Bar work and the hospitality industry had already been running in the blood of the Sylvester family for three generations when in 1977, Tony Sylvester – by now a Vietnam then bartending veteran – decided to go one step further and open his own small training class to pass on what he and his relatives knew about the trade.
The US city of Margate, Florida, was the location for Sylvester’s first-ever bartending session. Nearly four decades later, what is now the ABC Bartending School has a reach that even the young instructor could never have imagined when he first opened his doors.
With schools stretching from the east to west coasts, from San Francisco to Boston, ABC is now a bartender training behemoth working out of nine states and over thirty cities nationwide, has trained over one hundred thousand students, and is the single largest privately-owned bartending school system in the United States – with Sylvester still at the helm as CEO. Every city works from the training curriculum he devised.
If you want to become a bartender in New York, we’ve written a guide here.
The ABC’s forty-hour courses are certified by each board of education or vocational/postsecondary education in the state where they take place. The certification is recognised by prospective employers and seen as a real boost to graduates’ job prospects. Since the school’s early days, it has also pushed the networking side heavily, meaning local bars, restaurants, and hotels are always aware of new bartenders coming through its system. The school’s main Bartending Course is taught in mock bars containing all the drinks, equipment and facilities a budding bartender will ever need. The forty hours are spread over two weeks, or one week on the accelerated program, and costs hover around the three hundred to four hundred dollar mark – there are some variations from school to school depending on location. For example, the New York branch is $400 while Denver costs $495, and there are frequently bespoke additions to the curriculum such as in Miami, where ABC offers classes in both English and Spanish due to the large percentage of Spanish speakers in the city.
Sylvester’s program is designed to provide students with all the skills they will need to master the art of tending bar, from bar setup and inventory control to drink mixing (‘mixology’), profit pouring to enhance bar sales and tips, and sections devoted to the appreciation and selection of wines and beers. Added to this, pupils will receive instruction on customer service, alcohol awareness and legal responsibilities to ensure they can work safely with and around alcohol, and ABC also provides certification if required. The program is rounded out with training on interview and résumé techniques to help get you working as soon as you leave class.
Several schools offer smaller mini packages, and it is worth checking individual websites for the courses they run. For example, ABC’s New York school – widely regarded as one of the best bartending schools in the world – runs a regular two-hour ‘Boot Camp’ course each weekend for $95, which serves as a fun yet intensive hands-on introduction to the world of bartending. Some schools also offer bar products via the affiliate website BarProducts.com, where students can purchase a wide variety of equipment, merchandise and even clothing.
ABC supports students with ongoing Job Placement Assistance and free lifetime refresher courses at any of the schools across the United States, while for those seeking to enter the world of instruction themselves the school is always on the lookout for new, exciting teaching talent to pass on their bartending skills to the next generation.
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