become a bartender from online guides like this one, and of course on the job training.
We will break down the argument for and against bartending schools so you can make your own call on if bartending school is worth it or not.
Bartending schools vary in quality and methodology so we can’t be too specific with our description, look up bartending schools in your area to get more details on your location-specific options.
That being said, bartending school’s objective is to teach you how to become a bartender so you will have an easier time finding a job and so you will be a better bartender than someone with no experience from day one.
What do bartending schools typically teach you?
The cost for bartending school varies from school to school, but expect to pay somewhere between $300 and $600.
The time it takes to graduate from bartending school varies, but expect to put in at least one week. Some schools offer flexible scheduling so you can take classes at your pace and as your finances allow.
Bartending school is valuable in that you learn from a bartender, typically in person, so you are going to get specific feedback and tips that can be tailored to your skill level and interests.
Further, some bartending schools expose you to some duties of bartending that you may not come across through independent research. In some cases bartending schools will have you take over a local bar on a slow night and get some work experience in. This may be useful when interviewing with potential employers, explaining that you know how to refill ice, sanitize everything, and have even been behind the bar before may help set you apart.
Some establishments like to hire people who have gone to bartending school because not only does the certificate demonstrate your skill set but, it also demonstrates that you have such a strong desire to work in this field you invested your money into learning the skills, which makes you more likely to be a good worker.
The value placed on bartending school certificates is certainly not universal, you may want to ask some of the employees of establishments you are looking to work for if the management appreciates bartending school certificates or not.
Bartending schools may also be able to help with job placement. If you go to the bartenders subreddit and search for “bartending school” you will see stories of people who have found jobs through the bartending school… and the other side of the argument, those who think it is a total scam.
There is little dispute that what you can learn from bartending school is valuable, and it may well save you some time climbing the ranks from host, to barback, to bartender, but keep in mind that you are paying for that knowledge and the potential of saving time.
While bartending schools may teach you the basics of bartending, much of this information can be found online for free. Take this guide and the resources that are linked out of it as an example, you can learn most of what bartending schools teach you for free with a little extra effort and also save some money.
Some establishment owners strongly believe that the best way (or only) way to become a bartender is to start as a barback and earn your spot tending the bar after you have been under the wing of an experienced bartender, observing how they interact with customers, keep the bar tidy, and close up shop.
“For all the Facebook ads and clever copy, it seems that bartending school is somewhat less than necessary. While it does offer base knowledge that can be helpful to those just starting, a more thorough (and free) education comes from starting at the bottom and working their way up.” - Andrew Turnwall
Another reason why some businesses prefer to promote from within their ranks is so that they don’t have to train you out of any habits that they don’t like. Each establishment has its own quirks and most management will like to run things a particular way, so bartending school may detract from your stock as an applicant in those cases.
Further, while rather judgmental, some people see those who pay for bartending school as suckers for a scam. Bartenders should have their wits about them and be street smart in order to handle the pressure of a busy Saturday night, or deal with the occasional customer who had a few too many and decides to punch a window.
The answer to should I go to a bartending school depends on your own preferences and situation, there is no 100% right answer. Below is a list of pros and cons so you can decide for yourself if bartending school is right for you.
You should go to bartending school if:
You should not go to bartending school if:
For a well written first hand account of someone who went to bartending school you can check out this article from liquor.com. Additionally, the bartenders subreddit is a great forum to read some more anecdotal advice about bartending schools and engage in some conversations with people who are in the industry.
The first step in job hunting for bartender positions is getting your resume together as quickly as possible so you don’t miss any potential opportunities for submission.
The structure of a resume for a bartending position is very similar to other resumes in the hospitality industry. Here is a great guide for putting together a bartender resume and cover letter, it goes over pretty much all aspects to building a solid bartending resume. When you are ready to build your own resume you can head to resume.io for beautiful free templates to get started (not affiliated).
If you have your bartender resume built out already, here are a few tips to help your resume stand out from the rest of the applicants:
*Remember that you may want to ask an employee of a bar if their management values bartending school certificates before listing a diploma from bartending school.
A cover letter is a short pitch where you sell yourself to potential employers. Cover letters for bartending positions are very similar to cover letters in most other industries.
Make sure that you write a different cover letter for each establishment you apply for so the reader gets the impression you are being intentional in your application and not throwing them to every bar in town (which is okay).
You don’t need to change your entire letter for each place you apply, just the aspects that are specific to that establishment and position.
In the first sentence of your cover letter you should address the reader, the first paragraph should outline your reason/interest in applying, your second paragraph should outline applicable skills, education, and experience, your third and final paragraph should persuade the reader why you will be a nice fit with the specific bar/restaurant and a great bartender overall.
"To the management at Curly Toes,
My name is Alecia Gorbachev, I have been coming to Curly Toes for years now since I moved to Springfield for university and I have always loved the casual atmosphere. I believe I would be a great fit for your open bartending position.
I am a recent undergraduate with my BA in Communication studies and I will be starting graduate school studies in rhetoric and persuasion this fall. I worked as a host in a restaurant in my hometown for 3 years and have been a cashier at the university dining center for 4 years. Also, I have been practicing pouring and mixing drinks over the past six weeks and I am confident I could impress anyone with my knowledge and skill set.
I believe I would be a valuable asset to your team as I am already familiar with your establishment and atmosphere. Further, my experience with high volume customer service and cash handling along with my practice in bartending skills has prepared me for a bartending position at Curly Toes.
I look forward to hearing from you.
There are many factors to consider when choosing the establishments you will send resumes and cover letters to such as the atmosphere/vibe, the current employees, the clientele, and the tip potential, along with the factors that go along with any job consideration such as base pay, location, potential for growth, ect.
Applying to bars that you frequent or have had fun at are great options because you already have a feel for what it might be like to work there plus, you can write about your experiences at the establishment in your cover letter which may help your chances of getting an interview.
While mulling your options consider the type of people who are working at the places you are looking at applying to. If you are a 30-year-old man, you might not want to waste your time applying to a place where all the bartenders are 20-year-old women.
There are also places where mostly men are hired too. The point is that you should keep in mind the type of people who work at different establishments when considering where to apply.
There are also cases where this may not matter at all, use your best judgment!
Also, you should consider the clientele and potential tip revenue. For example, you will make loads more in tips working at a stuffy country club, due to the salary of the clientele, in comparison to the underground club/bar scene. Speaking of underground bars check out Wunderbar, in Rotterdam. It is one of the coolest and most unique bars we’ve ever been to (not affiliated).
If you lack experience in the hospitality industry (restaurant work, hotel work, customer service, ect.) then you may want to consider applying for barback, wait staff, or hosting positions. If you are patient, persistent, and have put together an outstanding resume and cover letter you should be able to find a place willing to give a rookie a shot but, if you need a position in the near future consider other positions in a bar/restaurant and working your way into a bartending once you have proven yourself to management.
When you start looking for bartending jobs you may want to begin with some of the bars you and your friends frequent and then expand into looking for openings on websites such as Craigslist and Indeed.
There are some online job boards with jobs specific to bartenders, however, these are national listings, so sifting through dozens of jobs out of your area may be a time suck.
Just in case you were curious though here are some general hospitality/bartender job boards:
Make sure you pick about two dozen places you want to apply at because you should assume half won’t get back to you and of that half, half will tell you they already found someone or something, cast a wide net.
Also, don’t be afraid to send in your application even if an establishment isn’t openly seeking applicants. Management might be so impressed with your resume and cover letter that they will invite you in for an interview regardless… but don’t count on this.
Finally, make sure you make a visit to the establishments you are applying at during their busy times if you can. This will give you a good feel for your potential workplace and ensure it is a good fit for you.
When you have the option you should always try to apply in person and see if you can personally hand the decision maker your resume. There are a few reasons for this; it shows that you are confident and assertive, it allows you to show off your charming personality, and it will force the decision maker to look at your resume and remember you much better than a simple email.
If you decide to bring your resume/cover letter in person you should be dressed as if you are going to interview because you may just get one right there and also you obviously want to make a good first impression.
Also, be sure to drop off your resume during a slow time, going into the bar as soon as they open is a good bet, you can check their Google Business profile, sometimes they will have estimations of busy hours.
After you apply for a position mark the date down or write yourself a note, you will want to reach out to businesses advertising open positions after about one week and if you are cold applying wait two weeks before following up. Do this until they follow up or you find a position.
When you reach out for a follow up send them a friendly reminder that you applied and you are very eager to hear back from them, make sure your cover letter and resume are attached. If you applied in-person try giving the business a call during slow hours, ask if you can speak to the person you handed your resume to and see if you can get an update on the application process.
Some businesses move faster than others so be patient but also, don’t be afraid to be persistent. There are plenty of bartenders in their positions because they were relentless in their follow-ups and would re-apply whenever there was an opening.
Once you get the call to come in for an interview you almost have the job, now you just have to live up to your resume and cover letter. It is cliche to say but try not to be nervous, you are getting an interview because you out-shined other applicants to this point.
Make sure that before you go in for your interview you have visited the bar at least once so you can feel somewhat at ease returning and be prepared to demonstrate some knowledge of the establishment.
When you visit, make note of how the employees are dressed and try to match that style of dress at your interview, this will allow your interviewer to already “see” you in the position.
Arrive slightly early to your interview and bring your resume and cover letter just in case they want a copy. When you greet anyone make sure you have a firm handshake, make eye contact, and demonstrate non-verbal confidence.
Overall, try to give your interviewer the impression that you:
Before you leave the interview ask when you expect them to make a decision for the position and how you can communicate with them going forward.
After you have a meeting date set you should start thinking of some common interview questions for bartenders. Of course you should brush up on your knowledge of alcohol, cocktails, and pouring, but you should also consider some questions related to the job environment and customer service.
Q: Why do you want to work here in particular?
A: Tailor a personal answer that gives the impression you want to work there and nowhere else.
Q: Tell me about yourself
A: Answer this in 3 parts, first general attitude/what inspires you, expertise in relation to the position, and why you are here to interview. Ex: I am 24, I get my energy by meeting new people and staying busy. I have worked as a waiter for the past three years and loved it, now I am looking to transition into a bartending position because I find it more interesting and think I would do a great job.
Q: Tell me a joke.
A: You might want to have a simple joke up your sleeve. This question gets asked because bartenders should be witty and good at making a joke or conversation even if it is forced.
Q: Why do you like bartending?
A: I find it meaningful to provide good service and genuinely enjoy facilitating great experiences.
Q: What is your favorite drink?
A: Provide your answer and be specific. For example, if you like Manhattans explain if you like it with brandy, bourbon, or rye, on the rocks or neat, up or in a low ball.
Q: How would you make a…
A: Obviously give a correct answer but again be specific with the ingredients, maybe mention the brand of liquor you would prefer and describe what would make it perfect.
Q: What would you recommend as an after dinner drink?
A: This can be pretty much anything that makes sense as long as you have a good reason. You might want to prepare a few answers for different occasions: what would you suggest for a birthday shot, to pair with a burger, ect.
Q: How would you react if you went above and beyond to serve a customer and they didn’t leave a tip?
A: I would treat them just like any other customer. Some people are good tippers and other people aren’t, it is just part of the job.
Q: How would you cut someone off?
A: First I would tell the other bartenders to not serve him/her. Next, I might first tell his/her friends to cut them off since that would probably be better received and if I couldn’t do that I would respectfully tell them I believe they have had enough and I am cutting them off, and offer them a non-alcoholic alternative. If things escalated I would get management or security involved.
Q: What should you do if you believe someone is trying to use a fake ID?
A: I will do my best to determine its authenticity but, if I suspect something is fishy I will turn them down. If they get angry or insistent I will ask for a second opinion from management.
Q: What would you do if someone broke a glass in front of the bar on a busy night?
A: I would first tell everyone to stand back. Then I would get the attention of a coworker to clean the glass up or watch my station while I clean it up.
Q: What is your availability?
A: If you really want the job tell them you are available anytime, anywhere. You can likely switch hours once you get your foot in the door.
A couple of hours after your interview you need to send a “thank you” email or text to your interviewer. Consider writing something along the lines of:
“I enjoyed meeting and interviewing with you this afternoon. After our interview I feel even more excited to get started working at ______.
Thank you for your time and I really look forward to hearing back.
Warm regards, _______”
Simply writing and sending a message such as this puts you in an excellent position to land the job because it shows you are truly excited to work there and are conscientious. Also, most people won’t do this, so it is a great competitive advantage. The importance of the follow up cannot be overstated.
Like most rewarding things in life becoming a bartender is not easy, especially if you lack experience in the industry. This should not scare you away though, as the skills to become a bartender are easily learned and the barrier to entry is minimal.
If you follow the steps in the guide and put in the work preparing your skills and your resume you will be in a much better position than even you were before you started reading this guide, and are likely better prepared than most of the applicants that will be competing for the positions you apply to.
We sincerely wish you the best of luck in your job hunt and would love to hear from you in the comments. Let us know if we missed anything or feel like we got something wrong, we strive to be the best guide to becoming a bartender anywhere on the internet!
This website and guide was created by Dylan Koltz-Hale.
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