How to Become a Bartender

how to become a bartender

Most bartenders learn their skills through short-term on-the-job training usually lasting a few weeks. No formal education is required.

Many bartenders are promoted from other jobs at the establishments in which they work. Bartenders at upscale establishments usually have attended bartending classes or have previous work experience.

Most states require workers who serve alcoholic beverages to be at least 18 years old. Bartenders must be familiar with state and local laws concerning the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Education

No formal education is required for anyone to become a bartender. However, some aspiring bartenders acquire their skills by attending a school for bartending or by attending bartending classes at a vocational or technical school. Programs in these schools often include instruction on state and local laws and regulations concerning the sale of alcohol, cocktail recipes, proper attire and conduct, and stocking a bar. The length of each program varies, but most courses last a few weeks. Some schools help their graduates find jobs.

Training

Most bartenders receive on-the-job training, usually lasting a few weeks, under the guidance of an experienced bartender. Training focuses on cocktail recipes, bar-setup procedures, and customer service, including how to handle unruly customers and other challenging situations. In establishments where bartenders serve food, the training may cover teamwork and proper food-handling procedures.

Some employers teach bartending skills to new workers by providing self-study programs, online programs, videos, and instructional booklets that explain service skills. Such programs communicate the philosophy of the establishment, help new bartenders build rapport with other staff, and instill a desire to work as part of a team.

Many states and localities require bartenders to complete a responsible-server course. The course is related to state and local alcohol laws, responsible serving practices, and conflict management. Courses may be available both in person and online. Depending on the state and locality, the server, owner, manager, or business may maintain a license to sell alcohol.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Some bartenders qualify through related work experience. They may start as bartender helpers and progress into full-fledged bartenders as they learn basic mixing procedures and recipes. Some bartenders may start as waiters and waitresses or food and beverage serving and related workers.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Bartenders must listen carefully to their customers’ orders, explain drink and food items, and make menu recommendations. They also should be able to converse with customers on a variety of subjects and create a friendly and welcoming environment.

Customer-service skills. Bartenders must have good customer-service skills to ensure repeat business.

Decisionmaking skills. Bartenders must be able to make good decisions. For example, they should be able to detect intoxicated and underage customers and deny service to those individuals.

Physical stamina. Bartenders spend hours on their feet walking and standing while preparing drinks and serving customers.

Physical strength. Bartenders should be able to lift and carry heavy cases of liquor, beer, and other bar supplies—cases that often weigh up to 50 pounds.

What Do Bartenders Do?

Bartenders mix drinks and serve them directly to customers or through wait staff.

Duties

Bartenders typically do the following:

  • Greet customers, give them menus, and inform them about daily specials
  • Take drink orders from customers
  • Pour and serve wine, beer, and other drinks and beverages
  • Mix drinks according to recipes
  • Check the identification of customers to ensure that they are of legal drinking age
  • Clean bars, tables, and work areas
  • Collect payments from customers and return change
  • Manage the operation of the bar, and order and maintain liquor and bar supplies
  • Monitor the level of intoxication of customers

Bartenders fill drink orders either directly from customers at the bar or through waiters and waitresses who place drink orders for dining room customers. Bartenders must know a wide range of drink recipes and be able to mix drinks correctly and quickly. When measuring and pouring beverages, they must avoid spillage or overpouring. They also must work well with waiters and waitresses and other kitchen staff to ensure that customers receive prompt service.

Some establishments, especially busy establishments with many customers, use equipment that automatically measures and pours drinks at the push of a button. Bartenders who use this equipment, however, still must become familiar with the ingredients for special drink requests and be able to work quickly to handle numerous drink orders.

In addition to mixing and serving drinks, bartenders stock and prepare garnishes for drinks and maintain an adequate supply of ice, glasses, and other bar supplies. They also wash glassware and utensils and serve food to customers who eat at the bar. Bartenders are usually responsible for ordering and maintaining an inventory of liquor, mixers, and other bar supplies.

Pay

The median hourly wage for bartenders was $11.39 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.55, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $22.18.

In May 2019, the median hourly wages for bartenders in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Traveler accommodation$12.12
Restaurants and other eating places11.74
Amusement, gambling, and recreation industries11.22
Drinking places (alcoholic beverages)11.00
Civic and social organizations10.08

Bartenders’ earnings often come from a combination of hourly wages and customers’ tips. Earnings vary greatly with the type of establishment. For example, in some upscale, popular, or busy restaurants, bars, and casinos, bartenders make more in tips than in wages.

Tipped employees earn at least the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour, as of July 24, 2009), which may be paid as a combination of direct wages and tips, depending on the state. Direct wages may be as low as $2.13 per hour, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Also according to the FLSA, tipped employees are employees who regularly receive more than $30 a month in tips. The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor maintains a website listing minimum wages for tipped employees, by state, although some localities have enacted minimum wages higher than their state requires.

Bartenders often work late evenings, on weekends, and on holidays. Some work part time.