How to Become a Bartender: 17 Tips to Get Your First Job

  • By: BT Staff
  • Date: February 26, 2024
  • Time to read: 9 min.

Have you ever considered becoming a bartender? Let’s dive deep into the bartending world and learn what it takes to land your first job in this dynamic industry.

Key Takeaways

  • Understand the job: Bartending can be a rewarding and fun career, but it’s important to have a realistic understanding of the job, including the work environment and potential challenges.
  • Gain experience and skills: Practical experience is crucial in bartending. Whether through starting in a lower-level position or practising your mixology skills at home, gaining hands-on experience is key.
  • Know the laws: Familiarize yourself with your state’s alcohol laws to ensure that you’re serving responsibly.
  • Prepare a strong resume: Highlight your relevant skills and experiences to make a strong impression on potential employers.

If you want to skip ahead, here are the 17 tips:

  1. Understand the Job
  2. Bartending is Not a Hard Job
  3. There’s a Big Difference Between Bartending at a Restaurant and a Bar
  4. Bartending is Hard “For Some People”
  5. Bartending Pros and Cons
  6. You’ll Make Good Money, But It Won’t Be Steady
  7. The Bartender Work Environment
  8. What Qualifications Do I Need to be a Bartender?
  9. You Don’t Have to go to Bartending School
  10. Bartending Courses Can Be Useful, But They Won’t Replace Experience
  11. Understand State Laws
  12. Expect to Start as a Bar-Back and Work Your Way Up
  13. Your Friends Will Expect Free Drinks
  14. Your Sleep Schedule Might Change
  15. Making Great Drinks Requires a Pretty Deep Understanding of the Chemistry of Flavors
  16. Write a Solid Bartender Resume
  17. Get Your First Bartending Job

Now let’s go into details…

Table of Contents

1. Understanding the Bartending Profession

Is Bartending a Good Job?

“Before you decide to pursue bartending, it’s important to assess whether it’s the right fit for you. Consider your personality, lifestyle, and career goals. Do you enjoy socializing and thrive in fast-paced environments? Are you looking for a flexible schedule? If so, bartending might be the job for you.”

Bartending Pros and Cons

Like any other job, however, bartending comes with its own unique set of benefits and drawbacks. On the plus side, it can be a terrific job, and it offers flexible hours, opportunities to meet a variety of people, and the chance to showcase your creativity. However, it can also involve long hours, physical demands, and the need to handle challenging customer situations.

The Bartender Work Environment

The work environment of a bartender can vary greatly depending on the type of establishment. A high-end restaurant may require a more formal approach, while a casual bar might have a more laid-back social atmosphere throughout. You’ll need to assess which environment suits you best.

The Many Faces of Bartending

2. There’s a Big Difference Between Bartending at a Restaurant and Bartending at a Bar

While both positions involve serving drinks, job duties and environment can differ between a restaurant and a bar. Restaurants focus more on meal service, while bars are centred on selling alcoholic beverages. Understanding these differences can help you choose the right career path, for your career.

3. You Don’t Have to Bartend in a Bar

Bars are not the only places where bartenders can find employment. You can also find opportunities in restaurants, hotels, cruise ships, or even event planning companies. Exploring these options can open up a world of possibilities.

The Financial Aspects of Bartending

4. You’ll Make Good Money, But It Won’t Be Steady

“While bartending can be lucrative, it’s important to note that the income can be unpredictable. This is because a significant portion of a bartender’s income often comes from tips, which can vary greatly.”

How Much Do Bartenders Earn?

Earnings can vary significantly for bartenders, depending on location, type of establishment, and tips. On average, bartenders in the United States earn more than the minimum wage
or around $20,000 to $60,000 annually, including tips.

You can check the average salary for your area on sites like Indeed.com or Intuit.com.

Things You Need to Know Before Going Into Bartending

5. Expect to Start as a Barback and Work Your Way Up

Getting started in bartending often means beginning in a support role, such as a bar back or server. These roles allow you to learn the ropes and demonstrate your reliability and work ethic, which can lead to opportunities to move up.

6. You’ll Always be Working While Your Friends are Out Having Fun

One of the realities of bartending is that your work schedule may often conflict with social activities. Bartenders typically work evenings, weekends, and holidays, which are prime times for socializing. However, the social nature of the job itself can partially make up for this.

7. Your Friends Will Expect Free Drinks

One unexpected aspect of bartending is managing relationships and expectations, especially regarding free drinks. It’s important more bartenders to remember that while it’s fun to treat your friends to a few drinks, your bar may have policies against this, plus you’re running a business at the end of the day.

8. Your Sleep Schedule Might Change

Bartending often involves late nights, so be prepared for some shifts in your sleep schedule. You’ll need to find ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle despite the unconventional hours.

Preparing to Become a Bartender

What Qualifications Do I Need to be a Bartender?

While no formal education is required, certain skills and qualifications can help you succeed as a bartender. These include excellent customer service and communication skills, physical stamina, basic math skills, and knowledge of alcohol laws. Being a people person can be helpful, but you don’t have to be the life of the party.

9. You Don’t Have to go to Bartending School

Bartending school can be a useful experience, but it’s not a prerequisite for landing a bartending job. Many successful bartenders have learned the trade on the job.

However, if you want to learn a few new drinks and cocktail recipes and get practical experience using the tools, they will help you become a good bartender.

10. Bartending Courses Can Be Useful, But They Won’t Replace Experience

Formal training can provide foundational knowledge, but nothing can substitute for real-world experience. Try to gain as much practical experience on the job training yourself as possible, even if it means starting in a lower-level position.

What is a Bartending Certification Called?

Depending on where you plan to bartend, different states, provinces, and jurisdictions might have requirements. A Bartending Certification is sometimes called a “bartending license” or “bar card” and proves that you have completed the training in alcohol service. These are usually valid for between 3 and five years, sometimes indefinitely.

Some aspiring bartenders choose to attend a bartending school, and these schools sometimes include getting certified in the local jurisdiction.

The Challenges and Benefits of Bartending

11. You Usually Won’t Get Benefits

While a bartending gig offers many perks, it’s important to understand that traditional employment benefits may not always be included. This is particularly true if you work part-time or as an independent contractor.

While not an issue in many counties like the UK, Canada or Australia, not all employers will offer health insurance; however, this is more common in corporate chains. Casual dining restaurant chains are a good place for aspiring bartenders or those with no experience, as they usually have good training programs.

12. There Can Be Great Benefits to Working as a Bartender

Despite the absence of traditional benefits, bartending gigs can offer other unique advantages. These might include discounted meals serving alcohol, flexible hours, and the chance to meet a wide range of people. You’ll often have to work nights, which might be your thing.

But When it Comes to Sexual Harassment, Health, and Safety, There are Resources Available.

In the hospitality industry, awareness and resources for issues like sexual harassment, health, and safety are paramount. Be sure to familiarize yourself with your rights as an employee and your workplace’s policies.

13. There’s a Huge Drinking Culture Among Bartenders

As a bartender at any bar, from college bars or cocktail bars, you may immerse yourself in a culture where drinking is commonplace. Maintaining a professional attitude and taking care of your health is important. If you think you might be developing a drinking problem, consider taking a break.

Legal Aspects of Bartending

Understand State Laws

Each state has its own set of laws regulating the sale and consumption of alcohol, and bartenders must be familiar with these laws. Doing so will help you avoid potential legal problems and ensure a safe environment for your customers.

14. Expect to Structure Your Life as an Independent Worker

Bartending can require a degree of self-sufficiency, as you may often be considered an independent contractor rather than a traditional employee. This can offer more flexibility but, on the flip side, means you’ll need to take care of things like taxes and health insurance yourself.

Gaining Experience and Skills

15. Making Great Drinks Requires a Pretty Deep Understanding of the Chemistry of Flavours

Mixology isn’t just about following recipes—it’s about understanding how flavours work together to create a satisfying and delicious drink. Over time, you’ll develop a palette and an understanding of flavour profiles, enabling you to create delicious concoctions.

16. The Best Part of Your Shift is When It Gets Super Busy

While it might sound counterintuitive, many bartenders find the busiest times of their shifts to be the most enjoyable and rewarding. A certain thrill comes with successfully serving customers and managing a bustling bar.

Sharpen Your Skills

Whether you’re a novice or an experienced bartender, there’s always room to improve your skills. Practice mixing and pouring drinks yourself, learn new recipes, and develop your customer service skills. The more skilled you are, the more valuable you will be to your employer.

Building Your Hard Skills

Hard skills, like mixology, customer service, and cash handling, are crucial to your success as a bartender. These are tangible skills that can be learned and improved over time.

Landing Your First Bartending Job

17. Write a Solid Bartender Resume

A compelling resume can make all the difference when applying for bartending jobs. Highlight your relevant skills, experience, and certifications. If you’re new to the industry, focus on transferable skills such as customer service or cash handling experience.

Get Your First Bartending Job

With your skills honed and your resume in hand, it’s time to land your first bartending job. Consider starting in a lower-level position to gain experience and be open to opportunities in various establishments.

When you drop off your resume, ask for the hiring manager or ask who is in charge of hiring so it gets to the right person. Once you get an interview, dress for the interview.

The Last Call: A Reflection on Becoming a Bartender

Becoming a successful bartender requires a unique blend of skills, knowledge, and personality. It’s not always an easy journey, but with the right approach, you can land your first bartending job and embark on an exciting career.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a bartending license to become a bartender?

In some states, you may need a bartending license or a permit to serve alcohol. The requirements vary by state, so you should check the specific regulations in your area. Even if a license isn’t required, obtaining one could make you a more attractive candidate to potential employers.

How old do I have to be to become a bartender?

The legal age to serve alcohol varies from state to state in the United States, generally ranging from 18 to 21 years old. Be sure to check the specific laws in your area to ensure you meet the age requirement.

What skills are important to become a successful bartender?

Key skills for bartending include excellent customer service, the ability to multitask, basic math skills for handling cash and calculating change, and knowledge about different types of drinks and how to make them. In addition, physical stamina is important as bartending can be physically demanding and involve long hours on your feet.

What’s the difference between a mixologist and a bartender?

While mixologists and bartenders can serve food and drinks, a mixologist specializes in creating and mixing cocktails. On the other hand, a bartender might also serve drinks from a broader range of drinks and be responsible for tasks like cleaning glasses and serving food.

Can bartending be a long-term career?

Yes, bartending can be a long-term career. Some people enjoy the flexibility and social aspects of the job and choose to make it their lifelong profession. Others may use their bartending skills as a stepping stone to other roles in the hospitality industry, such as bar manager or restaurant owner.

How can I gain experience if I have never bartended before?

If you’re new to bartending, consider starting in a support role, such as a bartender’s assistant (barback) or server. These positions can provide valuable experience and help you learn the ropes. You can also practice making drinks at home or take a bartending course to learn basic skills.