How To Become a Bartender in Ontario

  • By: BT Staff
  • Date: January 20, 2024
  • Time to read: 5 min.

Raise a glass to your future bartending career! With Ontario’s thriving nightlife, becoming a bartender can be a fun and lucrative career path. But where do you start? Let’s shake things up and explore the ins and outs of how to become a bartender in Ontario.

Becoming a bartender in Ontario can be an exciting and fulfilling career path. With a vibrant nightlife scene, the demand for skilled bartenders is always high. However, starting a career as a bartender requires a certain set of skills, certifications, and knowledge.

This article will guide you through how to become a bartender in Ontario, including the legal requirements, education and training options, building skills and a network, finding a job, and tips for success.

Legal Requirements

Becoming a bartender in Ontario requires meeting certain legal requirements. These include:

  • Age Requirement: In Ontario, the legal age to serve alcohol is 18. However, some employers may require a minimum age of 19 years old.
  • Alcohol Server Certification: All bartenders in Ontario must have an Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) SmartServe training certification. This certification covers the responsible service and sale of alcohol and is mandatory for anyone who serves or handles alcohol in the province.

Once you meet the age and have your SmartServe certificate you are legally allowed to bartend in Ontario.

Bartending Education

Beyond the legal requirements, you’ll need to learn how to bartend. Many schools and college classes across the province will teach you skills, but many bartenders say they started by working at a smaller bar and worked their way up.

To start your bartending career, there are several routes to consider:

  • Begin as a barback, gradually learning the trade and gaining industry experience.
  • Start as a server and build your experience working with customers and handling busy shifts.
  • Get your first bartending job at a low-volume establishment, such as a local bowling alley or small bar, to build your skills and gain experience.
  • Volunteer at events, look for volunteer opportunities at local events or charity functions that require bartenders. This can be a great way to gain experience and make connections in the industry.

Also, if you’re in school, many colleges have on-campus bars, and these can be good places to build experience while at school. We’ve written an article on bartending as a college job here.

If you’re new to the industry, some places are better than others. In general, more corporate restaurants will provide more training. We’ve written an article about different food service places you might work at here. Even starting as a barback can teach you a lot as well.

Bartending Classes

There are various options for bartending classes in Ontario, including online courses, community college programs, and private bartending schools. These classes will teach you about drink recipes, mixology techniques, and customer service. Many will also include training to pass the SmartServe program but check with the school before signing up.

Building Your Network and Finding Jobs

Once you have received your bartending education and certification, it’s time to start building your network and finding job opportunities. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Networking: Attend industry events, join bartending organizations, and reach out to experienced bartenders in your area to build your network and make connections. These connections can help you find job opportunities and provide valuable advice and support as you start your career.
  • Building a Portfolio: Create a portfolio that showcases your skills, education, and experience. This can include samples of drinks you have created, photos of you in action, and references from previous employers.
  • Finding Job Opportunities: Look for job openings in bars, restaurants, and other establishments that serve alcohol. You can search online job boards, attend job fairs, or reach out to your network for potential leads. Be prepared to interview well and showcase your skills, education, and experience.

By building your network, creating a portfolio, and actively seeking job opportunities, you’ll be well on your way to starting your career as a bartender in Ontario. Whether starting as a bar back or working your way up, the key is gaining experience, building your skills, and making connections in the industry.

Bartending in Ontario Questions and Answers

How Do I Get My Bartending License in Ontario?

You must get a SmartServe certificate in Ontario to handle and serve alcohol. You can take the training either online or through different schools in Ontario. To take the online training or find schools that offer it, visit the website. Currently, the test costs $44.95 (plus HST).

SmartServe certificates do expire. Anyone certified on or after July 1, 2018, will have five years from the issue date to recertify. You must recertify before it expires. Otherwise, you’ll have to retake the training. 

How Long Is a Bartending Course in Ontario?

The SmartServe will take about four hours to complete, followed by a multiple-choice test. The test consists of 33 multiple-choice questions, and you’ll need to get a score of 80% or higher to earn a certificate. You will have two attempts at the Final Test. 

How Do I Know When My SmartServe Certificate Expires?

You can access your Smart Serve eCertificate by downloading a PDF from your Individual Online Account on The certificate should include both the issue and expiration dates.

The date a certificate is issued is indicated within the certificate number itself. The first six digits of a Smart Serve certificate number represent the date of issuance in yy-mm-dd format.

For instance, a certificate number starting with 990501… indicates an issuance date of May 1st, 1999.

Can Bartenders Drink on the Job in Ontario?

As in many other North American jurisdictions, the final answer comes down to the establishment you’re working at; however, the laws in Ontario seem to strongly discourage it.

We couldn’t find any law specifically in the Ontario Liquor Licence and Control Act, nor does the AGCO regulations seem to ban staff drinking specifically; however, SmartServe includes a section suggesting that staff training should include a policy of “Not allowing staff/volunteers to drink on the job, or be under the influence of any kind.”

Finally, according to the Liquor Licence Act in Ontario (section 52, civil liability), staff members and the establishment can be held liable if they served a patron who later comes to injury.

So we’d have to say it may not be illegal for staff to drink on shift, but Ontario laws discourage it.

How Much Do Bartenders Make an Hour in Ontario?

According to, as of 2023, the average salary for a bartender in Ontario is $16.52. In Toronto, the average annual salary for a bartender is $31,014, according to

As of 2023, the minimum wage in Ontario is $15.50, and bartenders typically make more than this, especially when tips are factored in, which can significantly boost your income.


In conclusion, a career as a bartender in Ontario can be a fun and lucrative opportunity, but it requires dedication and hard work. By following the steps outlined in this article, including meeting the legal requirements, getting educated, practising and improving your skills, building a network, and finding the right job, you’ll be well on your way to a successful bartending career. Remember to stay knowledgeable about industry trends and always provide excellent customer service. Cheers to your future as a bartender in Ontario!