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Do You Need a License to Bartend? | License vs Certification

Scott Schulfer
Table of Contents
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Some bartending schools offer licenses and some offer certifications. What’s the difference? And, more importantly, do you 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.

What is a Bartender 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.

How Do You Get Certified to Be a Bartender?

Enroll in a bartending school in person or online and complete the course. But every location—city, state, or county—has their own bartending regulations and requirements in place. Some municipalities require the completion of an alcohol awareness course. Some require nothing at all. Look at your local laws and make sure you check off all the boxes required to bartend in that area.

How Long Does It Take to Get Certified as a Bartender?

Bartending certification courses usually include 40 hours of coursework and require about 2 to 3 weeks to complete.

But to meet the bare minimum to bartend, often it’s just a matter of taking a legally-mandated alcohol awareness course. In Oregon, for example, if you pay about $20, it’ll take just a few hours to get OLCC certified. And that’s all you need to tend bar in Oregon. Other states have similar requirements, so it’s important to do your research.

Do You Need a Certificate to Be a Bartender?

The short answer is no. 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.

Can I Get My Bartending Certificate Online?

You can, and it’s often cheaper than attending a bartending school in person. The drawback to getting your bartending certificate online is that you’ll miss out the hands-on training. Online bartending courses cost around $50-$200 while in-person courses clock in at around $400-$800.

If you’re completely new and wanting to start with a bartending 101, it may be worth shelling out the extra dough. It'll make sure you know exactly how to physically interact with the equipment and tools you’ll be using. And how to execute each bartending technique. And how to upsell drinks in a bar.

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.

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What Is a Bartending License?

Like bartending certificates, there is no formal national bartender licensure. A bartender license can refer to two things. 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 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.

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.

Do You Need to Have a Bartending License to Become 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 bartending license in the U.S. If you’re trying to figure out what’s needed in your area to bartend, this is a good place to start.

Can I Get My Bartending License Online?

You can! 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.

Is a Bartending Certificate the Same as a License?

Effectively, yes, they 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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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.