U.S. Bartending License Guide

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Quick Hits:

  • Depending on the state, bartenders may be required to become certified with a bartending license upon employment.
  • U.S. states have taken a wide range of approaches specifying the process of receiving proper alcohol-serving training and certifications. Furthermore, laws and processes are constantly changing and evolving.
  • We’ve tracked every state’s bartending licensure process, identifying each state-recognized certification, list of training/course providers, and governing bodies. We’ve also tracked the deadlines for obtaining one, how long each license is valid, and even ranked the difficulty level of getting one in each state.

Bartending License Requirements By State

Introduction: State of the Bartending License Industry

State regulators have made it crystal clear – the laws and regulations around the service and sale of alcohol are a very serious matter.

Over the years, primarily due to the concerns over underage drinking, drunk driving, and the wide-ranging possible consequences stemming from the irresponsible service of alcohol, states have slowly started to enforce strict rules and regulations for sellers and servers of alcohol.

Consequently, upon employment, bartenders across the country often must undergo some form of education about the safe and responsible practices of serving alcohol. 

  • After training, prospective bartenders receive a certification, commonly referred to as a "bartending license." This license or certification proves to employers or the state that the individual has received training and, at minimum, understands the local laws of serving customers alcohol.

Are Bartending Licenses Mandatory? It Depends.

Whether a bartending license is mandatory or voluntary depends mainly on the state where bartenders work. There is no common, nationally recognized law regarding bartending licenses. Instead, each state has the authority to regulate the service and sale of alcohol.

In some cases, state-wide laws around bartending are nonexistent, as the state gives local municipalities the power to authorize their regulations around businesses licensed to sell alcohol.

By the numbers:

  • 18 out of 50 U.S. states require that all bartenders receive proper training upon employment at a liquor-licensed establishment hosting on-premise alcohol consumption.
  • 22 out of 50 U.S. states do not require bartending licensure.
  • 7 out of 50 U.S. states have varied bartending license requirements, leaving it up to the counties to authorize their own rules.
  • Only 3 out of 50 U.S. states require bartending licenses dependent on age or the specific job role of the employee.

To add to the complexity, employers sometimes require bartending licenses regardless of state or local laws.

Across the nation, bar owners are experiencing a rising tide in liquor liability insurance costs. To offset potential penalties upon establishment violations or, in some cases, receive a discounted insurance plan, employers are often incentivized to require bartenders (or servers) to obtain proper serving alcohol training.

Our Solution: The State-by-State Bartending License Guide

When it comes to bartending licenses, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. As we briefly covered above, every state is different.

For example, some states, like Florida, New York, and Maryland, don’t have any requirements to start serving alcohol. Other states, like California, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, require every individual who wishes to serve alcohol to become officially certified with a bartending license by a state-approved provider.

Moreover, each state has a different licensure approval process. That means getting a license in Washington will differ from getting one in Vermont. States have different alcohol-related regulatory bodies, license/certificate naming conventions (i.e., bartending license, bar card, server permit), state-approved third-party training providers, age requirements, deadlines, and more.

Luckily, you don’t have to go at it alone, as we are here to help you along the way.

Choose your state to see the requirements and steps involved in becoming a bartender. You can also use the data table below to quickly search for and look up your state’s bartending license process.

Exploring The Data:

All 50 U.S. states are listed above. To access detailed information about the specific bartending laws and the process of becoming a bartender in your state, simply choose your state. The following data is a brief overview for your convenience. 🙂

  • License requirement: Bartending licenses in the U.S. are either mandatory/required (Yes), not required (No), or varied depending on age, job roles, or county.
  • Governing Body: Most states have their own alcohol authority, which sets the rules and regulations governing the sale and service of alcohol. The regulatory body shown in the data is solely responsible for overseeing the process of obtaining a bartending license when statewide regulations are in effect.
  • State-Recognized Program/Certificate: To prevent confusion arising from varying naming conventions for bartending licenses across states, we provide information on state-recognized programs or certificates. If the license requirement is marked as "Yes," the listed program or certificate serves as the mandatory "bartending license" in that state. If the license requirement is "No," the mentioned program or certification is entirely voluntary or simply suggested by the state.
  • Years Valid: This refers to a bartending license's validity duration. In most instances, when a bartending license expires, bartenders must renew it by either completing another training program or re-registering with the state.
  • Deadline: The timeframe allowed between the commencement of employment and the completion of the bartending license acquisition process. While immediate license acquisition is not always mandatory, a mandatory time frame often exists before the individual or the employer/establishment is subject to penalties upon inspection.
  • Licensure Difficulty Rating: We've assessed the ease or complexity of the licensure process in each state. While certain States have a straightforward and streamlined procedure, others may require bartenders to navigate through multiple steps, potentially involving additional fees or in-person visits. 

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