Earning a bartending certificate or license from a bartending school has its benefits. If you’re totally new and wanting to learn how to become a bartender so you can make a career switch, it can help you quickly and efficiently cover bartending basics. Or if you're a barback looking to press the fast-forward button on your bar career. Bartending school forces you to spend hour after hour perfecting your bartending technique.
But going to bartending school doesn’t guarantee you a bartending job upon graduation, nor is it even required to get a job tending bar. You may even find yourself managing a bar afterward, earning a bar manager salary and not tips.
So what good is it? Let’s look at some pros and cons of going to bartending school, then compare that with the average cost of attending bartender school. Only then will you know if bartending school is worth it.
The Pros of Bartending School
The best parts bartending school are the expansive curriculum, being forced to get bartending experience, and networking with people in the industry.
Bartending School Curriculum
The topics and bartender responsibilities covered at any bartending school will be far-and-away more extensive than topics covered during new-hire training at a bar. Here’s a list of material typically covered in a bartending school:
- Bar setup for both front and back bars
- Bar equipment operation and maintenance
- Liquor types, history, and usage
- Beer keg sizes and types
- Customer psychology
- Industry legalities
- Alcohol awareness
- Physical techniques, complete with simulation and practice
- Upselling drinks and maximizing sales and gratuities
- Bar cleaning and maintenance
- Money handling
- Mixology and basic bar drinks
Some bartending schools even offer modules on bar inventory management, audio-visual equipment, bar and restaurant technology, and menu engineering. Hands down, the biggest pro to going to bartending school is the depth and breadth of industry knowledge you’ll get. Other people may spend a year figuring out what bartending school teaches you in weeks.
The best way to get experience bartending is to bartend. But bartending has the classic catch-22 of job seeking. You can’t get hired without experience, and you can’t get experience without being hired.
Enter bartending school. You’ll spend hours simulating pouring, mixing, and drink-making techniques using real liquor bottles. Sometimes they’re filled with water, sometimes not. Depends what the exercise is. If no one will give you a chance to bartend, bartending school gives you enough experience to get your foot in the door.
This benefit is less pronounced if you opt for an online bartending course. They’ll still cover the physical techniques, but it’ll be up to you to practice on your own with no real-time feedback.
Networking for Bartenders
70% of employers prefer word-of-mouth over job websites when looking to hire someone. Networking and building relationships in the industry is probably the easiest and quickest way to get a bartender gig. After your class graduates from bartending school, people are going to get hired. If you were chummy with them throughout the course, you’ve got an in.
But networking doesn’t end when the course ends. Use your bartending course as a springboard to attending industry events, expos, and conferences or joining online communities. Then you’re not just increasing your job prospects, you’re getting a whole new drink-slingin’ family.
Job Hunting Support
Many bartending schools will help new grads get their resumes and LinkedIns together, work on interviewing skills, and curate job opportunities for them. The higher a bartending school’s job placement rate, the better they look. And the more new recruits they get. It’s part of the business model, and it’s a big help.
The Cons of Bartending School
It’s Not Required
This is something a lot of bartending schools don’t necessarily want broadcast, but bartending certificates and licenses aren’t required to bartend.
Some towns, counties, or states do require a certification or permit to bartend, but it varies from place to place. And some municipalities don’t require anything. But there isn’t a uniform, national bartending certificate or license that will allow you to legally work everywhere.
What a bartending school primarily sells you is a wealth of industry knowledge, low-stakes practice, and networking opportunities. And, ideally, the legal permit or certification you need to tend bar where you’ll be looking for work.
It Takes Time
You’ll need to devote about 40 hours of class time to graduate from bartending school. Usually those 40 hours are in the evenings over a few weeks.
A schedule like Monday through Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. for 2-3 weeks is standard. If you’re taking an online bartending course, it may be less than 40 hours, and you can do it at your own pace.
And it Costs Money
The only way to figure out if it’s all worth it is to compare all of the above with how much bartending school costs.
How Much Does Bartending School Cost?
A 40-hour in-person certification course at a bartending school costs between $400 and $800.
How Much Does Online Bartending School Cost?
An online certification course at a bartending school costs between $50 and $200.
Is Bartending School Worth It?
If you’re totally new to bartending or are having trouble getting your first bartending job, yes. It’s worth it.
If you have some experience bartending and only need the specific certification or permit required to work in your area, no. It’s not worth it. Figure out what your local alcohol laws are and get that specific certification.
For example, in Texas the TABC certification is all that’s required. It costs about $10 and takes a few hours to do the coursework and pass the exam.
Online bartending school is worth it if you have zero to little experience bartending. Or if you need to get your foot in the door and don’t have the time or resources to attend an in-person school. Anything relevant to put on your resume will help. An online bartending certificate is no exception.