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Become a Bartender: Your Path to Mixology Mastery

Jill Caren
By Jill Caren
Updated January 11th, 2024

Do you want to work your way up the bar and become a bartender?

It can be an exciting job with lots of perks, but it also requires dedication and hard work.

In this article, we’ll share the best steps on how to become a bartender – from understanding what skills are necessary for success, to learning how to land that first job!

If working some magic with various alcoholic mixtures sounds like fun, then bartending can be a great job – or even career. School is not required, just a lot of enthusiasm and a love of working with people.

Bartending School Is Not Required

No formal education is necessary to become a bartender.

Some my recommend a bartending school, which can definitely be helpful, but it is not required. Attending a school can teach you tactical skills like pouring, mixing, and measuring – but it cannot teach you how to work the room on a busy night.

Get the truth on bartending schools before making that leap. If you do decide to attend a school, be sure you do your homework, get recommendations, and make sure they offer training that will really prepare you for the challenges of bartending.

When it comes to hiring, a bar manager will opt for someone with experience over someone who just got done with school.

Age Requirements

The state you reside in will determine the age you need to be to be a bartender. Ages vary from 18-21 in most states.

Some states may have an age requirement of 18, but certain localities within the state may require you to be 21. So, be sure to check the age requirements for bartending before you start down this path.

Bartending License

Not all states require a bartending license, but some states and cities do. If you are in a city or state that requires a license, you will definitely want to have a bartending license before you apply for a job.

A license can help validate your expertise in a variety of areas including:

  • The proper way to handle disturbances
  • How to identify when a patron is too intoxicated
  • The laws and fines for serving minors

We found that the following states have licensing requirements:

  • California – Responsible Beverage Service (RBS) Training required from an Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) accredited provider.
  • Washington – Mandatory Alcohol Server (MAST) Training permit is required
  • Arizona – Arizona Alcohol Seller and Certification is required
  • Nevada – Alcohol Education Card is needed
  • Alaska – Alaska Alcohol Seller Certification is needed

This is not a comprehensive list. You should check with your state’s Alcohol Beverage Control organization to see what the requirements are.

Become A Bar-back

One of the best ways to get started in bartending is to become a bar-back. Many young men and women start out working summers during high-school as a bar-back to gain experience in the industry and earn some money!

There is no experience required to become a bar-back. It is a very manual job that requires good health, strength, and of course – a positive attitude.

Some of the work a bar-back does includes:

  • Restocking of items for bartenders
  • Clean the bar, chairs, and tables
  • Clearing plates or running food
  • Cleaning dishes
  • Cutting and juicing of citrus items or garnishes

During your time as a bar-back you can really learn a lot!

Be sure to watch the bartenders in action. From how they mix drinks, to the way they treat the guests.

The most important requirement for becoming a bartender is having knowledge and understanding of alcoholic beverages. You should have an extensive knowledge on different types of drinks including cocktails, beer, wine, spirits and liqueurs.

Knowing how to mix drinks correctly will help ensure accurate measurements while making sure customers get what they ordered. It’s also essential to know all relevant state liquor laws so that proper serving procedures are followed at all times.

Having customer service skills is critical when it comes to being a successful bartender because your job largely involves interacting with people.

To be effective in this role, you’ll need excellent communication skills along with the ability to multitask under pressure and stay calm during busy shifts. With these qualifications in mind, aspiring bartenders should brush up their resume and begin applying for jobs related to the field of bartending!

Fun Fact: Ellen DeGeneres worked as a bartender! View more famous skilled trade workers.

Skills Needed

While being personal is an important skill, there are actually several skills that can help you maximize your success and earnings.

Be Social

Having amazing interpersonal skills will be the most important part of being a bartender.

Reading some books on psychology or understanding consumers can help you maximize these skills. As a bartender you will come across all kinds of people. When you understand what they need as a patron, you can provide them the best possible service.

For example, a more quiet and reserved patron, you will need to handle very differently than someone who is outgoing and loud. Understanding how to handle each of these unique personalities will help you be a more successful bartender.

Detail Oriented

Creating drinks using accurate measurements will be critical to the bar’s overall success. You will need to create many drinks in a short amount of time while keeping cost-of-goods (COGS) in mind.

The accuracy in order taking is critical as well for customer satisfaction. If they order that hamburger well-done and you deliver it rare, that can affect overall customer experience.

Ability To Wear Many Hats

Bartenders rarely do just one thing. They often manage many tasks at one -time all while dealing with a lot of stress from patrons.

You will be a an entertainer, a food delivery person, an accountant, and so much more!

female bartender at work

Finding A Bartending Job

Finding a job in the bartending industry can be quite challenging, especially at the popular clubs and bars.

However, there are several strategies you can use to optimize your chances of success.

  • Research the various bars and restaurants in the area you plan to work.
  • Learn what kind of atmosphere they have and what type of drinks they serve.
  • Take note of the hours each establishment operates, as this will help you determine which places may offer more opportunity for employment.
  • Once you’ve identified potential employers, make sure to create an impressive resume that speaks volumes about your skills and abilities.
  • Highlight any previous experience or certifications related to bartender duties, such as knowledge of craft cocktails or special bar equipment handling techniques.
  • Practice your interview skills! Work with friends or family members to increase your confidence and comfort level when talking with potential employers.

And, do not be afraid to reach out directly to a specific place you want to work. A simple phone call or visit may result in a job! If you do not ask, you will never know.

If you love the water you can even work as a yacht stewardess where you may be asked to create some mixed cocktails for guests.

Interviews may or may not be required depending on where you apply. So do not be surprised if you are hired based on your application or phone call.

How Much Money Can Bartenders Make?

Earnings for bartenders can vary greatly depending on location, where they work, experience and skill level of the bartender. Tips are a large part of earnings, so the better people skills you bring – the more money you can earn.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median pay for a bartender is roughly $26,000 annually.

If you are new to the field you will usually earn less until you build up your skills.

Then there is the variation in where you work. Working at a bar at the beach in the summer will be much more lucrative than a small local bar inland. Working at a high-end club can result in much higher tips than being a bartender in a local restaurant.

So, choosing where to work will make a big difference!

Here are a couple of great threads that talk a bit more about what bartenders are earning.

Is There Demand For Bartenders?

It is expected that the overall demand for bartenders will increase by 18 percent through 2031.

There is an expected 105,300 new job openings expected every year! That means a lot of opportunity depending where you live.

Below is some data from various metropolitan areas that employ the most bartenders.

Metro AreaEstimated # of BartendersAverage Hourly Wage
NY / NJ29,360$25.31
Chicago, IL20,130$16.28
Los Angeles, CA20,030$18.86
Boston / NH13,740$18.39
Houston, TX11,850$15.60

Final Thoughts

Becoming a bartender can definitely a fun and exciting career, but it is not always easy. It can be physically demanding and dealing with intoxicated people can be challenging – sometimes even dangerous.

But if you have the confidence and people skills to handle the challenges, it can be a great job to have in your back pocket! It is one you can do your whole life either as a primary or secondary job.

So whether you are looking for a full-time gig for a while, or a part-time job to earn some extra money, a bartender is a solid pick.

Jill Caren is an international SEO consultant and founder of 2Dogs Media. She is also a trainer, journalist, and speaker who helps brands increase their organic search visibility, traffic, and conversions. She is also the co-founder of Blue Collar Brain, a resource for those looking to enter a trade career.

She has been featured on MSN, Wealth of Geeks, Hubspot, SEO Powersuite, and other publications for her work as an SEO and advocate for skilled trades.