How to Become a Bartender: The Ultimate Guide

Becoming a bartender can be an exciting and rewarding career choice. With the right combination of skills, personality traits, and dedication, you can learn the craft and excel in this popular profession.

Whether you’re just starting out or looking to make a career change, understanding the ins and outs of the industry will be essential to your success as a bartender.

Skills and Qualifications

Education and Training

Although a college degree isn’t necessary, you should at least have a high school diploma or GED. Many bartenders start by attending a bartending school where they learn the basics of mixing drinks, cocktail recipes, and handling barware.

In addition, you might consider obtaining a bartending license, which demonstrates your knowledge of state laws and regulations surrounding alcoholic beverages.

Bartending Skills

To become a successful bartender, you’ll need to develop a strong set of technical skills. This includes learning how to use various bartending tools (such as a shaker, jigger, and cocktail strainer), understanding mixology, and mastering popular mixed drink recipes.

You should also be familiar with the lingo used in the industry, which may involve terms like “dash” and “bitters” when describing certain drinks and ingredients.

Communication Skills

As a bartender, you’ll need strong communication skills to interact with customers, co-workers, and managers. Good listening abilities are crucial to understanding customer requests and delivering an enjoyable experience.

It’s also important to develop teamwork and collaboration skills, as bartending often involves coordinating with other staff members to ensure the bar runs smoothly.

Customer Service Skills

Excellent customer service is a must-have for bartenders. Not only will you be taking drink orders, but you’ll also be responsible for maintaining a welcoming atmosphere and ensuring customer satisfaction. You’ll need to be approachable, friendly, and attentive to customer needs while also being able to manage difficult situations if they arise.

Physical Stamina and Memory

Bartending can be a physically demanding job, requiring you to stand for long periods and perform manual work. Thus, having good physical stamina is essential. Additionally, a strong memory will help you recall drink recipes, handle multiple orders at once, and remember customer preferences during busy shifts.

Math and Organization Skills

Bartenders must be comfortable with basic math skills, as you’ll often handle cash and calculate change for customers. Being organized is also vital for managing inventory, keeping the bar clean, and juggling multiple tasks during a shift. Balancing these responsibilities will help ensure the bar operates efficiently and contributes to overall customer satisfaction.

By honing these skills and qualifications, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a proficient and in-demand bartender.

Bartending Education and Training

Bartending School and Certification Programs

Some aspiring bartenders choose to attend an accredited bartending school, where they can receive a comprehensive education in mixology, customer service, and other critical aspects of the profession.

While not required in all states, obtaining a bartending license or certification can provide you with a competitive edge when applying for jobs.

Benefits of Bartending School:

  • Comprehensive mixology education
  • Customer service training
  • Certification programs
  • Better job prospects

Attending a bartending school can cost anywhere from $200 to $600, depending on the program and location. Before enrolling, make sure to research different schools and choose one that offers a well-rounded curriculum and a positive reputation in the industry.

On-the-Job Training

Many bartenders gain their skills directly in the workplace through on-the-job training. According to Indeed, this process often includes training for mixing drinks, managing the cash register, and processing customer payments. Employers may prefer hiring inexperienced candidates with a willingness to learn and then training them to meet the establishment’s specific needs.

When working in a bartending position, you can expect to learn from more experienced bartenders, supervisors, or even bar managers. On-the-job training typically includes:

  • Learning drink recipes
  • Mastering pouring techniques
  • Ensuring proper sanitation and safety practices
  • Understanding inventory management
  • Handling challenging customer situations

Remember, the best way to excel in a new position is to be proactive, ask questions, and practice your skills—with time, you’ll become a confident and skilled bartender.

Finding a Job and Building Your Resume

Starting as a Barback or Server

Sometimes, it’s hard to start working as a bartender right away. One way to get experience and learn the ropes is by starting as a barback or server. Both positions will teach you about the bar environment, payments, serving customers, and checking IDs.

As a barback, you’ll learn the basics of bartending, like how to make drinks “neat” or “on the rocks,” and the responsibilities involved in keeping the bar stocked and organized.

If you start as a server, you’ll get familiar with working long hours and multitasking while making minimum wage plus tips. Remember that working in these roles can be a stepping stone to bartending and can help you grow in your career path.

Creating a Bartending Resume

Your resume is crucial when applying for bartending jobs. Make sure to mention any bartending or server experience you have, as well as any training programs or bartending courses you’ve taken. Emphasize your mixology skills, organizational abilities, and multitasking prowess.

Don’t forget to highlight any work experience that demonstrates your customer service skills, like working in a restaurant bar or other similar positions. Including such details will help potential employers see your skill level and dedication to the profession.

For more tips on creating a great bartending resume, check out Indeed’s guide on essential skills to include.

Networking and Research

Networking is essential in the bartending world, as it can lead to job opportunities and expose you to different types of establishments, from dive bars to upscale lounges.

Attend local mixology events or join online mixology communities to meet other bartenders and learn about available job openings. Another way to network is by visiting the bars you’re interested in working at, as it’ll give you a chance to meet the staff and familiarize yourself with their brand names and bartending styles.

Preparation and Practice

Mixing Techniques and Terminology

Begin by familiarizing yourself with different mixing techniques used in preparing various cocktails. Knowing the terminology will make it easier for you to learn and communicate with your colleagues. Here are a few bartending terms to get you started:

  • Build: Assembling a drink in the serving glass.
  • Shake: Mixing ingredients in a shaker with ice.
  • Stir: Using a bar spoon to gently mix ingredients with ice.
  • Muddle: Crushing fruits, herbs, or other ingredients to release their flavors.

Cocktail Recipes and Popular Drinks

Having a solid repertoire of cocktail recipes is essential for any bartender. Start by learning how to make popular drinks, like a Martini or Old Fashioned, and work your way towards more complex cocktails. A few classic recipes to start with are:

  • Mojito: Fresh mint, sugar, lime juice, white rum, and soda water.
  • Negroni: Gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth.
  • Whiskey Sour: Whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg white (optional).

Free Pour and Jigger Technique

Accuracy is key when it comes to measuring ingredients for cocktails. Being proficient in both free pour and jigger techniques will help you ensure the right proportions in your drinks.

Free pouring involves practice in estimating the liquid volume by counting the pour duration while using a jigger requires careful measuring with a small marked container. Each method has its advantages, but it’s important to practice both to improve speed, consistency, and precision.

Garnishing and Presentation

A well-presented cocktail leaves a lasting impression on your guests. Experiment with various garnishes and get creative with your presentation to elevate the visual appeal of your drinks.

Common garnishes include citrus twists, fresh fruit, herbs, and edible flowers. Remember to always handle garnishes with clean hands or tongs to ensure proper hygiene.

As you dive into your bartending journey, remember that practice makes perfect. Spend hours honing your skills, whether it be mixing techniques, memorizing cocktail recipes, or refining your presentation. With dedication and passion, you’ll become a skilled bartender ready to impress guests at any bar or restaurant setting.

Types of Bars and Establishments

As a budding bartender, you’ll find various types of bars and establishments to work in. From local dive bars and cozy pubs to upscale hotel bars and themed establishments, each type of venue offers a unique work environment.

Consider which setting appeals most to you and aligns with your skills and personality. Some bartenders may prefer a laid-back atmosphere, while others thrive in a high-energy environment.

Pros and Cons of Bartending Careers

As with any profession, bartending has its pros and cons. Here’s a brief snapshot of what to expect:


  • Fun and dynamic work environment
  • Opportunity to develop a wide range of mixology skills
  • Flexible hours and potential for good tips
  • Ability to connect with people from diverse backgrounds


  • Physically demanding and often fast-paced work
  • Irregular hours, with many shifts on nights, weekends, and holidays
  • Dealing with difficult customers or inebriated guests
  • Potential for part-time or seasonal work rather than full-time positions

As you start your journey toward becoming a bartender, take the time to reflect on your career goals and the work environment that best suits your needs. With dedication and passion, you can hone your skills and find success in this exciting line of work.

Bartending Responsibilities and Duties

Checking IDs and Legal Drinking Age

As a bartender, one of your primary responsibilities will be checking IDs to ensure that all customers are of the legal drinking age. It’s crucial to enforce this rule, as serving alcohol to minors can lead to job loss, arrest, or even the entire establishment being shut down. Always verify identification before serving any alcoholic beverage and stay up to date on policy changes related to age requirements.

Serving Alcohol Responsibly

Maintaining a safe environment for your patrons is a top priority. This means you need to serve alcohol responsibly and keep an eye on customer intoxication levels. Learn to recognize the signs of excessive drinking and follow proper protocol if someone appears to have reached their limit.

Additionally, honing your skills in preparing drinks – from classics like “neat” and “on the rocks” to complicated cocktails – will help ensure customers receive quality beverages crafted to their preferences.

Cleaning and Maintaining the Bar

A well-kept bar creates a pleasant atmosphere for both patrons and staff. Part of your duties will involve cleaning and maintaining the bar area, which includes tasks like:

  • Wiping down surfaces
  • Washing glasses
  • Restocking supplies
  • Emptying trash

Maintaining a clean and organized workspace not only promotes hygiene but also increases efficiency by allowing you to quickly find and use necessary tools.

Taking Payments and Handling Money

Handling the financial aspects of bartending is a crucial part of the job. You’ll need to accurately collect payments from customers, process transactions, and balance cash registers.

Familiarize yourself with various payment methods and practice counting cash quickly, as handling money accurately and efficiently is crucial to your role as a bartender.

By mastering these key responsibilities and duties, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a successful and respected bartender.

Professional Growth and Advancement

Mastering Mixology

As a bartender, it’s crucial for you to expand your knowledge of cocktails and mixing techniques. Continuously educate yourself about different spirits, liqueurs, and garnishes, as well as how to combine them to create unique and delicious drinks.

There are various bartending courses and training programs available that you can take to hone your mixology skills. Additionally, you can also learn from your peers and watch successful bartenders to pick up new tricks.

Competitions and Recognition

To showcase your skills and gain recognition within the bartending community, consider participating in bartending competitions. These events not only allow you to demonstrate your creativity and hard skills but also help you network with professionals in the industry.

Winning or just placing in these competitions can result in job offers, endorsements, or invitations to join exclusive clubs and organizations.

Career Development Opportunities

Investing in your career development is a great way to grow as a bartender and advance in the industry. Look for additional training programs or certifications that can help you improve your abilities and increase your marketability.

For example, you may choose to specialize in a certain type of drink, such as craft cocktails, or acquire other necessary skills, like customer service and cash management.

Moreover, don’t be afraid to seek out opportunities to work in various establishments, such as high-end restaurants or specialized bars. This will expose you to different clientele and drinks, expanding your skillset and increasing your overall experience.

Additional Tips for Success

Bartending Lingo and Terminology

To boost your bartending game, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with common bartending terms and lingo. Understanding the language will help you communicate effectively with customers and coworkers. Here are a few essential terms to get you started:

  • Neat: An undiluted spirit served at room temperature without ice; e.g., “Whiskey neat.”
  • Dirty: A cocktail made with olive brine, typically a martini; e.g., “Dirty martini.”
  • Rocks: A drink served over ice, e.g., “Scotch on the rocks.”
  • Up: A mixed drink served in a stemmed glass without ice, e.g., “Martini up.”

Building a Network and Learning from Peers

Surrounding yourself with a supportive network of experienced bartenders can drastically improve your skills and boost your salary. Attend industry events, join online bartending forums, and engage with peers to exchange mixing techniques and tips on multitasking and teamwork. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or opinions on ways to improve your craft.

Learning from your peers in cities with thriving bar scenes, such as New York, can be particularly insightful. Swapping stories and experiences with bartenders from different backgrounds can also help you build a diverse and versatile approach to your work.

Continuously Expanding Your Skill Set

The bartending world is continuously evolving, with new trends, ingredients, and techniques emerging all the time. To stay on top of these changes, it’s essential to continuously expand your skill set. Experiment with mixed drinks, try out different types of bitters and explore various styles of mixology to stay current.

In addition, staying informed and up-to-date with the latest cocktail trends and news will help you excel in your career and impress customers with your creativity and knowledge. Remember, the secret to success is to keep learning, adapting, and challenging yourself.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is prior experience required to become a bartender?

While some establishments may prefer bartenders with experience, it’s not always a requirement. There are bartending schools that provide hands-on training, and some bars provide on-the-job training to new hires.

How long does it take to become a bartender?

The time it takes to become a bartender can vary greatly. It depends on many factors, such as the availability of training, the time it takes to gain the necessary skills and knowledge, and the specific hiring requirements of potential employers.

Can I become a bartender if I’ve never worked in the service industry before?

Yes, it’s possible to become a bartender even without prior service industry experience. However, having experience in the service industry, particularly in roles that involve customer service, can be a plus.

Do bartenders need to have a good memory?

Yes, a good memory is beneficial for bartenders. They need to remember drink recipes, customer orders, and sometimes personal preferences of regular customers.

How important is speed in bartending?

Speed can be important, particularly in busy establishments. The ability to quickly and accurately mix drinks and serve customers can help maintain a positive atmosphere and increase customer satisfaction.

How can a bartender increase their tips?

There are many ways a bartender can potentially increase their tips. This includes providing excellent customer service, developing rapport with customers, working efficiently, and having a thorough knowledge of drinks.


In conclusion, becoming a bartender requires a blend of skills, knowledge, and experience. This involves mastering the art of mixing, garnishing, and serving drinks, being familiar with a wide range of beverages, and providing excellent customer service.

The importance of having the proper training and certification, such as bartending courses and obtaining a bartending license if required, cannot be overstated.

Additionally, gaining practical experience is crucial to excel in this profession. Like any career, it requires dedication, hard work, and a passion for hospitality.

Ultimately, if you enjoy interacting with people, thrive in dynamic environments, and have a keen interest in mixology, a career in bartending can be rewarding and satisfying.

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Brenda Calisaan is a psychology graduate who strongly desires to impact society positively. She aspires to spread awareness and knowledge about mental health, its importance, and its impact on individuals and society.

She also has a passion for working with children and hopes to dedicate her career to positively impacting their lives.

Outside of work, Brenda is an avid traveler and enjoys exploring new experiences. She is also a music enthusiast and loves to listen to a variety of genres. When she's not on the road or working, Brenda can often be found watching interesting YouTube videos, such as Ted-Ed content.