How to Become a Bartender
Bartending can produce substantial income. An experienced bartender can find work almost anywhere, and many people enjoy the personal interaction inherent in the job. It is not surprising, then, that these positions are highly competitive. Here are the steps to becoming a bartender.
Step 1: Network with People in the Industry
The key to becoming a bartender is earning the trust of a hiring manager, to the point where the manager is comfortable offering a position. To accomplish this, cultivate friendships and personal relationships with people in the restaurant business. Take a sincere interest in how other people learned how to become a bartender, and spread the word that you would like to do the same. A simple introduction from another bartender can make all the difference.
Step 2: Target an Appropriate Establishment
No two bars are exactly alike. Fast, slow, trendy, old-school, loud, quiet – the variety is endless. What type of place fits your style? When it comes to finding work as a bartender, the answer to this question is surprisingly important. Customers like to buy drinks from people with whom they can relate, and bar managers know this. From the manager’s perspective, finding a bartender means more than finding someone who is qualified. It means finding someone who will fit in. When looking at how to become a bartender, look for a bar to apply to that matches your style.
Step 3: Get an Interview
Do not expect to land an interview by mailing a resume or making a phone call. While you are waiting to hear back, someone more assertive will get the job. Have the application paperwork ready to go, and then walk into the bar during a shift when business is slow and the manager is working. Late morning is usually a good time. Introduce yourself to the manager, hand over the application, and ask if there is a time you can come in to interview for the position.
Step 4: Make an Impression
The point of a bartending interview is for the hiring manager to observe the candidate’s personality. This cannot be overstated. Understanding how to become a bartender means understanding how to put your personality on display for others to see. During the interview, the manager will want to see what the customers will see. So dress accordingly, but more than anything, show the manager that you are the type of person that customers will like.
Step 5: Treat Bartending as a Career
Becoming a bartender is a process, not an event. Securing the first job is only the beginning. To become successful and reach your true earning potential, become a student of the profession and never stop learning. Take a course and become certified. Ask for guidance from other bartenders and feedback from supervisors. Practice mixing drinks at home for friends and family. Have fun, but consider these activities for what they are – career development.
Many people notice that bartenders make lots of money, and think to themselves: is this something I can do, and if so, how? To become a bartender, realize that the process requires a friendly disposition, a proactive attitude, and a lot of hard work.
Bartender License Tips
A bartender license is a certification earned by taking a short course in alcohol-serving laws. The certification is required in some states. Most people who become certified do so by graduating from a private bartending school that instructs students on actual bartending techniques as well. Here are some tips on becoming licensed.
Become Familiar with Local Certification Regulations
There is no such thing as a national bartending license. Alcohol-serving requirements are sometimes governed by state law, and more commonly, by individual counties and municipalities. Where required, certification consists of an educational course. The course required most often is “ServSafe,” a program sponsored by the National Restaurant Association. To find out if ServSafe or any other certification requirement exists in your area, contact the local alcoholic beverage control board or department of liquor licenses.
Voluntary Licensing is a Good Investment
Even in communities that do not require it, certification is almost always recommended for those who serve alcohol or would like to serve alcohol. Many aspects of the bartending profession are not intuitive. For example, properly checking out-of-state identification to verify legal drinking age requires some expertise, especially under the stress of a rush at the bar. The good news is that licensing will make a bartender more desirable to employers, and will quickly pay for itself if it leads to employment.
Licensing Schools have Become Specialized
An ordinary certification course teaches how to serve alcohol safely and in compliance with the law. Beyond this, bartending schools offer the same instruction and certification, plus they teach students how to perform all the other job duties of a bartender. Early bartending schools were all very similar, showing students how to take drink orders, make the standard cocktails, and so forth. But today’s bartending schools offer specialized instruction. Bartenders can study things like wine knowledge, tropical drink mixing, and “flair” (making drinks in a dramatic, entertaining manner).
Online Certification is Available if Necessary
Licensing schools are available in most states and near all major cities. Even so, some people lack the flexibility to attend a school in person. This is especially true for those who must continue in current employment while training for a career change. Fortunately, a large number of bartending schools offer courses entirely online. It is important to be aware of the drawback, however. Online courses, like bartending books and videos, do not provide the experience of learning to mix drinks hands-on, in a fully replicated bar environment.
Employers will Usually Pay for Existing Employees to Become Licensed
Here is a tip for anyone currently working as a bartender and considering becoming licensed. Restaurant and bar owners will usually agree to pay the cost of a certification program when asked by their employees. Why the generosity? Bar owners must carry liability insurance on the premises to help protect against customer lawsuits, and discounts are available on the insurance premiums when employees have received this training.
Success in any career requires a combination of experience and education. Bartending is no different. The best bartenders understand the importance of obtaining a license and the practical job training that comes with it.
Bartender Salary Information
A good portion of a bartender’s income consists of cash tips, making it difficult to calculate the average earnings of the profession. Nevertheless, data does exist. The following is a summary of how much money bartenders make and the additional ways in which they are compensated.
The Average Base Salary
The median base salary for bartenders in the United States is approximately $13,500 per year or $10.50 per hour. This figure represents the “median” salary, meaning that if the annual salary of every bartender in the country were listed in ascending order, the $13,500 figure would fall directly in the middle. It is also important to consider that bartender salaries fluctuate based on location and state minimum wage exemption laws, as well as the experience level of the employee. These factors are not reflected in the average base salary figure above.
Average Salary + Tips
Considering how important tips are to the earning potential of a bartender, it would be reasonable to expect the average salary figure to increase dramatically once tips are included. But this is not the case. The median salary including tips is approximately $18,700, or $9.00 per hour. This figure, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most likely includes only those tips reported to the federal government. Because reported tips are used by the government to calculate income tax liability, the figure is probably low. Purportedly, some bartenders earn up to $100,000 per year, mostly in tips.
Health Care and Other Benefits
Full-time bartenders can expect employment benefits similar to those provided to other restaurant and service industry employees. The most significant of these is health care. The average employer health care contribution for a bartender is valued at approximately $6,500 per year. The next most significant benefit is Social Security and Disability contributions, together valued at $1,900 per year. Employers also contribute to 401Ks, and these contributions amount to $900 on average. Taken together, these benefits add substantially to a bartender’s total compensation.
Other Perks of the Job
Bartenders go to work for one reason – to earn money. But the job has an assortment of perks that make it more enjoyable, especially when business is slow and tips are down. Bartenders bring cash home at the end of every shift, making it easier to pay day-to-day expenses (this can also be a drawback for those who have trouble saving). Those working in an establishment that serves food may be allowed free or discounted meals. They also enjoy a flexible schedule, and can usually sleep late in the mornings. Finally, bartending provides ample opportunity for social interaction.
Average salaries are a good indication of how much a person can expect to earn as a bartender. But on an individual basis, how much a bartender makes depends more than anything on the volume of drinks sold. Other factors, such as the amount the bar charges customers, are of little importance. This is because customers usually tip a certain amount of money per drink, rather than a percentage of the total bill.
Information About Bartender Jobs
Bartenders serve beer, wine, mixed drinks, and other beverages to customers. Securing a bartending job is often difficult for newcomers to the profession, but those with experience are in high demand. Here is information for anyone seeking a position as a bartender.
Requirements for Employment
Bartenders must be at least age 18, but some states and local governments have enacted higher age requirements. While no formal education is required, bartenders will often complete instructional courses before or during their employment. Such certification courses are required by law in some locations. In a few cities, bartending requires a health card, showing the holder has received vaccinations and instruction on safe food handling. Additional work permits may be required for bartending in a casino, or near other regulated activities.
Bartenders work in demanding conditions. They must be able to stand during an entire shift (up to 10 hours), lift cases of alcohol, and move quickly to keep up in a rush. Good eyesight is important for checking identification in low light, and good hearing is important to understand customer orders amidst loud background noise. Cigarette smoke exposure is a major health concern for those working in bars that permit smoking inside. Many positions require late-night shift work.
Where to Find Openings
Open positions are often filled without advertisement. Therefore, the best way to locate bartending positions is by networking with individuals employed in the industry. When they are advertised, positions usually show up locally. So a good strategy is to search for Craigslist postings, or even storefront help wanted signs. Those who have completed a bartending training course should contact the course administrators regarding job placement assistance.
How to Apply
To apply for a bartending position, start by putting together a resume. Characterize past jobs in a way that translates to the type of experience a bar manager wants to see, such as handling money and greeting customers. When interviewing, make sure to dress as you would for an actual shift at that establishment, as the manager will surely take note of your appearance. The interviewing manager will also be looking for enthusiasm, so show plenty of it. Bartending positions do not stay vacant for long, so after the interview, it is important to follow up quickly.
Outlook for the Profession
The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that bartending employment will increase by 9% during the period of 2010 to 2020. As recovery from the economic recession continues, larger numbers of consumers will be dining out, creating a direct boost to the industry. This boost is already being felt in cities rebounding from the recession most quickly, such as Austin, TX; Seattle, WA; and Boulder, CO. Across the country, bartending has historically experienced high turnover compared to other professions, meaning positions open and close rapidly.
Bartending jobs can prove highly rewarding for individuals who are compatible with the requirements of the profession. Since job requirements vary greatly depending on the establishment, job seekers should be selective in choosing which opportunities to pursue.
Top Bartending Schools in the United States
There are dozens of bartending schools in the United States, and deciding which one to attend is a difficult task. Factors to consider include location, cost, and reputation. Here is a list of the most highly recommended schools across the country.
ABC Bartending Schools – Nationwide
The owner of ABC began as a bartending instructor in 1977. Since that time, the company has grown into one of the largest in the country, with locations in more than 30 cities. All locations provide their graduates with job placement assistance and free refresher courses. Course instruction includes speed techniques, equipment and bar set-up, mixology, liquors, garnishes, and other subjects. Students are also taught how to prepare a resume and conduct themselves in an interview. For more information call (888) 262-5824.
New York Bartending School – New York, NY
New York Bartending School is located near Grand Central Station in New York City, and it encourages prospective students to walk in and inquire – no appointment necessary. The school is perhaps the largest in the country. It offers 39 wet bars on 2 floors. Students practice pouring beer on a functional beer tap system, and learn to use modern point of sale cash registers. Graduation standards are high, requiring students to make 20 drinks in 6 minutes. For more information call (212) 768-8460.
San Francisco School of Bartending (SFSOB) – San Francisco, CA
SFSOB is the only school in the country outside of New York City to train students behind a true bar (with real alcohol). To help new students decide if SFSOB is the best choice for them, the first 3½ hours of the 35-hour certificate program are offered for free and without obligation. To assist graduates, the school maintains an enormous private database of open positions in the local area. Tuition financing is available. For more information call (415) 362-1116.
National Bartenders Bartending School – Los Angeles, CA
National Bartenders has been in business since 1984. It has campuses throughout the Southern California area. The school offers a mixology certification program in which students learn to make 200 drinks, and are also instructed in money handling, upselling, and inventory control. Students also learn how to cut off bar patrons who have consumed too much alcohol – an important skill in the real world. For more information call (800) 646-6499.
Ace Bartending Academy – Las Vegas, NV
Ace Bartending Academy is a terrific choice for those living in Las Vegas or seeking to work there. It instructs students on how to comply with local bartending requirements, such as a sheriff’s card, health card, and alcohol card. The course is also unique in that it teaches about the history of distilled beverage production. School facilities include a 40’ long, newly remodeled bar with 8 practice stations. New classes begin every Monday. For more information call (702) 450-8800.
The best programs in the country have graduated thousands of professional bartenders. Anyone choosing a program should review the feedback of previous graduates on social networking websites. It is also a good idea to contact the schools directly and schedule a campus visit to see first-hand what the experience will be like.