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How to Become a Bartender

Kit Jenkin
19 Jun 2021

Lots of people want to know how to become a bartender. 

Bartending can be one of the most entertaining, exciting, and lucrative jobs out there. You’re the MC of everyone’s evening, whether you’re serving one person who’s drinking solo, or a whole bar full of carousers. No matter what kind of night your customers have, it’s up to you to make sure they have a good time. 

One great thing about becoming a bartender is that the bar for entry is very low. Almost anyone can become a bartender - all it takes is a certain amount of training, the right skills, and a robust personality. 

Here’s what you’ll need to become a bartender.

Meet the requirements

No matter where you may work as a bartender, you’ll have to be the right age. This age requirement varies depending on where you’re working. In the United States, some states require you to be at least 18 to be a bartender or work in a bar. Other states require you to be older. In other places, people under the age of 21 can tend bar and serve drinks but must be supervised by someone responsible, like a supervisor or bar manager. 

The rest of the world is a bit less finicky. In Canada, for example, you have to be either 18 or 19, depending on the province or territory. And in countries like the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand (and most other countries, for that matter), you only have to be 18. 

Decide where you want to work

Being a bartender can be a job with a lot of variety. Your basic bartending skills can land you a job in many different types of establishments, from restaurants and bars to nightclubs and cocktail bars. 

The type of establishment you work in will determine the kinds of tasks you’ll be doing. For instance, if you work in a restaurant, you may need to mix basic cocktails, pour drinks, and handle food as well. If you work in a cocktail lounge, your knowledge of mixology and flavor profiles will have to be extensive, and you’ll need to be able to execute the lounge’s drinks menu to a high standard. 

Get your certification

While it’s not strictly required in some cases, many establishments need their bartenders to have some kind of certification. 

Most US jurisdictions require bartenders to have some kind of certification for serving alcohol, such as Illinois’s BASSET certification [1] or Ontario’s Smart Serve certification [2]. These courses are usually fairly cheap and cover the basics of serving alcohol to the public. Other jurisdictions, like the UK and Ireland, have no legal requirements for their bartenders to hold certifications (although having qualifications may help in the hiring process).

Tailor your resume

The old wisdom is true - you need to tailor your resume for the job you’re applying for. For bartending work, it’s pretty straightforward: include all your relevant hospitality/catering/service experience. This could include previous work as:

  • Waiter
  • Barback
  • Caterer
  • Hosting
  • Customer service

Of course, you might want to highlight certain experiences based on the job. For instance, you might want to draw more attention to your previous bartending experience if you’re applying for a mixologist position in a swanky cocktail lounge. However, if you’re applying for a job at the bar in a restaurant, then highlighting any service experience will be incredibly beneficial. 

Take a course

There are many different certifications and qualifications you can get to enhance your knowledge, skills, and experience for bartending jobs. You can find courses of all sorts, whether in brick-and-mortar establishments or online, or as part of an on-the-job training course. You can be taught almost anything, from mixology and bar-based food service to courses on the history and production of rare spirits.

The main value of these training courses is that they provide industry-recognized accreditations. Many courses are verified and approved by national and international hospitality bodies. These bodies signify widely-agreed levels of quality in course content and teaching. If your course is accredited by an international body like WSET [3], your qualification is more likely to be recognized in many countries, which will open doors for you if you want to work as a bartender in other countries. 

Know the role

Being a bartender is a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of hard work. 

The job can be physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding. You’re on your feet for hours at a time, you will often have to juggle many different requests and orders at once, and you may have to deal with difficult customers. It takes a certain personality to deal with all of these demands and requests while remaining calm and welcoming to new customers. 

Most bartenders also mostly work nights. It’s not uncommon for bartenders to work until the early hours of the morning. So, if you’re wanting to work a normal, 9-5 shift, then being a bartender probably isn’t for you. 

Research other bartenders

If you want to become a bartender, it’ll help to research other bartenders. You can learn lots of tips and tricks on flare, dress, mixing, and serving techniques simply by watching the social media accounts of your area’s favorite bartenders. 

Understand the law

Alcohol is a highly regulated commodity because of how much it can affect people’s judgment and behavior. In most jurisdictions, you can’t sell alcohol to minors, and establishments are often liable if this rule is broken. 

Certain establishments in some jurisdictions may also be liable if someone consumes too much alcohol on their premises and later gets into a car accident. 

As a server of alcohol, you’ll be responsible for making judgments about who to serve. You should know the law and its application so that you can keep yourself and your establishment out of trouble. 

Develop your soft skills

Being a bartender is about more than pouring, mixing, and serving drinks. It’s about relating to your customers, making people feel welcome, and going out of your way to give them what they desire. 

Doing this requires you to develop your soft skills, like your ability to develop and maintain interpersonal relationships, anticipating a customer’s needs, memorization, and tact for dealing with potentially uncomfortable conversations with customers. You may also be called on to manage parties and events. 

Become a barback

Even if you have your certifications, you’ll need some practical experience to become a bartender. One of the best ways to get this practical experience is to start working as a barback. 

A barback is a support role that helps the main bartender in their tasks. The barback will help with the preparation of the bar, making sure that stock levels are full before service begins. During the service, they will usually be washing and restocking glassware, changing kegs, cleaning the bar top, and refilling anything that needs to be changed. 

Barbacks tend to get a lot of practical, first-hand experience of the operations of a bar. If you work hard and stick around long enough, you may be shown how to pour and mix certain drinks from the main bartender. 

Learn how to use a POS system

As a bartender, you’ll need to take payments for the drinks you serve. To do this, you’ll need to familiarise yourself with the processes and procedures of a premium point of sale system

With the right bar POS system, you’ll be able to do lots of things at once, like manage table orders, accept payments quickly, take online orders, train new staff, and track the use of your establishment’s customer loyalty scheme.

No matter where you go, you’re going to need to know how to use a POS system. Get practicing!