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How to Become a Bartender

Many bartenders are promoted from other jobs at the food service establishments in which they work and receive short-term on-the-job training. However, those who wish to work at more upscale establishments usually need previous work experience or vocational training.

Although most states require workers who serve alcoholic beverages to be at least 18 years old, many employers prefer to hire people who are 25 or older.

There are no specific education requirements.


Most bartenders receive short-term on-the-job training, usually lasting a few weeks, under the guidance of a more experienced bartender. Training programs focus on basic customer service, teamwork, and food safety procedures. Programs also provide an opportunity to discuss proper ways to handle unruly customers and unpleasant situations.

Some employers teach new workers using self-study programs, online programs, audiovisual presentations, or instructional booklets that explain service skills. Such programs communicate the philosophy of the establishment, help new bartenders build personal rapports with other staff, and instill a desire to work as a team.

Work Experience

Some bartenders qualify through work-related experience. They may start as bartender helpers and progress into full-fledged bartenders as they learn basic mixing procedures and recipes. New workers often learn by working with a more experienced bartender.


Some bartenders acquire their skills through formal training, either by attending a school for bartending or a vocational and technical school with bartending classes. These programs often include instruction on state and local laws and regulations, cocktail recipes, proper attire and conduct, and stocking a bar. The lengths of programs vary, but most courses last a few weeks. Some schools help their graduates find jobs.


Advancement for bartenders is usually limited to finding a job in a busier or more expensive restaurant or bar where prospects of earning tips are better. Some bartenders advance to supervisory jobs, such as dining room supervisor, maitre d’, assistant manager, or restaurant general manager. A few bartenders open their own bar.

Important Qualities

Customer-service skills. Because establishments that serve alcohol rely on retaining old and attracting new customers, bartenders should have good customer service skills to ensure repeat business.

Decision-making skills. Because of the legal issues that come with serving alcohol, bartenders must make good decisions at all times. For example, they should be able to detect intoxicated customers and deny service to those customers.

People skills. Bartenders should be friendly, tactful, and attentive when dealing with customers. For example, they should be able to tell a joke and laugh with a customer to build rapport.

Stamina. Bartenders work on their feet for long periods of time. Many lift heavy cases of liquor, beer, or other bar supplies.

Teamwork. Bartenders often fill drink orders for waiters and waitresses who are serving dining room customers. As a result, bartenders must work well with their colleagues to ensure that customers receive prompt service.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition