From local pubs to high-end restaurants, bartenders are responsible for keeping drinks flowing all night long. However, making cocktails is only part of a bartender's job description. These workers may have the following duties:
- Greeting customers, providing information about specials and answering drink and menu questions.
- Filling drink orders for beer, wine, cocktails and other beverages.
- Ensuring customers are of legal drinking age and that anyone intoxicated is not served.
- Processing cash and credit payments.
- Cleaning the bar area and adjoining tables.
Bartending can also lead to inspiration to work elsewhere in the food and hospitality industry, such as in restaurant management or even becoming a sommelier -- think 'wine specialist' -- down the line.
How to Become a Bartender
Bartenders need to know drink recipes, laws regarding alcohol and the basics of working in hospitality. The following steps represent one path to become a bartender:
- Earn a high school diploma or GED. Not only will you need to graduate high school, but you'll also have to be at least 18 to become a bartender. Most states won't allow minors to serve alcohol.
- Complete a training program. Some bartenders are provided on-the-job training by an employer, but others complete a short-term bartending program first.
- Take a responsible server class. States may require bartenders complete a course designed to help them follow alcohol laws.
- Stay current on industry trends. Bartenders may read trade publications or take classes to stay up-to-date on the latest drink trends.
Whether you learn on the job or enroll in a bartending school, you can expect to learn about all the following:
- Drink recipes
- Inventory management
- Alcohol laws
How Long is Bartending School?
If you're wondering how long is bartending school, the answer is "not long." Some programs can be completed in a few weeks or even a few days while other degrees may run up to two years. The length of your program will depend largely on your career goals. Here's a closer look at your options.
- Short-term training: A short-term training program is the most common education available to aspiring bartenders. These may run from 1-3 weeks to teach the basics of pouring and mixing drinks or extend to 12 weeks to include instruction on bar management. Either way, students typically graduate knowing how make dozens of drinks.
- Associate Degree: If you only want to be a bartender, you won't need an associate degree. However, if you would like to be a manager, you might want to consider these two-year degrees. A food and beverage associate degree can prepare you for a career managing not only the bar but an entire the restaurant as well.
You'll find associate degrees at community colleges and technical schools, but short-term training programs are typically offered by dedicated bartending schools. Many of these offer in-person training that is focused on hands-on practice pouring and mixing drinks.
You can also attend an online bartending school. While these programs can be considerably cheaper than traditional classes, you will have to supply your own alcohol and tools for practice. That can significantly increase your costs.
Bartenders must typically complete an approved alcohol server course before they can begin working. Unlike bartending school programs, these courses don't teach how to mix drinks or manage a bar. Instead, they are focused solely on conveying information about state laws and how to serve alcohol responsibly.
While you could spend up to $1,000 to cover bartending school costs, these compliance classes can be complete for less than $10 online through organizations such as Learn2Serve and Professional Server Certification Corporation.
Career Advancement for Bartenders
Those who don't have any formal education or experience in bartending may start as a bartender helper. Others may first work as a server before transitioning to behind the bar. Once someone becomes a bartender, they may advance their career by learning new skills and more complex drinks or moving into a managerial role.
Program Costs and Financial Aid
Skills and Qualities for Bartenders
Before you enroll in a traditional or online bartending school, make sure you have the skills and abilities needed to be successful in this career:
- Memorization: Bartenders need to memorize dozen of drink recipes and recall that information quickly while working.
- Service Orientation: Like other hospitality jobs, bartending is all about meeting the needs of others. If you don't enjoy helping customers, this might not be the career for you.
- Monitoring: It can be a crime to serve alcohol to someone who is intoxicated which means bartenders must be able to keep track of customer orders and behavior to determine if and when to stop serving.
- Manual Dexterity: Bartending means pouring from bottles, mixing ingredients and holding glasses. If you don't have good manual dexterity, that could be difficult.
- Problem Sensitivity: Whether it's a customer who is becoming unruly or an inventory that is running dry, bartenders must be able to identify when something is about to go wrong.
Career Outlook and Salary Information for Bartenders
How much you make as a bartender will depend on many factors, not the least of which is that much of your income may depend on tips which can be highly variable. A bartender in a swanky club may earn significantly more than one pouring drinks in a small town pub. However, to give you an idea of base wages, national bartender salary data is shown below.
Similar to bartender salary, job opportunities can vary depending on where you live. More jobs are available in major metropolitan areas like New York City and Los Angeles than in more rural communities. The overall expected career outlook nationwide is listed below.
Projected Job Growth
Professional Resources for Bartenders
Bartending changes over time as new drinks and experiences become popular. You can stay up-to-date on the latest trends by following these organizations.
- International Bartenders Association - Founded in 1951 in the United Kingdom, ICA hosts the annual World Cocktail Championships, and its website includes recipes for dozens of drinks from old favorites to contemporary classics.
- United States Bartenders' Guild - The USBG is considered the leading professional organization for bartenders in the U.S. It offers conferences, seminars and cocktail competitions at locations across the country.
- National Bartenders Association - Founded in 1986, the NBA maintains a jobs board and provides its members access to health insurance and liability insurance.