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Bartending License vs. Bartending Certification

By
Scott Schulfer
Table of Contents
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So, you’re looking into how to be a bartender, but you’re not sure what’s required to start bartending. You’ve written a bartender cover letter and bartender resume, researched bartender interview questions, but you’re not sure if you need a license to bartend to get the job.

To make things even more confusing, some bartending schools offer licenses, and some offer certifications. What’s the difference? And, more importantly, do you legally need a license to bartend? What about a certificate?

Let’s look at what bartending certification is, what a bartending license is, and the difference between the two. Then we'll see whether or not you need them to start bartending.

Bartending License

Generally, a bartending license is a document given to people who complete a bartending courses. However, A bartender license can refer to two things when listed in a bartender job description. First, what a bartending school gives you when you complete the course. Second, what the local laws require to tend bar.

Let’s use Texas as an example. You can attend a bartending school in Texas, go through roughly 40 hours of coursework, and earn what the school calls a bartending license.

But the only thing required in Texas to be a bartender is the TABC certification, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission certification. This certification is based solely on alcohol awareness and preventing sales of alcohol to minors or intoxicated people. You can get a TABC certification on its own, and that can also be called a bartending license.

How To Get A Bartending License

You can enroll in a local bartending school and complete the course. Or you can figure out what your local laws require to tend bar and just get that. In Texas, visit a TABC certification website, pay around $10, spend a few hours, and be allowed to bartend in Texas. Look into your local and state regulations to find out what you need. You may only need an alcohol server certification or nothing at all. This will allow you to avoid spending hundreds of dollars on a document that isn't required to work in the field or protect the bar from litigation.

Do You Need A License To Be A Bartender

No, you do not need a license to become a bartender. Some local laws require permits or certificates, but there is no formal, nationally recognized and required certification to bartend. Local alcohol laws and what’s required to tend bar in one city or state are not the same everywhere. 

If you have the time and the drive, you can pick up a fifth of alcohol (it's the standard alcohol bottle size), replace the booze with water, and practice pouring on your own. Master the standard pours, how to pour a beer, and the standard wine pour, and you'll be outperforming licensed bartenders in no time.

But maybe you’re just looking for a legal job. If so, get any local permits or certifications required to tend bar online. No need for a proper bartending school.

How Long Does It Take To Get A Bartending License?

If you enroll in a bartending school that offers a bartending license, it’ll usually be a 40-hour commitment. If you’re only after the bare minimum required to legally tend bar in your area, it takes as little as 2 hours.

How Much Is A Bartending License?

Online bartending courses cost around $50-$200 while in-person courses clock in at around $400-$800. However, bartender license cost varies greatly by the organization giving the courses, the level of certification, and the requirements in your area. Generally, areas that expect bartenders to be certified will offer course at a higher price since they know you need to take them. That’s why it’s a good idea to shop around and check online.

There are hundreds of online bartending schools that offer their own bartending licenses. You can also usually take any legally required courses online, if you’re not after the entire bartending school experience but just want to learn skills like how to upsell drinks in a bar.

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Bartending Certification

People use the phrase bartender certification in two ways. The first is in reference to a document a bartending school issues you after completing their course. The second is in reference to a document your local city, country, or state requires you have to tend bar.

Ideally, your bartending school fully prepares you for the job market beyond bartending 101, by including any required local certification, license, or permit in their course. Along with all the bartender duties you need to know like drinks every bartender should know and what a well drink is. But that’s not always the case.

Bartending License vs. Certification

Effectively, a bartending license and a bartending certification are the same thing. Bartending schools will issue you a bartending certificate or a bartending license when you complete their course. Both the words license and certification are used by the industry. That's because there is no nationally recognized document or training needed to legally bartend. The requirements are different in every part of the country, so people use different words.

What’s important when asking "do you need a license to bartend" is that to legally tend bar in your area, you need to check your local laws. Do not assume that the bartending course you’re taking will include everything you need to legally start working. They often do, but it’s worth double-checking.

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Certified Pre-Owned Licensing

When looking into how to get your bartending license, think about your goals. If you want training on everything from mixology and popular cocktail recipes to bartending techniques and beyond, bartending school is a great option. You'll learn to free pour counts, how to stock a bar, bartender lingo like the 86 meaning, and things like par level definition and how to use bar POS systems and other bar and restaurant technology. But it may not be worth it if you’ve got some bartending experience, and you’re only looking for lawful employment. You can save time and money by taking the required course online.