Bartending school is a touchy subject. Many people in the industry have conflicting opinions on whether or not it’s worth it.
This post aims to give you all the knowledge, resources, pros and cons so that you can make an informed decision for yourself.
The benefits of bartending school:
- May help place you into a bartending gig
- Will give you some basic knowledge and confidence
- Allows you to meet others looking to enter the industry
The cons of bartending school:
- Mildly Expensive
- Can give you a false sense of importance
- May actually deter an employer from hiring you
Now, let’s get into it…
What’s the difference? Bartender School vs. Bartender License
Despite what the internet might tell you, there is no official school that you need to go to in order to become a bartender.
There are two main reasons that lead to this confusion:
- Some bartending class providers are looking to make money off of novices, therefore will try to confuse aspiring bartenders
- In some states a bartending license (different than school) is required
So what is the difference between bartending school and a bartending license?
Simply put, some states or cities in America require bartenders to become licensed before they are allowed to handle and serve alcoholic beverages.
A license is simply a certificate that proves that you have passed the mandated requirements to serve alcoholic beverages. Classes may include everything from how to mix drinks properly to understanding how to deal with people attempting to drive drunk, underage drinkers, and aggressive customers in a bar.
A bartending license course can range anywhere from 2 -10 hours and is dependent on your municipality/state requiring it. We have built a handy resource that gives you all the information you need to know about your states bartending license requirements here.
Bartending school on the other hand is not required. Bartending schools generally focus on the aspects of drink pouring and bartending etiquette rather than laws and regulations.
You will learn a multitude of different drink combinations, pour counts, proper attire, bar stocking and other best practices behind the bar.
You can think of bartending school as a shortcut or a head start into what a day behind the bar will be like. Each school’s length varies, but most courses last a few weeks.
How much does bartending school cost?
There are multiple factors that go into what bartending school will cost. Aspects such as where you live and whether or not you are taking the classes online will impact the cost.
Generally speaking, online bartending schools will cost anywhere from $25 – $100.
NOTE: Take caution when looking for bartending schools online as there are many scams. Frankly, some don’t teach you much more than what’s available for free on Youtube. There is only one online school we stand behind and that is the Mixology Certification from A Bar Above. Trust us, this one is the only one worth it.
On the other hand, in-person bartending schools usually run anywhere from $250 – $500 for a 40 hour class.
How long is bartending school?
Every school is different, but generally, bartending school’s will take around 40 hours to graduate.
The main question you will want to ask when it comes to length though is, “over what period of time?”
Some schools will provide options for you to do the 40 hours of training in one week, where as others will spread it out over four to five weeks.
What do you learn in bartending school?
A professional bartending school should teach you a few core concepts that will be needed while on the job.
These include skills such as:
How to set up a bar: A good school will allow you to get hands on experience behind a mock bar so you will have a general understanding of where equipment should be.
Sanitation: Proper sanitation is on often overlooked aspect of bartender training. Schools should give you thorough training to keep your workplace healthy and safe.
Correct pours: A correct pour can be the difference between a good drink and a bad one, leaving you with either more or less tips. Pouring correctly is also a skill that a potential employer will be looking for during a job interview.
Drink knowledge: Understanding the difference between a gin or a vodka, or a craft beer vs. an imported beer is necessary for becoming a bartender. A good school will also give you hands on experience with tactics such as tapping a keg.
State laws: Every state has different rules and regulations when it comes to the service of alcohol. Bartending schools should give you deep training into what your state/municipality requires.
Alcohol awareness: As a bartender, your first time dealing with an intoxicated customer is a day you will never forget. Bartending school should give you a basic understanding of what to look for in a customer that has had one too many, and how to deal with the person professionally and courteously.
How to make a professional resume and interview preparation: After graduating bartender school, you’ll want to immediately begin looking for jobs while the knowledge you learned is still fresh in your mind. Having a professional resume is one of the most important aspects of applying to a job. You can also check out our guide on how to make a professional resume.
Why you may NOT want to attend bartending school
Although we believe that bartender schools without a doubt have a place for aspiring bartenders, there are absolutely some reasons you may not want to attend.
First and foremost is the cost. With prices possibly running in the hundreds of dollars, it is an expensive step to take without bartending school actually being required.
The biggest issue that we have seen with bartending school is not the material they teach or the drinks they show you how to pour, but rather the undeserving confidence that they instill in graduates.
Being a bartender is not an easy job and employers hate to see individuals graduate from bartending school thinking that they know everything there is to know about working behind a bar.
Being confident is a good thing, but you also need to have a sense of humility and know that there are others in the bar that have worked from the bottom and earned the respect of their employer and co-workers.
What’s the deal with bartending school job placement?
When researching online for bartending schools, you will eventually come across some wording around “job placement assistance.”
Bartending schools will try to entice you to join their training program by convincing you that they will help you land a job after you have gone through the school.
Through our research, we find these claims dubious.
Sometimes, yes, bartending schools have helped place students in bartending jobs, but more often than not you will end up as a barback (a job you could have gotten on your own).
Now this isn’t to say that all bartending school job placement assistance is bad. We have also seen some very local bartending schools with real relationships in the community help students get hired.
Ultimately it comes down to performing a good amount of research (which we will cover below) into the different bartending schools in your area.
What’s Your Best Option?
Without a doubt, the most quickest and most beneficial way to becoming a bartender is to get real world experience. A school can give you a head start, but there is nothing like the actual hustle and bustle of working behind a bar.
You may be wondering though: if you do not have bartender experience, then how do you quickly become a bartender?
Our suggestion is to get any job in a bar or restaurant and work your way up.
Starting as a barback
The barback is the unsung hero of the bar. He or she is there to provide support for the bartenders and make the entire night move smoothly.
Getting a job as a barback is not only easier than going directly for a bartender job, but it also allows you to get hands on experience without having to jump into the fire immediately.
If you would like to learn more about how to get a job as a barback and work your way up to a bartender we have written the article for you.
Starting from other restaurant positions
Although the move from barback to bartender is probably the easiest to make in a restaurant/bar, it isn’t the only way.
We have seen plenty of people such as as servers, food runners, and hosts work their way into the bartender position.
Ultimately, after interviewing hundreds of bars, we have found that employers would rather hire from within than take a risk on someone that they do not know.
Get a job, work hard, and make it known to your employers that you would like to become a bartender. In time, a position will open up and hopefully you’ll be first in line to claim it.
How to find a reputable bartender school
If after reading this article, you decide that bartender school is still for you, then here are a few steps to take in order to choose the best school.
Meet the instructor
In our opinion, the most important differentiator between a good bartending school and a bad one will be the instructor(s).
If you are debating between a few different bartending schools, then we suggest visiting them in person and meeting the instructor face to face.
Generally your first impression of the instructor is enough to know whether the course will be worth it to you or not.
Sit through a class
If you are still on the edge of going to school or maybe you are debating between a few different schools, you should go sit in on a few classes.
Any reputable bartending school will allow you to sit through a portion of a class before making a decision. If they don’t, there is probably some aspect of the class they are trying to hide.
Read bartending school reviews online
Generally, we have found that online reviews can be hit or miss for bartending schools. They can absolutely help you narrow down your decision, but they shouldn’t be your only resource.
Ask local bartenders
An overlooked step aspiring bartenders can take is to talk to local bartenders and ask them questions. We suggest going to a local bar during it’s off hours and sparking up a conversation with the bartender.
Let the bartender know that you are an aspiring bartender and have a few questions. In our experience bartenders love to share information about their careers (as long as it is a slow day).
Not only will you receive some good tips and tricks, but we have seen cases where the conversation can actually lead to a job offer (for a barback) on the spot.
We hope that this post has given you the knowledge you need in order to make an informed decision on whether or not bartending school is right for you.
Every day, bartenders are getting jobs going both routes (bartending school or working their way up) so there is no wrong answer.
Good luck and we hope to see you as a bartender, raking in the tips, soon.