Bartending. You’ll be dealing with a broad range of clientele, from a lonely businessman who wants to tell you his life story, to rowdy bachelor parties, to a gathering of power-drinking truckers who threaten you when you try to close the bar at the end of the night. This will need strong interpersonal skills, a way with words, and some formal nationwide license to prove that you can deal with any given situation, right?
Just as with every job or career nowadays, bartending is slowly becoming more regulated – employers, often due to worries over insurance, are increasingly likely to require some mandatory bartending school training or state-provided permit from you even before you set foot behind their bar. But the notion that you must have special training, a state certificate, or some form of bartender’s license before you can work the stick is incorrect.
The truth is, there is no nationally-recognised bartender license in the U.S. It does not exist. What do exist are various forms of state-sponsored or suggested server programs designed to ensure you receive the minimum training required so that you are aware of and compliant with the responsible serving of alcohol. Are they mandatory for you to start work? It varies from state to state, county to county and sometimes from city to city. Occasionally there may be no state-level compulsory training, but some counties or cities within that state may require mandatory certification.
Sometimes, even individual establishments will want you to have TIPS (Training for Intervention ProcedureS) certificate, while the bar next door may not. What they will want you to have, however, is experience, the right attitude, and the skills required to juggle ten orders on a busy Saturday evening. No amount of responsible server training is going to give you those.
So let’s take a look at some of the states around the U.S. and the bartending licensing requirements.
The Sunshine State has no legal requirement for you to become ‘properly trained’ or obtain a bartending school degree or any license. However, it might be advisable for prospective pint-pullers to undergo training on a ‘responsible vendor program’, and numerous bar schools offer this two to three-hour input. TIPS is also valid in the state.
Remember that you must be eighteen or older to serve alcohol, but many establishments prefer you to be twenty-one or above before they even consider hiring you.
If you want more information, we’ve written a full guide to bartending in Florida here.
While Florida asks for nothing, Washington has mandatory requirements if you are looking to work around alcohol in The Evergreen State. Their MAST (Mandatory Alcohol Server Training) Permit is a must-have. It consists of a package designed to ensure you are fully compliant with local laws and guidance covering the serving, mixture, sale, or supervision of the sale of alcohol for on-premises consumption at a liquor-licensed establishment.
The state Liquor Control Board itself does not run courses; instead, it provides a list of approved providers who deliver the course – either in a class or online – and the final exam, which must be passed to obtain the permit.
The permit itself is divided into Class 13 and Class 12 versions. The former is provided to people aged between eighteen and twenty, and the latter is given to successful twenty-one or over candidates. The Class 13 permit allows you to take alcohol orders, carry alcohol to the customer, and pour it into a customer’s glass at the customer’s table. Meanwhile, the Class 12 permit (which you can upgrade to once you turn twenty-one) allows you to draw alcohol from the tap and mix drinks, perform duties included in the Class 13 permit, manage the establishment, and conduct alcohol tastings at an approved location with a tasting endorsement.
You will find no mandatory training to work for bars and clubs when heading south to the Lone Star State. However, T.A.B.C. (Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission) certification can often seal the deal if you have received it before going for an interview.
If you want more information, we’ve written a full guide to bartending in Texas here.
Numerous state-approved providers run the training – either in classrooms or online – that can be found on the T.A.B.C. website, and it is here that you will learn just how much importance employers place on the people being certified before they hire.
The course covers the numerous laws related to the sale or service of alcoholic beverages to minors, intoxicated persons, and non-members of a private club. It can cost as little as $10 and last just a couple of hours (online, in particular, frequently consists of four or five ‘chapters’ and then a final exam). Learn2Serve- Get Texas T.A.B.C. Alcohol Certification Only $10.99
Oregon became the first U.S. state to introduce mandatory training for any and all people working around or serving alcohol way back in 1985 via its O.L.C.C. (Oregon Liquor Control Commission) permit. This education program is not a ‘bartender license’ but proof that you have carried out the requisite training – was ushered in at the behest of the state’s restaurant association for owners and employees of licensed businesses that serve alcohol.
The law now requires people to renew their permit every five years; as with Texas, the O.L.C.C. has a certified list of reliable ‘providers’ (including community colleges and private companies) on their web pages that budding barkeeps can contact for further information.
No mandatory training is required to get behind the stick in the Big Apple or the wider state, but their A.T.A.P. (Alcohol Training and Awareness) program is strongly recommended. A.T.A.P. is essentially New York’s version of TIPS, with a few tweaks.
Once again, certified outside ‘providers’ run the training classes and are listed on the New York State Liquor Authority’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control website. You also have to be eighteen or older to work with alcohol and twenty-one to drink it.
We’ve written a more detailed guide to bartending in New York state here.
The Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control runs the STAR (Server Training in Alcohol Regulations) package, available either as classroom input ($35 per person) or online self-teaching ($36.27). The former lasts four hours and is valid for three years, while online, it lasts three hours (the validity period is the same).
STAR training is not compulsory; however, the authorities see it as an educational tool specific to the state’s alcohol laws. While obligatory, they place great importance on potential bartenders and servers signing up. Several private companies in Kentucky also run R.B.S. (Responsible Beverage Server) training, a variation on the STAR input. Online Kentucky Alcohol Seller and Server Training.
The sale and service of alcohol in Hawaii are managed at the county level and differ slightly from island to island, but they are a little more strict than in most other U.S. states. Mandatory training is required by all staff or managers who oversee staff and is usually renewed every four or five years.
We’ve written a more detailed guide to bartending in Hawaii here.
The Honolulu Liquor Commission, for example, offers Server-Training for managers, assistant managers and bartenders, where prospective employees must undergo Server-Training and subsequently pass a final examination to obtain their ‘Liquor Card’ (formally known as the Certificate of Registration).
There are five types (all colour-coded: red, green, purple, yellow, and finally blue) of liquor cards, with the red an entry point for minors who are working in any capacity at a licensed premises (sixteen to twenty-year-olds) up to blue which is for managers and assistant managers who must have server training and be at least twenty-one years of age. The certificates last four years.
Meanwhile, the Department of Liquor Control in Kauai runs a similar system but with either a red (off-premises) or blue (on-premises) ‘manager card’, which supervisors and managers must have when running a licensed establishment and supervising staff. Full details of the requisite training and card systems can be found on the county websites for Hawaii, Honolulu, Kauai and Maui.
The southwestern state of Arizona has Title 4 Training, which is compulsory for all owners, agents and managers working with or around alcohol in either on- or off-premises licensed establishments. For these supervisors and owners, the training is two-tier.
We’ve written a more detailed guide to bartending in Arizona here.
First, they must achieve a Basic Certificate of Completion in relation to the Grand Canyon State’s liquor laws, then a Management Title 4 Training Course. It is not mandatory for junior employees to have the Basic Certificate of Completion, so bartenders and servers are not required to attend any course.
The state, however, does suggest attending one of the training days – run by approved private businesses and training schools – so serving staff are fully aware of their responsibilities. Get Online Arizona Alcohol Seller and Server Certification
Until 2021, no compulsory training was required; however, as of July 2022, all servers must have RBS certification.
If you want more information, we’ve written a full guide to bartending in California here.
The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control runs training packages designed to educate and inform people working in the trade. Their LEAD (Licensee Education on Alcohol and Drugs) Program is a free, voluntary prevention and education course that lasts just four hours (plus an exam) and provides extensive information on the safe serving of alcohol, checking I.D., preventing and detecting illegal activity and much more.
Meanwhile, their Responsible Beverage Service (RBS) Training Provider program offers budding and current serving staff the opportunity to learn about the state’s licensing laws and their responsibilities while serving drinks. Learn2Serve- Get California Alcohol Certification Only $14.95!
Alaska’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has deemed server training mandatory, and legislation demands all servers of alcoholic beverages, their managers/supervisors and even staff who provide door security at a licensed establishment must receive compulsory alcohol server training within thirty days of employment. Certification is renewable every three years.
There are several state-approved courses which run for three to four hours and cost in the region of $35: A.A.S.C. (Alaska Alcohol Seller Certification), Training for Alcohol Professionals (T.A.P.), and the ever-present TIPS (Training for Intervention ProcedureS).
Also, the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association (CHARR) offers T.A.P. and ServSafe training for anybody seeking to enter the hospitality business.
There is no state-wide compulsory training for Wyoming, but the cities of Cheyenne, Torrington and Douglas have gone their way. To become certified, people seeking to work with alcohol in these three areas must undergo mandatory classes. Training is ‘strongly encouraged’ across the remainder of the state.
The Wyoming Department of Revenue Liquor Division runs a Responsible Serving of Alcohol Course program, but several independent businesses are also approved to provide the input. Training typically lasts a few hours and costs around $10; certification lasts for three years.
As with Wyoming, in the southeastern state of Georgia, server training is not mandatory, but some cities or counties may require you to be certified.
The Alcohol & Tobacco Division of the Georgia Department of Revenue is the governing body that regulates all sales – either on- or off-premises – of alcohol in the state. They advise all people working in the hospitality biz to undergo a Responsible Serving Course. Many state-approved providers run these courses, which cost around $10, and certificates must be renewed every three years.
The minimum age to serve alcohol in the Peach State is eighteen.
There is no compulsory training for Maine, but the state’s Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations suggests some form of input and provides a comprehensive list of approved training schools that offer various server programs. These include the ubiquitous TIPS and B.A.S.I.C. (Bureau Alcohol Seller/Server Informational Course), Serve Safe and Reserving. Attending these courses before working with or around alcohol is entirely voluntary.
New Mexico has a mandatory certification program – without their Server Permit, you will not work anywhere in the state. Their Regulation and Licensing Department advises, ‘Everyone who sells or serves alcohol in the state of New Mexico is required to obtain a permit by taking a New Mexico approved Alcohol Server Education class.’ TIPS is not recognised in the Land of Enchantment; you must have the state-approved certification, which is offered as a training package by the Alcohol and Gaming Division at their Santa Fe H.Q. or by official partners in the private sector (full details are on the New Mexico state website).
Virginia has no compulsory requirement for you to work behind the bar. The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (A.B.C.) does, however, suggest servers take the voluntary training, titled ‘Responsible Sellers and Servers’ (RSS). The A.B.C. Department organises numerous annual training events and meetings designed to educate and inform the public and potential servers of alcohol, including the RSS, while private schools and businesses also offer a package which costs around $10 and lasts for three hours of input; re-certification is required every two years. For managers and supervisors, an enhanced – yet still voluntary – version of the Sellers and Servers program is offered by MART (Managers’ Alcohol Responsibility Training).
Home to Chicago and two of the top universities in the US, Illinois is a great place to start your bartending career.
As of 2018, you will need to hold a Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training (BASSET) certification to serve alcohol.
Thinking of starting bartending in Pennsylvania? Whether moving to Philadelphia or one of the other smaller cities in the state, there’s a lot to like about it, and the state has been voted the 14th best place to live in America.
The Keystone State is another state that has mandatory server training, and you have to complete the RAMP server/seller training within six months of starting a job.
We’ve written a more detailed guide to bartending in Pennsylvania here.
Requirement By State
|Alabama||Server Training Card|
|Arkansas||Server Training Card|
|California||RBS (as of 2022)|
|Connecticut||Responsible Alcohol Server Certification|
|Delaware||Server Training Card|
|Georgia||Server Training Card|
|Idaho||Server Training Card|
|Illinois||Responsible Serving of Alcohol (RSA) Certification|
|Kansas||Server Training Card|
|Kentucky||Server Training Card|
|Louisiana||Server Training Card|
|Maine||Server Training Card|
|Maryland||Server Training Card|
|Massachusetts||Responsible Alcohol Server Certification|
|Michigan||Server Training Card|
|Minnesota||Responsible Beverage Server (RBS) Certification|
|Mississippi||Server Training Card|
|Missouri||Server Training Card|
|Montana||Server Training Card|
|Nebraska||Server Training Card|
|Nevada||Responsible Alcohol Server Certification|
|New Hampshire||Server Training Card|
|New Jersey||Responsible Alcohol Server Certification|
|New Mexico||Server Training Card|
|New York||Server Training Card|
|North Carolina||Server Training Card|
|North Dakota||Server Training Card|
|Ohio||Server Training Card|
|Oklahoma||Server Training Card|
|Oregon||Server Training Card|
|Pennsylvania||Server Training Card|
|Rhode Island||Server Training Card|
|South Carolina||Server Training Card|
|South Dakota||Server Training Card|
|Tennessee||Server Training Card|
|Texas||TABC (Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission) Certification|
|Utah||Server Training Card|
|Vermont||Server Training Card|
|Virginia||Server Training Card|
|Washington||Server Training Card|
|West Virginia||Server Training Card|
|Wisconsin||Server Training Card|
|Wyoming||Server Training Card|
Note: This information is current as of 2022.