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, moving up from a bartender salary and 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 of 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, beer keg sizing, and types
- Customer psychology
- Industry legalities
- Alcohol awareness
- Physical techniques, complete with simulation and practice
- Upselling drinks and maximizing sales and gratuities from happy hour drinks
- Bar cleaning and maintenance
- Money handling
- Mixology, basic bar drinks, and the drinks every bartender should know
- Bartending lingo like 86 meaning and what does one part mean
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—of all liquor bottle sizes. 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 like standard pours and how to pour beer, 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 bartending 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. They even help you prepare for tough bartender interview questions. 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.
A career in bartending can be both lucrative and fun. Pursuing this career may be the right choice if you're passionate about providing quality service while mixing an amazing drink. Just make sure you explore your options thoroughly before jumping into a bartending program to ensure it's the right fit for you.
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. You may be able to get away with just alcohol server training.
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. Just make sure you know the answer to "how old do you have to be to serve alcohol?"
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. You should also develop skills in inventory management and learn how to identify when people are stealing alcohol.
Frequently Asked Questions About Is Bartending School Worth It
Bartending school is often seen as a necessary step to becoming a bartender. But is it worth it? Here are answers to some of the most common questions about bartending school.
Can You Make Good Money As a Bartender?
As a bartender, you can expect to earn an hourly wage of $12.55. However, tips can significantly increase your earnings. The average bartender earns $20 per hour, including tips.
Bartenders in high-end establishments can earn much more, sometimes up to $100 per hour or more. Of course, your earnings will also depend on your experience, the type of establishment you work in, and the location.
Where Do Bartenders Make the Most Money?
In general, bartenders who work in high-end restaurants or bars tend to make more money than those who work in more casual establishments. This is because they usually deal with wealthier clientele who are more likely to leave larger tips.
Bartenders who work in tourist areas also tend to make good money, as they often serve visitors unfamiliar with local tipping customs and may leave bigger tips as a result.
Can Bartenders Make 100k?
Yes, bartenders can make 100k. However, it is important to remember that this is not a guaranteed income and that earnings can vary greatly depending on location, experience, and tips. Nevertheless, bartenders can reach this income level with hard work and dedication.
How Difficult Is Bartending?
In some ways, it can be quite challenging. There is a lot of customer interaction and multitasking involved. You need to be able to handle high-pressure situations and stay calm under pressure.
However, if you are passionate about bartending and have a good work ethic, it can be an extremely rewarding career. There is a lot of opportunity for creativity and self-expression. Bartenders also get to meet many interesting people from all walks of life.
What Do I Need to Know Before Bartending?
There are a few things you should know before bartending, such as:
- The basics of mixology
- How to pour drinks
- How to open and close a bar
- Safety procedures
- Cleaning procedures
Knowing these things will help you be a successful bartender.