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

  • By: BT Staff
  • Date: June 27, 2023
  • Time to read: 14 min.

Are you dreaming of stepping behind the bar and crafting delicious cocktails? Becoming a bartender can be an exciting and rewarding career choice. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just starting, this comprehensive guide will provide 17 essential tips to help you secure your first bartending job.

Key Takeaways:

  • Obtain a bartending certification: It showcases professionalism and ensures compliance with legal requirements. Online courses offer convenient access to obtain a bartending certification.
  • Start at a restaurant bar: Launching your bartending career at a restaurant bar provides valuable experience and establishes a strong foundation in the industry.
  • Weigh the pros and cons: Consider the advantages and disadvantages of bartending as a career choice before committing to it.
  • Understand licensing requirements: Bartending license requirements vary by state, so it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the specific regulations in your area.

Table of Contents

#1 Find Do You Need a Bartending License?

Why Obtain a Bartending License?

Obtaining a bartending license (or certificate) is a crucial step towards launching your career as a bartender, as it demonstrates your commitment to professionalism and ensures you comply with legal requirements.

#2 Get a Bartending Certification Online, If So.

Online Certification: Convenience and Accessibility

Thanks to advancements in technology, you can now acquire a bartender’s license conveniently through online courses, allowing you to study at your own pace and in the comfort of your own home.

#3 Start at a Restaurant Bar

Begin Your Journey at a Restaurant Bar

Here’s why beginning your journey at a restaurant bar is a wise choice:

1. Exposure to a Wide Range of Beverages

Restaurant bars often have extensive drink menus encompassing cocktails, wines, beers, and non-alcoholic options.

Working in such an environment exposes you to diverse beverages, allowing you to expand your knowledge and become well-versed in different drink categories. You’ll have the opportunity to learn about flavour profiles, pairing suggestions, and the art of creating visually appealing drinks.

2. Customer Interaction and Service Excellence

Restaurant bars provide ample opportunities for customer interaction, as patrons often dine at the bar or order drinks while waiting for their tables.

This setting allows you to enhance your customer service skills by engaging with guests, taking their orders, and ensuring their needs are met. You’ll learn how to provide personalized recommendations, address inquiries about the menu, and handle customer feedback with professionalism and grace.

3. Efficient Time Management

Working in a restaurant bar requires multitasking and managing time effectively. As customers come and go, you’ll need to balance taking drink orders, preparing beverages, and serving multiple guests simultaneously.

This fast-paced environment helps develop your organizational skills and teaches you how to prioritize tasks while maintaining high efficiency and accuracy.

4. Collaboration and Teamwork

Restaurant bars are often part of a larger dining establishment, which means you’ll have the opportunity to collaborate with other service staff members, such as servers and kitchen staff.

Effective teamwork is essential for creating a seamless dining experience for customers. You’ll learn how to communicate effectively, coordinate efforts with your colleagues, and contribute to a harmonious work environment.

5. Valuable Transferable Skills

Working in a restaurant bar equips you with valuable transferable skills that can benefit you in various aspects of life and future careers. These skills include excellent communication, problem-solving abilities, attention to detail, adaptability, and the ability to work under pressure. Whether you stay in the bartending industry or transition to a different field, these skills will serve you well and enhance your professional versatility.

Remember, starting at a restaurant bar is just the beginning of your bartending journey. You’ll probably need to take an alcohol server training program, so one less thing to do when you start bartending.

As you gain experience and skills, you can explore other opportunities in cocktail bars, nightclubs, or upscale establishments.

#4 Learn the Bartending Pros and Cons

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Bartending

Like any profession, bartending has its own set of advantages and challenges. Considering both sides before pursuing a career in this field is essential. Let’s explore the pros and cons of being a bartender:

Pros:

  • Creativity and Self-Expression: Bartending offers a platform for creative expression through the art of mixology. You can craft unique cocktails, experiment with flavours, and develop your signature drinks. This artistic aspect of bartending can be incredibly fulfilling and allow you to showcase your style.
  • Social Interaction: Bartending provides ample opportunities for social interaction. You’ll meet a diverse range of customers from different walks of life, engaging in conversations and building relationships. If you enjoy meeting new people and thrive in social settings, bartending can be an exciting career choice.
  • Flexible Work Hours: Bartending often offers flexible work schedules, making it suitable for individuals seeking a job that can accommodate their lifestyle. Whether you prefer working evenings, weekends, or part-time hours, bartending allows for greater flexibility and work-life balance.
  • Income Potential: Bartenders often have the opportunity to earn a significant portion of their income through tips. You can enhance your earning potential with excellent customer service, mixology skills, and a friendly demeanour. In popular establishments or during busy shifts, tips can be lucrative, providing a financial incentive.

Cons:

  • Physically Demanding: Bartending can be physically demanding, requiring long hours of standing, constant movement, and carrying heavy bottles and equipment. The fast-paced nature of the job can be tiring and put a strain on your body. It’s important to take care of your physical well-being through proper rest, exercise, and self-care routines.
  • Irregular Work Hours: While flexibility can be a benefit, irregular work hours can also be a challenge. Bartenders often work late nights, weekends, and holidays when many others enjoy their leisure time. Adjusting to non-traditional work hours and sacrificing personal plans may be necessary in this line of work.
  • High-Stress Environment: The bar environment can be fast-paced and high-pressure, especially during peak hours or busy nights. Bartenders must handle multiple drink orders, manage customer expectations, and maintain composure during stressful situations. It requires the ability to work efficiently under pressure and handle occasional difficult customers.
  • Potential Health Risks: Bartending is closely associated with alcohol, and bartenders may be exposed to excessive drinking environments. It’s important to prioritize your own well-being and establish healthy boundaries to prevent burnout or potential substance abuse issues. Maintaining a balanced lifestyle and seeking support when needed is crucial.

By considering these pros and cons, you can make an informed decision about pursuing a career in bartending.

#5 Does Your State Require a Certification?

Understanding Bartending License Requirements by State

Bartending license requirements vary from state to state, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with the regulations specific to bartender licenses in your location.

#6 Immerse Yourself in Bar Culture: See How the Pros Do It

Soak Up Bar Culture: Observing the Experts

One of the best ways to enhance your bartending skills and gain valuable insights is by immersing yourself in the bar culture and observing experienced bartenders in action. Here’s why soaking up bar culture is crucial for your growth:

  • Learn the Craft: Observe how experts prepare drinks, handle glassware, and interact with customers. Pay attention to their attention to detail and mixing techniques.
  • Customer Interaction: Watch how experienced bartenders engage with patrons and provide exceptional service. Learn to anticipate customer needs and handle difficult situations.
  • Efficiency and Time Management: Observe how experts handle multiple drink orders while maintaining speed and accuracy. Learn their organizational strategies.
  • Bar Etiquette and Professionalism: Pay attention to how experienced bartenders conduct themselves behind the bar. Adopt professionalism, respect, and proper bar etiquette.
  • Stay Updated with Trends: Immerse yourself in bar culture to stay informed about the latest trends and innovations. Adapt and improve your own bartending skills.

#7 Get Hired as a Barback

Climbing the Ladder: Starting as a Barback

A common entry point into the bartending industry is securing a job as a barback, which allows you to learn the ropes, assist bartenders, and develop essential skills.

Other common ways people get into bartending are as servers or bottle girls.

#8 Learn How to Serve Alcoholic Beverages

The Art of Pouring: Mastering Drink Preparation

Accurate and efficient pouring to serve drinks is a fundamental skill for any bartender. Learning proper pouring techniques will impress customers and ensure consistency in drink quality. Here’s why it’s important:

  • Accuracy and Consistency: Pouring accurately ensures consistent flavours in every drink you serve.
  • Speed and Efficiency: Pouring quickly and efficiently allows you to serve more customers during busy shifts.
  • Proper Technique: Different spirits require specific pouring techniques to optimize taste and presentation.
  • Visual Appeal: Well-poured drinks with attractive presentations captivate customers’ attention.
  • Waste Reduction: Precise pouring minimizes ingredient waste and contributes to cost control.
  • Adaptability and Creativity: Mastering pouring techniques enables experimentation and the creation of signature drinks.

#9 If You Want To Do Bartending School, Find an Accredited Online School

Choosing the Right Online Bartending School

When considering online bartending courses and schools, selecting an accredited institution that offers comprehensive training and prepares you for real-world scenarios is crucial.

#10 Attend Bartending School, If You Choose

The Benefits of Attending Bartending School

While not mandatory, attending a bartending course at a physical bartending school can provide hands-on training, access to industry professionals, and valuable networking opportunities.

#11 Know the Bartender Lingo

Speaking the Language: Understanding Bartender Jargon

Every profession has its unique language, and bartending is no exception. Familiarizing yourself with the essential bar lingo will help you communicate effectively in the fast-paced bar environment.

#12 Practice Mixology

Elevate Your Skills: Embrace the Art of Mixology

Mastering the art of mixology will set you apart as a skilled bartender. Experiment with different flavours, learn classic and contemporary cocktail recipes and develop your creativity behind the bar.

#13 Borrow From Successful Bartenders

Learning From the Best: Inspiration from Accomplished Bartenders

Successful bartenders have honed their craft through experience and experimentation. Study their techniques, signature cocktails, and customer service skills to inspire your own growth as a bartender.

#14 Understand State Laws

Navigating Legal Requirements: Bartending and State Laws

Understanding state laws regarding alcohol service, including licensing, age restrictions, and responsible alcohol consumption, is crucial for any aspiring bartender. Familiarize yourself with the specific regulations in your state to ensure compliance and maintain a safe environment for both yourself and your patrons.

#15 What Is the Average Salary for a Bartender?

Bartending can be a financially rewarding career, but it’s important to have realistic expectations regarding salaries. According to industry data, the average salary for bartenders can vary depending on factors such as location, establishment type, and experience. On average, bartenders earn around $20,000 to $40,000 per year, including tips. However, exceptional bartenders working in high-end establishments or those with extensive experience can earn significantly more.

#16 Build Your Bartending Knowledge

To excel in the bartending profession, it’s essential to continually expand your knowledge and stay up to date with industry trends. Keep yourself informed about new drink recipes mix drinks, emerging spirits, and bartending techniques. Explore books, online resources, and attend industry events to broaden your understanding and develop a well-rounded skill set.

#17 Learn Where Bartenders Usually Work and What Are Their Typical Work Hours

Bartenders can work in various settings, including bars, restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, and even catering services. The typical work hours for bartenders often revolve around evening shifts and weekends when establishments experience high customer traffic. Be prepared for late nights and irregular schedules, as the hospitality industry operates during peak socializing hours.

What Skills Should a Bartender Have?

Successful bartenders possess a combination of technical skills, personality traits, and customer service abilities. Some essential skills for bartenders include:

  • Mixology: Mastering the art of creating cocktails, understanding flavour profiles, and developing a repertoire of drink recipes.
  • Drink Preparation: Practicing precision pouring, ensuring accurate measurements, and efficiently preparing multiple drinks simultaneously.
  • Customer service: Demonstrating excellent communication skills, attentiveness, and the ability to engage customers, creating a welcoming and enjoyable experience.
  • Product knowledge: Understanding different types of alcohol, wine, beer, and non-alcoholic beverages, as well as their characteristics and proper serving methods.
  • Time management: Handling multiple tasks simultaneously, maintaining a clean and organized bar, and efficiently serving customers during busy periods.
  • Problem-solving: Adapting to unexpected situations, resolving customer complaints, and handling demanding customers with professionalism and tact.
  • Teamwork: Collaborating with other bar staff, kitchen staff, and servers to ensure smooth operations and seamless customer service.

Gain Experience and Work Your Way Up

Bartending is a profession where experience plays a crucial role in career progression. Begin by gaining practical experience in entry-level positions such as barback or assistant bartender. These roles allow you to learn from experienced bartenders, observe their techniques, and develop your skills. As you gain more experience, seize opportunities to take on bartending shifts and showcase your capabilities to employers.

Which Laws Guide the Bartender Profession?

The laws governing the bartender profession can vary depending on the country and state. However, some common laws and regulations include:

  • Licensing and certification: Many regions require bartenders to obtain a license or certification to serve alcohol legally. These licenses often involve completing specific training programs and passing exams to demonstrate knowledge of responsible alcohol service.
  • Required age to work as a bartender: Different jurisdictions have different minimum age requirements to work as a bartender. Ensure you meet the legal age requirements in your area before pursuing a career in bartending.
  • Alcohol sales hours: Bartenders must adhere to specific hours during which they can legally serve alcohol. Familiarize yourself with your local regulations regarding alcohol sales hours to avoid legal issues.
  • Selling alcohol to underage customers: Bartenders have a legal obligation to verify the age of customers and refuse service to anyone underage. It’s essential to be vigilant and follow strict age verification protocols to prevent legal consequences and maintain the safety of patrons.

Sharpen Your Soft Skills

In addition to technical skills, bartending requires strong interpersonal and communication abilities. Cultivate the following soft skills to thrive in the profession:

  • Customer focus: Prioritise customer satisfaction by actively listening, anticipating needs, and providing personalized service.
  • Empathy: Understand and empathize with customers, creating a welcoming and inclusive environment.
  • Stress management: Stay calm and composed under pressure, handle difficult situations gracefully and maintain a positive attitude.
  • Adaptability: Quickly adapt to changing circumstances, such as fluctuating customer demands and unexpected events.
  • Multitasking: Juggle multiple tasks efficiently, such as taking orders, preparing drinks, and engaging with customers simultaneously.
  • Conflict resolution: Develop conflict resolution skills to handle customer disputes and maintain a harmonious atmosphere.
  • Attention to detail: Pay meticulous attention to detail to ensure accurate drink preparation and exceptional presentation.

Alcohol Sales Hours

Understanding the permitted hours for alcohol sales is essential for bartenders. These hours vary depending on local regulations and may include restrictions on serving alcohol during early morning hours or certain holidays. Familiarize yourself with the specific alcohol sales hours in your area to comply with the law and ensure responsible alcohol service.

Selling Alcoholic Beverages To Underage Customers

As a bartender, it is your legal and ethical responsibility to prevent the sale of alcohol to underage customers. Strictly adhere to age verification protocols, such as requesting valid identification, and refuse to sell alcohol or service to anyone unable to provide proper proof of legal drinking age. By doing so, you contribute to the safety of individuals and help maintain the integrity of the establishment.

Be Patient and Available

Securing your first bartending job may take time and perseverance. Be patient and open to opportunities that come your way. Network with industry professionals, attend industry events and showcase your passion and dedication. Be prepared to start at entry-level positions and work your way up. Demonstrating your commitment and skills can pave the way for future career growth.

Conclusion: Your Path to Bartending Success

Embarking on a career as a successful bartender requires a combination of technical skills, industry knowledge, and personal attributes. By following the 17 essential tips outlined in this guide, you can set yourself on the right path to secure your first bartending job. From obtaining a bartending license to immersing yourself in bar culture and continually expanding your skills, each step contributes to your growth as a professional bartender.

How Can I Become a Bartender FAQ

Can I become a bartender without attending bartending school?

Yes, attending bartending school is not a mandatory requirement to become a bartender. However, it can provide valuable training and networking opportunities to enhance your career prospects.

How long does it take to become a bartender?

The time it takes to become a bartender varies depending on factors such as experience, training, and opportunities for practical experience. It can range from a few weeks to several months or even longer.

Do I need prior experience to get a bartending job?

While prior experience is not always necessary, having some experience in the hospitality industry or related roles can be advantageous. Starting as a barback or gaining experience in customer service can help you learn the ropes and develop the necessary skills.

What is the earning potential for experienced bartenders?

Experienced bartenders working in reputable establishments or in high-end locations have the potential to earn significantly more through tips and higher base salaries. Exceptional bartenders can earn well above the average range, depending on their skills, reputation, and clientele.

How do I start bartending?

To start bartending, consider taking the following steps:

  • Obtain a bartending license or certification, if required in your area.
  • Gain practical experience by starting as a barback or in entry-level positions at bars or restaurants.
  • Develop your bartending skills by learning mixology, pouring techniques, and customer service.
  • Network with industry professionals and apply for bartending positions at establishments that align with your career goals.

Is bartending a side hustle?

Yes, bartending can be a popular choice as a side hustle. Many bartenders work part-time or during evenings and weekends while pursuing other careers or interests. It offers flexible hours and the potential to earn additional income through tips.

Can you start off as a bartender?

While starting as a bartender is possible, it is more common to begin as a barback or in an assistant bartender role. These positions allow you to gain hands-on experience, learn from seasoned bartenders, and develop the skills necessary for a successful bartending career.

Can you be a good bartender if you don’t drink?

Absolutely! Being a good bartender is not dependent on personal drinking habits. Bartenders should have a strong understanding of different alcoholic beverages, their flavours, and mixing drinks and techniques. It’s more important to focus on providing excellent customer service, mastering drink preparation, and creating enjoyable experiences for customers.

What is the youngest age to be a bartender?

The minimum age requirement to work as a bartender varies depending on the jurisdiction and local laws. However, some parts of the US and Canada allow people as young as 18 to bartend under certain conditions. Familiarize yourself with the legal age requirements in your area.

Also, know that some US states have a different minimum age for serving alcoholic beverages and working behind bar. You can find a list of minimum ages to serve in the US here.

How do you dress like a bartender?

Dress codes for bartenders can vary depending on the establishment. Generally, bartenders are expected to dress professionally and adhere to the establishment’s guidelines. This may include wearing clean and presentable attire such as a button-down shirt, dress pants or skirt, appropriate footwear, and sometimes a vest or tie. It’s best to inquire about the specific dress code during the interview or orientation process.

Can you wear jeans to a bartender interview?

While it’s always best to dress professionally for a job interview, including wearing slacks or dress pants, some establishments may have a more casual atmosphere where jeans are acceptable. If you’re unsure about the dress code, it’s recommended to err on the side of formality and choose dress pants or slacks for the interview.

Do bartenders have to pull their hair back?

Many establishments require bartenders to keep their hair neatly styled and away from their face for hygiene and safety reasons. This is typically achieved by pulling the hair back in a bun, or ponytail or using hair clips. It’s advisable to inquire about the specific grooming requirements and guidelines of the establishment you are applying to or working at.