Do Bartenders Need a License in California?

  • By: BT Staff
  • Date: March 3, 2024
  • Time to read: 6 min.
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Bartending is a great way to make money, especially in California. There are bars and restaurants all over the state whether you are looking to work full-time or part-time as a bartender. 

If you’re starting out as a bartender in California, you might wonder if you need any special licenses or certifications to get a bartending job. Yes, as of July 2022, you must be RBS (Responsible Beverage Server) certified to work as a bartender in California, but don’t let that deter you from pursuing this job. 

Keep reading to learn more about the bartending certification required by the state of California so you can learn how to get it and start working as a bartender today. 

What Certifications Do You Need to Bartend in California?

California recently updated the requirements for bartenders working in the state to require an RBS (Responsible Beverage Service) certification. This certification will enable you to work as a bartender in any bar or restaurant in California legally. 

Everything You Need To Know About the Responsible Beverage Service Certification

How Do I Sign Up for the RBS Certification?

You can sign up for the California RBS certification directly through their website

California-approved training for the exam is available from 360Training.

How Much Does the RBS Certification Cost?

The RBS certification for California bartenders is only $12.50, which is very affordable. This is great news because the cost isn’t a major barrier preventing anyone from making money as a bartender in California. 

Do I Have To Take the RBS Certification in Person?

The RBS certification for California bartenders is all online, so you don’t have to worry about attending in-person classes that may or may not work for your schedule. 

How Long Does It Take To Get an RBS Certification?

Most people can finish the RBS certification test in just 1-2 hours. After you’ve received the certification, it is valid for three years and must be renewed before it expires.

Do security personnel need to be RBS certified?

Yes, security personnel need to be RBS certified. The only exception is if they are not checking ID cards at the door, but most will be doing that, so yes, get your RBS certification just in case. (source)

The exam is taken on the California RBS Portal. California-approved training is available from 360Training.

How Old Do You Have To Be To Serve Alcohol in California?

Anyone responsible for serving alcoholic beverages in California must be at least 21. 

Is the RBS Certification Only for Bartenders?

The rules regarding alcohol service in California are set by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). They’ve established that those responsible for serving or handling alcohol must take the RBS course. This would include servers, managers, and even bouncers or security staff. For more information, see their website. So yes, security personnel need to be RBS certified under most circumstances. .

All staff responsible for determining if a customer can or should be served an alcoholic beverage must be trained on the California state laws on alcohol service. 

Will an Employer Reimburse for the RBS Certification?

Most bars and restaurants consider the RBS certification a requirement to work as a bartender in the state, so it is unlikely that they will reimburse the certification fee. 

The certification will continue to serve you and help you get employment at any bar or restaurant you want to work at in California. So, where it is not specific to the establishment you are applying to, you should not expect to be reimbursed.

Thankfully, the RBS certification is affordable and easy to attain, so it should not be a major issue. 

This would be similar to asking your first employer to reimburse you for your college education after college.

If you decide to go to a bartending school in Los Angeles, San Diego or other cities in California, many of them include the cost of getting your RBS certification. 

Do You Need Certifications Besides RBS To Become a Bartender in California?

The RBS certification used to be the only certification required by law in California for anyone serving and handling alcohol. 

However, from what we’ve learned, you will likely need a food handlers certification. You should check with your employer if this is required.

California-approved online training is available from 360Training.

It’s important to note that it depends on where you want to work as a bartender or server. You may be required to take additional alcohol awareness training before serving alcohol.

Many establishments may have internal alcohol training as part of the onboarding process or may require bartenders to take a TIPs course or a bartending mixology course. Still, these will depend on the specific restaurant or bar. 

How Long Does It Take To Become a Bartender in California?

If the bar you will be working at only requires you to take the RBS certification before starting, you can be ready to go in 1-2 hours. The RBS certification is a self-paced online course you can take whenever you want, and most people finish in one sitting of 1-2 hours. 

Once you’ve received your RBS certification, you can apply to any bar or restaurant in California. 

It may take some time to find the right place to work as a bartender, and you may need to interview at a few different places before you find the right fit, but your certification is an easy hurdle to tackle before you even start applying. 

How Much Do Bartenders Make in California Per Hour?

In California, tipped employees are paid the state minimum wage. As of 2022, the minimum wage in California is $14. 

Depending on where you work and how busy the bar is that you work at, you could make significantly more than $14 per hour. 

The range will vary widely based on the busy metropolitan areas and whether you work in a busy nightclub with high-end service or a smaller, less busy establishment. 

If You Have a Criminal History, Can You Work as a Bartender in California?

There is no background check as part of the RBS certification process, so you should not have a problem obtaining the certification even if you have a criminal history. 

However, it’s important to note that the RBS certification does not guarantee a bartender job in California. When you apply for a job at a specific bar or restaurant, they may require a background check as part of the pre-employment screening. 

If you have a criminal history, it will come up during the background check process, and you may have to discuss it in further detail to help the manager decide whether their policies will allow them to hire you. 

You may be asked to provide more information or work on a temporary probationary period before becoming employed full-time. There is also a chance that the employer will be unable to offer you a position due to your criminal history, so it’s best to disclose these things up front.

In Conclusion

While it might sound like California has more regulations than other states, it’s a great place to work as a bartender. As long as you meet the age requirements (21) and have obtained your RBS certificate, you can legally work as a bartender or serve alcohol in California.

If you’re interested in bartending in other American states, we’ve written an article about bartending requirements across America here.