Bartending. You’re going to 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 – obviously – some kind of formal nationwide license to prove that you have the ability to 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 kind of 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, or a state certificate, or indeed 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. Sometimes 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, say TIPS (Training for Intervention ProcedureS) certification, 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 what the bartending licensing requirements actually are.
The Sunshine State has no legal requirement for you to become ‘properly trained’ or obtain a bartending school degree or any sort of 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. Bear in mind that you must be eighteen years of age or older to serve alcohol, but many establishments prefer you to be twenty-one or above before they will even think about hiring you.
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, and 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 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, with the former provided to people aged between eighteen and twenty, and the latter given to successful candidates who are twenty-one or over. The Class 13 permit allows you to take alcohol orders and 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 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.
Heading back down south to the Lone Star State, you will find there is no mandatory training required to work the bars and clubs, but TABC (Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission) certification can often seal the deal if you have received it prior to going for an interview. The training is run by numerous state-approved providers – either in classrooms or online – that can be found on the TABC 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 itself covers the numerous laws related to the sales or service of alcoholic beverages to minors, intoxicated persons, and non-members of a private club, and 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 TABC 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 OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission) permit. This education program – it 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 OLCC 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 required to get behind the stick in the Big Apple or the wider state, but their ATAP (Alcohol Training and Awareness) program is strongly recommended. ATAP 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 years of age or older to work with alcohol, and twenty-one to drink it.
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 for 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, and while obligatory they do place great importance on potential bartenders and servers signing up. A number of private companies in Kentucky also run RBS (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 county level, and differ – albeit very slightly – from island to island, but they are a little more strict than in most other U.S. states. Mandatory training is required by either all staff, or managers who oversee staff, and is usually renewed every four or five years. 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) all the way 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 be in possession of 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: 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
No compulsory training is required at state level in Cali, but some counties and cities may require some kind of mandatory input before you can work behind the wood (check with the relevant county or city governmental department). The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control does run a number of 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 exam) and provides extensive information on the safe serving of alcohol, checking ID, 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 all about the state’s licensing laws and their personal responsibility while working and serving drinks. Learn2Serve- Get California Alcohol Certification Only $14.95!
Alaska’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has deemed server training as 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 a number of state-approved courses which run for three to four hours and cost in the region of $35: AASC (Alaska Alcohol Seller Certification), Training for Alcohol Professionals (TAP), and the ever-present TIPS (Training for Intervention ProcedureS). Also the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association (CHARR) offers TAP, along with ServSafe training for anybody seeking to enter the hospitality business.
No state-wide compulsory training for Wyoming, but the cities of Cheyenne, Torrington and Douglas have gone their own way and people seeking to work with alcohol in these three areas have to undergo mandatory classes in order to become certified. Training is ‘strongly encouraged’ across the remainder of the state. The Wyoming Department of Revenue Liquor Division runs the program, called a Responsible Serving of Alcohol Course, but several independent businesses are also approved to provide the input. Training typically lasts a few hours, costs around $10 and 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, and they advise all people working in the hospitality biz to undergo a Responsible Serving Course. These courses are run by a number of state-approved providers, cost around $10 and certificates must be renewed every three years. Minimum age to serve alcohol in the Peach State: eighteen.
No compulsory training for Maine, either, but the state’s Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations does suggest some form of input, and provides a comprehensive list of approved training schools that offer various server programs. These include the ubiquitous TIPS, as well as B.A.S.I.C. (Bureau Alcohol Seller/Server Informational Course), Serve Safe and Reserving. Attendance on any of these courses prior to working with or around alcohol is entirely voluntary.
New Mexico has a mandatory certification program – without their Server Permit you are not going to 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 HQ, 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 (ABC) does, however, suggest servers take the voluntary training, titled ‘Responsible Sellers and Servers’ (RSS). The ABC 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 way of MART (Managers’ Alcohol Responsibility Training).