How to Become a Bartender

  • By: BT Staff
  • Date: January 20, 2024
  • Time to read: 18 min.

Bartending: it’s the art of creating ambrosial concoctions, the science of blending perfect flavours, and the social glue that holds many unforgettable nights together.

Whether you’re seeking a career change, a side hustle, or simply a means to impress your friends at your next get-together, learning how to become a bartender can be an intoxicating journey.

So, grab a glass, pull up a stool, and join us as we unveil the steps to getting into the industry.

Table of Contents

Getting Started in Bartending in 9 Easy Steps

Becoming a bartender involves more than just pouring a few drinks, though. It requires training, building specific skills, and gaining experience in the field.

Let’s start with some steps towards becoming a professional bartender.

Self-assessment

Before diving into job hunting, take the time to answer the following questions, which will not only clarify your goals but also help you during the interview process:

  • What kind of bar do you want to work at? Before diving into bartending, consider where you’d like to work. The type of bar (sports bar, cocktail lounge, nightclub, wine bar, etc.) can significantly influence your work experience, from the atmosphere and clientele to the drinks you’ll be preparing. This article explains the differences between restaurants, pubs and nightclubs. If you’re starting, working for a restaurant chain will often give you more training than a beer bar or pub, where you are expected to have more experience.
  • What kind of hours are you looking for? Bartending offers flexibility, so determine if you prefer day shifts (brunch spots, chain restaurants, pub) or night shifts (available almost everywhere).
  • How much money do you want to make? Bartending incomes can vary greatly depending on where you work and the type of establishment. Set a financial goal to align your bartending gig with your financial plan.
  • Do you want to work locally, or are you willing to travel? Don’t limit yourself to only searching for jobs in your current location. Networking and initiating conversations with bars in your desired city can help you secure a bartending job before physically being there.
  • What level would you ultimately like to end up at? Visualize your long-term aspirations in the industry, whether it’s becoming a bar back, bartender, bar manager, GM, or even owning a bar. Having a clear goal showcases your dedication and ambition to potential employers.

List the “Dream Bars” You’d Like To Work At

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Instead of taking a scattered approach and randomly distributing resumes, be strategic and focused in your search.

Identify specific bars that align with your goals and aspirations. By targeting these chosen establishments, you can enhance the effectiveness of your efforts and increase your likelihood of landing your dream bartending job.

You should start by putting together a spreadsheet of names and contact people to reach out to when preparing your resume.

Write a Confident Bartending Resume

Highlight your relevant skills, experiences, and certifications in your resume. Make sure it’s tailored to the specific bartending job you’re applying for.

If you can’t afford professional assistance, there are two ways to improve your resume:

  • Get feedback from three individuals you trust, especially those with experience in the hospitality industry. Their objective insights can provide valuable input on your resume.
  • Utilize a resume template from the wide variety available. These templates can serve as helpful guides in structuring your resume effectively.

Start Building Rapport In Your Bartending Community

Networking is key in this profession. Start building connections with other bartenders, suppliers, and regular customers. A couple of things you can do include:

  • Research the bars you’re interested in, including their websites and social media presence.
  • Engage with them on social media by commenting and showing interest.
  • When visiting the bar, be easy to serve, appreciate the product and service, and ask the bartender questions.
  • Show mindfulness of their workload, tip generously, and extend a handshake. By following these practices, you can establish genuine relationships rather than mere transactions.

Find A Bartending Mentor

Learn from experienced bar owners and bartenders. Their techniques, customer handling skills, and even their mistakes can be valuable lessons.

Consider Attending a Bartending School

While not always necessary, attending a bartending school can provide you with fundamental bartending knowledge and skills, such as drink recipes, bar setup, and customer service.

Gain Experience and Work Your Way Up

Starting as a barback (an assistant to bartenders) allows you to understand the workings of a bar and gain relevant experience.

Keep Practicing Your Skills

Use your time as a barback to hone your bartending skills, such as mixing drinks, handling bar equipment, and delivering excellent customer service.

Look for Opportunities

Don’t let a lack of experience deter you from pursuing your dream or any bartending job. Keep looking for opportunities to build your skills.

7 Steps to Becoming a Bartender With No Experience

Know the Required Age To Work as a Bartender

The age to serve alcohol depends on where you will be working. In North America, the minimum is usually 18 but can be as high as 21 in some US states.

Since you’re planning to become a bartender, you need to know that some US states have a different minimum age for serving alcoholic beverages and working behind the bar. You can find a list of minimum ages to serve in the US here.

On a side note, in many states and provinces, the legal drinking age may be higher than the age to serve drinks – meaning you could start building your career earlier.

Licensing and Certification

Like the serving age, this is dependent on location. In general, most jurisdictions in Canada and the US require that you have some certification.

Canada

In Canada, this is usually a Province-wide certification administered by the government and is only valid in that province. Examples include SmartServe (Ontario), ProServe (Alberta), and Serving It Right (British Columbia).

We’ve written a guide to requirements for bartending in Canadian provinces here.

United States

In the United States, each state is different. States like California and Texas have a government certification, while others like Massachusetts or Nevada only require completing some server training from a list of approved trainers. Finally, some states have no legal requirements (yes, including Florida).

Finally, even if the state has no overall training required, some cities will have requirements; for instance, Las Vegas and Honolulu are just two cities with their own required certification.

We’ve written a guide to requirements for bartending in American states here.

The bottom line is to research where you plan to work to determine if you need any certification. In some places, you’ll find a short grace period from getting hired to having your official certification. Check for this when applying.

License vs Certificate

These terms are used interchangeably sometimes, but when bars talk about a “bartending license”, it’s usually the legal agreement in which the owner of the establishment or event holder has permission from a local authority to operate an establishment or host an event where alcohol will be served. Part of the conditions of getting a license can include that all those serving alcohol and staff are trained in responsible alcohol service.

If you’re looking to work as a bartender, you’re looking to obtain a certificate or “bar card”, not a liquor license.

Education and Training

Take a Bartending Course

As pretty much any bartender will tell you, this is not a requirement, but you can get experience using equipment and making drinks.

A reputable bartending school can provide formal training and essential skills. Bartending schools offer comprehensive courses that cover topics such as mixology, drink recipes, bar etiquette, customer service, and responsible alcohol service.

Learn From Successful Bartenders

Take inspiration from accomplished bartenders who have achieved success in the industry. Research and study their techniques, recipes, and approaches to bartending. Watch tutorial videos, read books written by renowned bartenders, and follow their social media accounts. By borrowing from their expertise and incorporating their best practices, you can enhance your own bartending skills and develop a unique style.

Find a Bartending Mentor

Seek guidance from an experienced bartender who can serve as your mentor. Look for someone with extensive industry experience, exceptional skills, and a willingness to share their knowledge.

If you start as a barback, consider the following tips:

  • Show respect towards bartenders at all times.
  • Stay proactive by anticipating their needs and ensuring the bar remains well-stocked.
  • Avoid bombarding them with questions during busy hours; instead, choose calm moments to engage in conversation.
  • Seek out bartenders who are open to sharing their knowledge and expertise.

If you are working as a server, spending more time around the bar increases your chances of finding a mentor. Follow these guidelines:

  • Offer assistance to bartenders whenever possible.
  • Retrieve any necessary items from the kitchen or storage for them.
  • Serve food orders directly to customers at the bar.
  • Help maintain a clear bar top by delivering prepared drinks to servers.
  • Always tip your bartenders fairly and generously for any drinks they’ve prepared for you.

A mentor can provide valuable insights, offer constructive feedback, and guide you through the challenges and nuances of the bartending profession. Their mentorship can accelerate your learning and growth as a bartender.

Develop these three bartending skills at home (soft and hard skills)

Developing essential bartending skills doesn’t have to be limited to working behind a bar. You can enhance your abilities at home by focusing on the following areas:

  • Mastering the 50 essential classic cocktails: By familiarizing yourself with these fundamental cocktails, you’ll gain valuable knowledge of balance, texture, and dilution. Explore these classics at your favourite bars and practice making them at home to refine your technique.
  • Perfecting liquor pouring: Distinguish yourself as an experienced bartender by honing your pouring skills. Pay attention to precision and consistency while pouring different spirits. Practice with pour spouts and empty bottles to improve your technique.
  • Expanding your knowledge of spirits: As the foundation of bartending, understanding spirits is crucial. Many bartenders have limited knowledge in this area, so take the initiative to learn more. Explore guides and resources to educate yourself about different types of spirits, bitters, and their characteristics.

Additionally, there are valuable soft skills and hard skills that can benefit bartenders:

Bartender Soft Skills

  • Effective communication skills
  • Strong teamwork ability
  • Delegation skills
  • Assertiveness
  • Putting others at ease
  • Creating a welcoming atmosphere
  • Working well under pressure

Bartender Hard Skills

  • Cocktail knowledge
  • Liquor pouring proficiency
  • Wine knowledge
  • Spirit knowledge
  • Beer knowledge
  • Food knowledge
  • Basic math skills

Developing a combination of these soft and hard skills will enhance your bartending expertise, setting yourself apart and ensuring your professional success.

Building Experience and Skills

Practice Your Skills

Master the Art of Pouring Drinks

Pouring drinks correctly is an essential skill for a bartender. Accurate pouring is essential for several reasons:

  • It creates well-balanced, flavorful drinks.
  • Over-pouring can cost the bar money.
  • Good pouring technique enhances your efficiency in mixing drinks.

Familiarize yourself with the jigger, a small measuring tool which allows precise control over the amount of liquor poured. With practice, you may eventually free-pour using a silent count.

Hone Your Mixology Skills

Once you have mastered pouring, explore the world of mixology by experimenting with creating your own cocktails.

Start with basic recipes like gin and tonics or screwdrivers, and gradually progress to more complex cocktails with multiple mixers. Learn about ingredients such as bitters and syrups, as they can significantly impact the taste of your drinks.

While not every bartender needs to be a mixologist, knowing cocktail creation can be valuable, and it might uncover a passion for the craft of mixology.

Work as a Barback

It’s unlikely that a restaurant will hire you directly as a bartender without prior experience. Instead, consider beginning as a barback, an assistant bartender responsible for tasks such as restocking inventory, bar area cleaning, and supporting the wait staff.

Experienced bartenders often advise aspiring bartenders to begin as barbacks as it offers valuable learning opportunities. The barback role requires no prior experience but a strong work ethic. As a barback, you’ll assist with manual tasks behind the bar, including cleaning, restocking, and lifting heavy items. Serving as the bartender’s assistant puts you in an advantageous position to observe and learn.

Although working as a barback can be challenging, it has several benefits. If you are new to the bar or food service industries, you’ll gain a comprehensive understanding of daily operations. Pay attention to your surroundings to acquire helpful knowledge:

  • Learn the different brand names while stocking beer and liquor.
  • Observe bartenders as they create cocktails and take note of popular drinks.
  • Familiarize yourself with bar operations and customer requests.
  • Memorize bartending terminology like “straight up” and “on the rocks.”
  • Recognize busy periods and prepare accordingly.
  • Acquaint yourself with various barware and garnishes.
  • Support bartenders, and they may reciprocate by teaching you bartending skills.

By starting as a barback, you’ll gain essential insights into the industry, build relationships with experienced bartenders, and lay the foundation for your future bartending career.

Gain Experience and Work Your Way Up

Starting as a barback isn’t the only path to becoming a bartender. Consider beginning as a hostess or server in a restaurant with a bar and gradually working your way up. Restaurants often promote internally, especially if you have proven your efficiency and capability as a server. Restaurant chains offer the advantage of rigorous training programs that teach bartending to their specific standards.

Restaurant bars within chains are typically smaller and less busy than lounges, nightclubs, or taprooms. They provide a more manageable environment for skill development and gaining experience. The operating hours of restaurant bars also tend to be earlier. While you may have limited opportunities to experiment with cocktails, working at a restaurant chain can be a stepping stone before venturing into trendier locations.

Sharpen Your Soft Skills

Soft skills can be hard to define but are essential for a good bartender. Here are three critical soft skills you’ll need to excel in this role:

  • Social skills: Interacting with colleagues and customers is a significant part of the job, making it one of the most important skills for bartenders. Being comfortable in a social environment and enjoying engaging with people is crucial.
  • Dealing with Difficult Customers and De-escalation Techniques: Demanding customers are inevitable in this industry. In such instances, remaining calm, actively listening, and employing positive language can diffuse tension and maintain a positive atmosphere.
  • Multi-tasking skills: As a bartender, you’ll often serve multiple guests simultaneously, requiring the ability to remember numerous orders while engaging with staff, managing the bar, processing orders, and ensuring customer satisfaction.
  • Communication skills: Clear and open communication, even at high volume, is essential for smoothly running operations. Speaking effectively with customers and colleagues during your shift facilitates efficient service and ensures the right drink reaches the right customer.

Developing and honing these soft skills will greatly contribute to your success as a bartender and enhance the overall experience for both customers and staff.

Job Search and Career Growth

Seek Opportunities

Improve your chances of securing a job by employing the following three methods:

  • Seek referrals: Inform your family and friends that you are actively looking for work and ask if they can provide any referrals or recommendations to potential employers.
  • Utilize the drop-off method: Personally deliver your resume to local bars or restaurants during quieter periods when managers are not occupied with customer demands. This approach allows for direct interaction and may leave a lasting impression.
  • Utilize job sites: Explore popular job boards such as Indeed or Craigslist to discover available positions. Additionally, consider specialized job sites like GoodFoodJobs.com, which cater to the food service industry. Be prepared for competition, as these sites attract numerous applicants daily.

By actively pursuing opportunities through referrals, personal resume drop-offs, and online job platforms, you increase your likelihood of finding suitable employment and gaining valuable experience.

Writing a Confident Bartending Resume

Crafting an impactful resume is crucial for securing a job. Follow these tips to create a strong resume:

  • Keep it concise: Limit your resume to one to two pages, as hiring managers often scan resumes quickly to assess suitability.
  • Check for spelling errors: Ensure there are no spelling mistakes, as they can negatively impact your chances.
  • Emphasize relevant details: Highlight experiences demonstrating your bartending abilities, including any serving experience or related skills that convince the manager of your aptitude.
  • Provide accurate information: Be truthful and accurate in presenting your details.
  • Include certifications and courses: Showcase any relevant certifications and bartending classes you have completed.
  • Include contact information: Remember to include your email address and phone number to ensure easy communication with potential employers.
  • Use a standard resume template.
  • Ask someone to review your resume. Ask three individuals you respect, preferably those with experience in the industry, to give feedback on your resume.

How To Prepare for a Bartending Interview

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.

The trick is to prepare. Here’s how:

  • First, visit their website. Understand their brand and the customers they attract. Study the wine list and the drinks they serve.
  • Know what interview questions to expect and prepare answers. One common question is, “Why do you want to work here?”
  • Be prepared to discuss your past experiences and why you’re interested in their business.

See this article on how to dress for a bartending interview.

Be Open To Working Your Way up (In a Bartending Job)

Maintain an open mindset about working your way up in a bartending job.

When pursuing positions at bars that genuinely excite you, embrace the idea of starting from the bottom. Throughout your journey to find your dream bartending job, express your willingness to begin at the entry-level to gain insights into their operations and progressively advance your skills and responsibilities.

Finding the decision maker in-person

When conducting in-person visits without prior contact, the following active approach to finding the decision maker would be:

  • Request to speak directly with the person responsible for hiring at the bar. Avoid approaching the day manager, the bartender on shift, or the restaurant manager. Politely ask, “May I speak with the individual in charge of hiring for the bar, please?”
  • If you are told the person is unavailable, respond by saying, “No problem. When would be a good time to reach them? Also, may I ask for their name?”
  • Make a point to return until you can personally meet and shake hands with the specific decision-maker you seek.

By actively asking for the hiring authority, inquiring about their availability, and persistently returning to meet them, you increase your chances of making a direct connection and leaving a lasting impression.

What is the long-term career outlook for a bartender?

The long-term career outlook for a bartender can vary depending on factors such as individual ambition, experience, networking, and industry trends. Here are a few aspects to consider:

  • Advancement Opportunities: With experience and skills development, bartenders can progress to higher-level positions within hospitality. This may include becoming a head bartender, bar manager, or beverage director or even opening their own bar or establishment.
  • Specialization: Bartenders can specialize in specific areas such as mixology, craft cocktails, or working in high-end establishments. This specialization can lead to opportunities for career growth and recognition within the industry.
  • Industry Growth: The bar and restaurant industry continues evolving, with new concepts, trends, and venues emerging. This growth can present job opportunities and the chance for bartenders to work in innovative and unique settings.
  • Networking and Reputation: Building a solid professional network and establishing a positive reputation within the industry can open doors to new opportunities, such as collaborations, guest bartending gigs, or participation in competitions and events.
  • Diversification of Skills: Bartenders who acquire additional skills beyond mixology, such as customer service, leadership, and business management, can expand their career prospects beyond bartending. These skills are transferrable and can be valuable in other areas of the hospitality or service industries.

Ultimately, the long-term career outlook for a bartender is influenced by individual drive, continuous skill development, adaptability to industry changes, and the ability to seize opportunities as they arise.

How to Become a Bartender FAQ

Here are some questions people usually ask when deciding to become a bartender.

What skills do I need to become a bartender?

Becoming a professional bartender also requires a specific skill set, including customer service, multitasking, stamina, physical strength, and a good memory. Moreover, knowledge about different types of drinks, their ingredients, and the art of mixing them is crucial.

Do I need any qualifications or certifications to become a bartender?

While it’s not mandatory to have specific qualifications to start your first bartending job, some countries require bartenders to have a valid license to serve alcohol. Moreover, a reputable bartending school certification can enhance your credibility and employability.

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

A: The legal age for serving alcoholic beverages varies from country to country and sometimes within states or provinces of a nation. Generally, the age requirement is either 18 or 21 years, depending on local laws. For a list of serving ages in the US, see this list.

Do I need a food service card to work as a bartender?

This is dependent on the jurisdiction you’re working in. In many US States, you are considered a food service worker if you prepare or serve food (or even dishwasher) and may need to take a course in food service. See this article for more information.

Can I become a bartender with no prior experience?

Yes, you can become a bartender with no prior experience. Many bars and restaurants provide on-the-job training for entry-level positions. However, attending a bartending school or taking relevant courses can help you gain the necessary skills faster.

How long does it take to become a bartender?

The timeline to become a bartender varies depending on the individual, the training method, and the establishment. With intensive training and dedication, one can acquire basic bartending skills in a few weeks to months.

What’s the Average Salary of a Bartender?

A bartender’s salary can greatly vary depending on the location, establishment, hours worked, and tips received. Bartenders generally rely heavily on tips for their income, which can significantly increase their earnings beyond the standard hourly wage.

Websites like Indeed.com or Intuit.com can provide current average salaries and tips information.

Is bartending a viable career choice?

Yes, bartending can be a very viable and rewarding career choice. It offers opportunities to meet new people, work in dynamic environments, and even travel the world on cruise ships or in luxury hotels. With experience and skill, bartenders can move into higher-paying roles, become bar managers, or even own their own bars.

Can bartending be a part-time job?

Absolutely. Many bartenders work part-time, particularly students or those who have other commitments. The flexible hours often associated with bartending make it an attractive part-time job.

Are there any physical requirements to become a bartender?

Bartending can be physically demanding. It often requires long periods of standing, lifting heavy kegs or crates, and being able to move quickly in a crowded space. Good hand-eye coordination is also essential for pouring and mixing drinks accurately.

What personal qualities should a good bartender possess?

A successful bartender often has excellent interpersonal skills, a friendly demeanour, and the ability to handle difficult customers tactfully. Patience, attentiveness, and the ability to handle stress are also important. Creativity is a plus, especially when it comes to developing unique cocktails.

Do I need to know how to make every cocktail to become a bartender?

While it’s not necessary to know how to make every cocktail, a good bartender should be familiar with a variety of common cocktails. As you gain experience, you’ll likely learn to make more complex cocktails, and you might even create your signature drinks.

Where can I learn bartending skills?

There are many ways to learn bartending skills, including attending schools, taking online courses, and getting on-the-job training. Some community colleges also offer courses in hospitality or related fields that can provide valuable knowledge for aspiring bartenders.

Is there a demand for bartenders?

Yes, there’s a consistent demand for skilled bartenders. While the demand can fluctuate depending on location and season, establishments like bars, restaurants, hotels, and event venues regularly hire bartenders.

Can bartending be a long-term career?

Absolutely. Bartending can offer a long-term career, especially for those who enjoy the social aspect and creativity it involves. With experience, bartenders can move up to management roles, work in high-end establishments, or even open their own bars or restaurants.

How can I stand out as a bartender?

To stand out as a bartender, focus on honing your skills and expanding your drink knowledge. A unique personal style, excellent customer service, and the ability to create your own unique cocktails can also set you apart. Networking in the industry and staying informed about the latest trends can also help you stand out.

How do bartenders memorize drinks?

Bartenders use a variety of methods to memorize drinks. Many drinks follow certain patterns or have common ingredients, simplifying the process. Practice, repetition, and experience are key; the more a bartender makes a particular drink, the easier it becomes to remember. Flashcards, mobile apps, and practising at home can also be helpful learning tools. Some bartenders also use mnemonic devices or create their own personal systems to remember complex recipes.

Do you need a license to be a bartender?

The need for a license to be a bartender depends on local regulations. Some countries or states require bartenders to hold a valid license or certification to serve alcohol. This usually involves taking a course that covers responsible alcohol service, understanding local liquor laws, and sometimes basic first aid. Even where it’s not legally required, such certification can increase employability as it shows dedication and professional knowledge. Always check the specific requirements in your location.

We’ve written guides on what certifications are needed for the United States, Canada, the United Kindom, Australia and New Zealand.

Conclusion

As a new bartender, it can be a challenging yet rewarding journey. As you embark on this career path, remember to learn from others, continually improve your skills, and, most importantly, enjoy the journey.