So we’re guessing you’ve stumbled upon this page because you’re looking to become a bartender. You’ve heard different ways of trying to make that happen, but one answer has given you mixed reactions.
Is it worth it, or is it a waste of money?
We’ll be up front about this before we even get started. We really can’t give you a straight answer as to whether or not bartending school is worth the time and money for you personally. What we can do is present to you on the ins and outs of going this route, show what the differentiating opinions are, and hopefully guide you in the right direction.
Bartending School: Is it worth it?
For the new bartender, there is no question that experience is what many businesses are looking for when hiring new personnel behind the bar. But, this can lead to quite the catch-22 dilemma for the aspiring bartender.
How can you get bartending experience when you can’t be hired without experience?
While many have tried to come up with workarounds for this problem, one common solution is to attend a bartending school.
Let’s get into it.
1. Does your state require it?
First and foremost, you need to find out if the state you live in requires a bartending license. Many will claim to avoid getting a bartender’s license because it’s “not legally necessary”. These people are not entirely correct, as one should always consider it. States have different laws from each other, and when it comes to bartending it’s no different.
There are in fact states that require bartending licenses.
As a helpful guide, these states all require bartending licenses for bartenders to serve alcohol:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- Rhode Island
So scan through this list, and see if your state of residence is on it. Or again, you can just check out the homepage and interactive map for all state requirements.
If it’s on the list, then the question isn’t whether or not a license is worth it – the question then becomes “what is the best bartending school to get a license?”.
2. Does your potential place of work require it?
Not only do you have states that require a bartending license, but many places looking to hire bartenders will require it – regardless if they legally have to.
If you are looking to work at a local bar, you should be fine – however calling them and making sure is worth the couple minutes. We’ve found that most casinos, hotels, and chain restaurants often require their restaurant hires to have one.
Do bar managers prefer you to have bartender license?
This is where the mixed reactions come in. Again, if your state requires it, then it doesn’t matter if the bar managers like their hirees having them – they have no choice.
But what about in states that it’s not required? The answer to this question depends on the bar manager and the bar, but it’s important to understand what bar managers like and dislike about students who have bartender training.
First, as we keep alluding to, experience is what they look for first . If you can somehow get real work experience, even as a barback, this is pretty much universally preferred by bar managers. But this can be a bit tricky. So if you do go the bartender school route, managers are on the lookout for a negative quality that derives from many of those who graduated bartending schools.
Will the skills this person learned negatively affect their likelihood of success at my bar?
While you may learn different tricks while learning at a bartending school, some of these tricks are not preferred at certain bars. While they might have taught you to pour a certain way, that way might take too long and is unnecessary for this bar. While you were taught a certain way to make a drink, they may craft it another way.
So what you must do to stand out to these managers is acknowledge that fact that you may have learned things that are different than what they want at the bar, but are willing to learn.
One thing that really turns bar managers off is young bartenders thinking they know more than the bar managers, or can do this or that better or more efficiently. This especially is a trait found in individuals who recently went through a bartending school. Not only will this behavior make you harder to hire, but it will prevent you from learning – which limits your potential as a bartender.
Be willing to learn from every other bartender at the place you begin working at, as well as learn how the bar manager wants you to operate as a bartender, and you can safely make this transition from bartending school to real life.
3. Is the Price worth it?
To get it out in the open, bartending schools are known for their hefty prices. To get certified, it won’t come cheap. But bartending schools do offer valuable experience and teachings. But with prices so high, it’s easy to get discouraged and many give up without digging further. But fear not, for there is a loophole.
Want to go to a bartending school cheap?
Easy. Try Groupon.
Many good bartending schools give ridiculous discounts on Groupon, so when people claim that bartending schools are over-priced (and they aren’t exactly wrong) this option will allow you to attend for a fraction of the cost.
4. Is the quality of the experience worth it?
However, even with going to a bartending school via Groupon, it’s important to know what you are getting with the specific school you are looking at. A simple google search of reviews for these schools will bode you well, and we at Bartending License Help found local bartending schools are often better than the “chain” ones.
Not that going to say chain bartending schools are bad experiences, but we’ve found that the local ones seem to pay better attention to detail in how the experience they craft for you, as well as the fact that they know the local area better (which can help with getting a getting job after).
If you want to work in say, Denver, CO it’s probably a better bet to go with the Denver Bartending School over the Denver branch of Bartending Schools of America. Again, this is simply an opinion, but we’ve just found them to be overall a better experience.
Plus, in our eyes, supporting local businesses is always the better call.
5. Is the value of the experience worth it?
The thing you can’t deny is that experience matters most.
While there are many good YouTube channels that can give you great advice (Bartender Pro and Bols Bartending), as well as great books for learning the craft (The Bar Book and The Joy of Mixology), the bottom line is reading text and watching videos won’t give you that real-world experience. You need to be able to feel the bottles, to work on your pouring technique, and to have the limes cut and ready to go.
What do you get out of a bartending school?
- Hands on experience with real bartending equipment
- A place where it’s “safe to fail”
- Teachers who have experience in the field
- Learn how to perfect different pours, make speciality cocktails, and balance the bartending workload
- Teach you legal responsibilities, as well as how to setup and break down a bar.
How long is a normal bartending class you might ask? Normally about 2-3 weeks long.
6. What if my bartending school experience doesn’t cut it?
There are some other steps you can possibly take to give yourself a better chance at getting that dream bartender job, if you initially don’t have much success getting hired at a local joint.
The first thing you can do is get into a bar by starting at the bottom of the food-chain. Ideally, look for a barback job. But even just working another job at the bar will still get you into the “inner circle”, and many bars love to hire from within. Get a job, work your tail off, and make a good impression. Not only will this help with getting that dream bartending job, but it will also force you to learn a lot more about how the venue works. How they wash glasses, change kegs, even how to replace the napkins.
If you learn these things, it will make your eventual life as a bartender easier – as well as making you more well-rounded and valuable.
Many bar managers we’ve worked with would prefer to promote to a bartending position someone with no experience. They believe they can more or less “create” a good bartender – someone without bad habits or a hefty amount of amount of conceitedness. Nevertheless, you’ll need to put yourself into the position of being the person they want to mold. They need to believe that you can handle the job when the going gets tough, because it will.
Always be asking bartenders questions and putting your name out there.
Have some extra time, and the bar back is backed up? Offer to help with ice duties. Make yourself valuable, and leave good impressions. Then when your bar manager is looking to hire new bartenders, you’ve already made yourself a candidate.
Bonus tip: Get to know everyone, even the backhouse cook if there’s a kitchen. Being a friendly team player is another HUGE trait bar managers look for in new hires.
There are many steps one can take to get started on the path of being a bartender, and there is no “right path”. If you really want to be a bartender though, blazing your own path is how you make it happen. Want to know the right way to start blazing your own path?
The journey to attaining a bartending job might not be obvious right now, but there are steps you can take to put yourself in the right direction. Learn (through bartending schools or books/videos), start at the bottom, work hard, and make yourself known.
Do these things and I guarantee you the door will open for you to become a bartender.