A bartender works to prepare specialty alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to customers. They may serve customers directly or provide the waitstaff the drinks to bring to clients. The job is harder than it may look as there are many types of recipes to memorize and a variety of different alcohols and garnishes to learn about.
Watch a video to learn what a bartender does:
How to Become a Bartender
To become a bartender, you must be at least 18 years old to serve alcoholic beverages. Formal education is often not required as most bartenders learn on-the-job. We do recommend that you learn the basics before applying for a job to make it easier. There are many books and recipe sheets on bartending to help you learn the basics. You can even start learning at home with your own bar and inviting your friends over. This is an excellent way to experiment, craft drinks, and get immediate feedback. There are 25 basic drinks that every bartender needs to start with; these are called the BarSmarts’ essential cocktails.
There are also bartending schools you can attend. Programs can be as short as two weeks but vary pending on where you go and offer some flexibility on completion. Along with learning the recipes needed to make drinks and how to stock a bar appropriately, you will learn about state laws as well. Some schools may help with job placement. There is even a Cocktail Apprentice Program offered through the Tales of Cocktails Foundation, which allows you to learn from well known and experienced bartenders. We encourage you to look at all options.
To get your foot in the door at a restaurant, some bartenders may start as a waitress or waiter and begin working as a bartender’s helper -sometimes called a bar back to learn the craft and various techniques. Here you start with cleaning/stocking glassware, getting ice, and stocking inventory behind the bar, but in return, you often learn and are taught the bartending trade. At higher-end establishments, experience may be necessary to gain employment, or you may need to show you took bartending classes. No matter what route you take in becoming a bartender, it can be exciting, and you meet like-minded individuals in the process.
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Job Description of a Bartender
Bartenders may work directly with customers, waitstaff, or both providing alcoholic or non-alcoholic specialty drinks to patrons. They serve and make drinks, take orders, and also collect payment from customers. Some bars also serve food; therefore, you may need to take/bring orders and collaborate with kitchen staff. You must have good people skills as a bartender and build rapport, as many customers are seeking interaction, especially if they are sitting at the bar. This helps drive revenue for an establishment and keeps customers happy. Bartenders must know and abide by state laws and verify a customer’s age when they request to purchase alcohol or serving them.
At times you may also need to politely ask a patron to stop drinking or discontinue serving them if they become intoxicated or unruly. This can be stressful, but if something were to happen due to the intoxication and you served the customer more alcohol, you could be liable. Along with serving clients or providing drinks to waitstaff to bring to customers, you must also keep their area clean. This means bartenders clean tabletops, the bar area, and behind the counters. At the end of the shift, you may also be requested to inventory the stock and replace or fill any low or empty ingredients.
If you think this may be a good fit that other related career fields to look at are Certified Sommelier, Brewmaster, or Barista. All of these career have similar job tasks and may be an alternative career option.
The Mixology Podcast (link opens in a new tab) is a free podcast provided by abarabove.com that you may find interesting when researching a career in bartending. In addition, there are some free online trainings at Typsy for those of you 18 or older and are wanting to the learn the basics from their “Bartending Beginners” class.
Bartender Career Video Transcript
While many an amateur mixologist knows how to make an appealing drink, it requires a lot more knowledge and skill to become a professional bartender. Bartenders must know how to prepare a wide range of drink recipes and the appropriate equipment to make them and mix drinks quickly without waste. They serve drinks directly to customers, and work with wait staff and kitchen crews, often in busy conditions, to ensure that customers receive prompt, accurate service.
Bartenders prepare garnishes for drinks, keep the bar stocked with supplies, and serve food to customers who sit at the bar. In addition to ensuring that customers are of legal drinking age, they converse with customers, and when necessary, they manage patrons’ unruly behavior. Bartenders also process payments from customers. Most bartenders work at restaurants, bars, clubs, and hotels.
Full and part-time schedules are both common, as is working late evenings, weekends, and holidays. Most bartenders learn their skills on-the-job, often starting as bartender helpers or wait staff. No formal education is required, although upscale establishments may prefer candidates with bartending experience or classes. Most states require workers who serve alcoholic beverages to be at least 18 years old.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bartenders.
National Center for O*NET Development. 35-3011.00. O*NET OnLine.
The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.