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How to Become a Bartender: Bartenders' Guide 2021

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Bartending can be a highly rewarding and well-paying job if you know how to juggle multiple tasks and ensure customer satisfaction. It can also be hard to get into the field and even harder to learn all of the skills needed.

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That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide on how to become a bartender, so you can begin your journey today. You don’t need to be able to come up with separate menu ideas for spring cocktails, summer cocktails, fall cocktails, and winter cocktails from the start. All you need is a general set of skills and passion.

Keep reading to learn what you can expect in terms of bartender pay, age restrictions, hours, skills, and more. We’ll start with the most basic information about the job itself.

Bartender Job Description

In a bar or restaurant, a bartender can be found behind the bar pouring alcohol, pouring beer, pouring wine, crafting the most popular cocktail recipes and drinks every bartender should know, and serving them all to waiting customers. However, that’s just the surface of what the job really entails. The role is often far more complex and a capable bartender can expect their work to overlap with bar manager duties.

Bartender Duties

Bartenders are both the face of the bar and the driving force behind bar profitability. They are often expected to help increase restaurant sales or reduce restaurant costs

Duties will grow over time and each restaurant or bar will be unique, however, there are a few tasks that you can expect all bartenders to do. These are the most common bartender duties:

  • Checking IDs. Bartenders need to ensure all customers are of legal drinking age or they risk losing their job, getting arrested, or even causing the entire business to be shut down.
  • Crafting Cocktail Menus. Many bar managers want their bartenders to be able to come up with new drink menus for seasonal offerings, happy hour drinks, sales, and more. This is a great skill to work on for both starting out and those looking to get promoted.
  • Serving customers and processing payments. Cash management is a vital skill that many bartenders overlook. They need to know how to use the bar POS system and all other restaurant tech quickly and efficiently to avoid any financial losses to the bar.
  • Upselling drinks. Knowing how to upsell lower-cost cocktails made with well liquor to a top-shelf liquor is a skill that can really set a bartender apart and get them the biggest tips possible.
  • Taking inventory. Tracking alcohol levels and ensuring drinks can be made will keep customers happy and keep the bartender employed. You can take a physical count of inventory twice a month and manually update an inventory spreadsheet. However, the best choice would be to streamline your inventory processes and use a perpetual inventory system or a wine tracker like BinWise Pro. It’s an automated bar inventory system that can save hundreds of hours a month on inventory counting. It also automatically adjusts your inventory levels in real-time and gives you access to a running stream of historical data, so you can make stocking a bar easier, calculate variance, set par level, and more.

Now that you know about the job itself, let's look at the pay that comes with it.

Average Bartender Salary

A bartender’s salary can vary greatly depending on bartending experience, business location, market size, cost of living, and more. With that in mind, the average salary for a bartender is $26,094 without tips. 

To ensure the most accurate number, we took the average bartender salary from the five largest nationwide employment websites. Here’s the data we used:

  • Indeed.com - $27,330
  • Salary.com - $22,880
  • Glassdoor.com - $32,840
  • Payscale.com - $26,190
  • ZipRecruiter.com - $21,230

How Much Do Bartenders Make In Tips: Bartender Salary With Tips

Tips are one of the biggest selling points of becoming a bartender. So, how much do they increase the annual take-home? The average salary for a bartender with tips included is $65,094. To get a more accurate picture of a bartenders' salary with tips, let's revisit the data from above with tips added in.

Here's how we got this number:

Base average salary of $26,094 + $150 tips daily = $65,094

As you can see, tips make a big difference for bartenders and often doubles their annual take-home.

Highest Paid Bartenders: Where Do Bartenders Make The Most Money?

Bartender pay varies a lot, even within the same city. However, on average, they make the most money in the following places: Washington D.C. at $48,000; Washington state at $39,000; Arizona at $38,000; and New York at $37,700. It's important to note that these salaries may include tips as different businesses report pay in different ways. This can greatly affect the final take-home a bartender makes, so make sure you understand what is salary and what isn't.

If this salary falls in line with your expectations, you’ll need to take care of a few things before getting the job. First, you’ll need a resume.

Bartender Resume

Many new and experienced bartenders don't know how to create an effective resume to showcase their skills and get the job. On the flip side, many bar owners are also unaware of what exactly to look for in their new hire and what they should be looking for in a bartender that can help them grow their business. To make creating a comprehensive resume easier, we compiled a simple guide for you.

Bartender Resume Format

To ensure your resume doesn't get ignored, you should always send your resume in the file type specified in the job description. Generally, this means you’ll create your resume in PDF or Microsoft Word format. However, that's not always the case so make sure you pay attention. You’ll also want to keep the resume as brief as possible, a single page if possible. Employers will sort through dozens or more applications for every opening they have so a shorter resume is appreciated. 

Instead of starting from scratch, you can also build out your resume using this downloadable free bartender resume template.

Bartender Resume Skills

When applying to be hired as a bartender, it's important that you highlight certain skills and experience in your resume. Even if you don't have prior experience, you can highlight certain skills that show you're a good fit for the role.

These are the top skills a successful bartender needs:

  • Knowledge of popular drinks. If you don't know how to make simple and popular drinks like an Old Fashioned, Gimlet, or a martini, you're not likely to get hired or keep a job as a bartender for long. Take the time to read up on the most common drinks ordered at the restaurant or bar you're applying to and practice making them.
  • Pouring skills. If you have trouble pouring alcohol, you'll have trouble being a bartender. Take the time to practice your free pours and learn any specialty pours at the bar or restaurant you want to work at. At the very least you need to understand how much is one part, so your cocktails aren't made improperly.
  • Organization. A disorganized bartender can quickly cause a backlog of customer orders and create headaches for everyone they're working with. The bar layout is key to streamlining workflow and keeping up with orders, so you need to be able to keep it clean and orderly.
  • Leadership abilities. Bartenders are expected to stay on top of everything happening during the shift and often this involves directing other staff. They need to be able to provide clear, useful guidance to the rest of the team.
  • Customer service skills. Bartending is, first and foremost, a service job. A bartender is expected to spend nearly all of their time interacting with customers and keeping them happy. 

With your new resume in hand, you may be ready to apply. That is, unless the job posting also asked for a cover letter.

Bartender Cover Letter

While the resume serves as an overall guide to your experience and skills, a bartender cover letter is a one-page document sent with a resume that highlights why you want to become a bartender. It’s a great way to show prospective employers that you know a bit about the hospitality industry, even if you don’t have an extensive background working as a bartender. Remember, you don’t need to send a cover letter with your resume if one isn’t asked for. Each position likely has dozens of applicants or more, so hiring managers don't want to sift through pages of information they didn't request.

How To Write a Bartender Cover Letter

Your cover letter will be personalized and unique to you. This is what makes it worth reading for the hiring manager. But, this doesn’t mean it should follow a predetermined structure. To ensure you have the best chance of impressing the manager, you should break your bartender cover letter down into three sections.

You’ll want a brief introduction that states where you saw the position advertised, how long you've been in the field, and any recognizable businesses you worked at. This section is short and to the point but sets the stage for everything to follow. Next, you should summarize the skills you highlight in your resume and how they relate to the opening. Even if you've never worked in a bar or restaurant before, you can use this section to list out the skills and experience you think most closely aligns with what the business is looking for. Finally, a paragraph about your education. This can be about your college degree, but trainings and general interests will work as well as long as they show how you’d be good for the role.

After these sections, make sure to conclude by thanking the person reading it for their time and include contact information. 

Make sure to keep your cover letter brief, try to match the language and terms used in the job description, add in relevant data points, and address it by name if possible. This will maximize your chance of success and allow you to stand out. You can also build your own cover letter using our free downloadable bartender cover letter template.

With the resume and cover letter ready, you can move on to the biggest challenge yet: the interview.

Bartender Interview Questions

Bartending interviews can be a bit different from other jobs. Questions are often far more specific and skill-based. They may even include asking the candidate to demonstrate how they would make a certain drink or handle a situation. 

To avoid feeling overwhelmed or surprised by this, we’ve put together this list of the most common bartender interview questions:

  • Why do you want to work here? No matter where you’re interviewing, you can expect to hear this question. It’s a classic interview question because it helps identify what the interviewee knows about the business. Make sure to do a little research before the interview so you can show that you aren’t applying for a random job.
  • Do you have any relevant certifications? If you have a bartending license, sommelier certification, cicerone certification, or other pertinent certification, this is a great question for you. It helps establish your expertise and makes you stand out from the crowd. If not, you can always offer to get one, just make sure you know if bartending school is worth it.
  • Do you have experience cleaning and prepping a bar? Cleaning is actually a big part of a bartender’s job. It helps keep the bar moving smoothly and will keep the health inspectors away.

How To Prepare For A Bartending Interview

If you truly want the job, your interview process should start well before the day it’s scheduled. First, make sure you thoroughly read the bartender job description. This is an easy way to show you have an attention to detail and avoid making you seem like you just applied for the role at random. You should also pair this with conducting some research on the bar to learn who its clientele are and better understand what they’re looking for.

In the actual interview, the most important thing is to make a good first impression. Coming off in the wrong way at the start will be very difficult to recover from. Show up in a business-casual or professional outfit, shake the manager’s hand, and be respectful. This will keep you from starting the interview off on the right foot and at least get you the opportunity to sell your value.

One subject that comes up often when looking to become a bartender or hiring one, is the legal age to serve alcohol. This is actually more complicated than you may think.


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How Old Do You Have To Be To Serve Alcohol?

In a majority of states, you need to be 18 years old to serve alcohol legally. However, some states will let you serve as young as 16 or as old as 21 with various rules regarding where you can do it and what types of alcohol you can serve. That's why it's important that both applicants and businesses look up the laws governing that particular bar or restaurant's situation.

Can You Serve Alcohol At 18?

Yes, you can serve alcohol at 18 in most of the U.S.! However, city and county ordinances may affect this. For example, in Illinois, you can serve alcohol at 18, but you need to be 21 in the city of Chicago. City websites usually have ordinances listed, so it's a good idea to check that out before wasting your time applying for a job or scheduling an interview with someone under 21.

Now, if you're of legal serving age and got the job, you’ll want to find ways to streamline processes and show your skills. This all starts with a cheat sheet.

Bartender Cheat Sheet

Bartenders can’t be expected to memorize every single aspect of their job, but they still need to be able to help customers with their orders at the drop of a hat. That’s why a bartender's cheat sheet should be behind every bar. This document that bartenders keep behind the bar covers some basic things that are likely to come up during their shift and usually contains recipes for basic drinks, which we'll cover below. However, you can also include cleaning instructions, guidance on how to use the bar POS, and more.

Basic Bartending Drinks Cheat Sheet

There are hundreds of different drinks that people will ask a bartender to make. However, there are a few drinks that will be ordered at almost every single bar in the U.S. each day. To help, here are three drinks for your basic bartending drinks cheat sheet:

The Margarita

Margaritas are a summer-time favorite known for their light, sweet, delicious taste. In fact, it’s the single-most popular mixed drink in the U.S.

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. tequila
  • 1 oz. Cointreau
  • 1 oz. lime juice
  • 1 lime slice
  • 1 pinch salt (for rim)

How to Make a Margarita

  1. Coat rim of glass with salt and fill with ice
  2. Add tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and ice to a shaker
  3. Shake
  4. Strain into glass
  5. Garnish with slice of lime

The Martini

Another classic, this martini is great for all seasons and requires only a few staple ingredients. It can also be made using either gin or vodka for extra flexibility.

Ingredients

  • 3 oz. gin
  • 1.5 oz. dry vermouth
  • 1 speared olive or lemon twist

How to Make a Martini

  1. Pour gin and vermouth into a mixer with ice cubes, stir
  2. Strain into a chilled martini glass
  3. Garnish with an olive or lemon twist

The Gin and Tonic

Another simple drink, the gin and tonic is often overlooked and improperly made. This classic summer cocktail deserves better, so make sure you've got this one down.

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. gin
  • 4-6 oz. tonic water
  • Lime wedge

How to Make a Gin and Tonic

  1. Fill highball glass with ice
  2. Pour gin, then top with tonic to taste
  3. Gently stir, then garnish with lime wedge

For more information, or to create your own cheat sheet, you can download our free bartender cheat sheet and add your own drinks, or start from scratch.

With that cheat sheet in hand, there’s only one thing left to talk about: the tools of the trade.

Bartender Tools

A bar is only as good as the tools in it and a bartender shouldn’t be expected to make top-tier drinks with subpar tools. However, they aren't all created equal, so we've gone through many different options to pick the best out for you.

With that in mind, here are our must-have bartender tools:

Mixology Bartender Kit

The best bartender kit available is the 10-piece Mixology Bartender Kit from the Mixology & Craft Store. It comes with a shaker, liquor pourers, strainer, muddler, jigger, corkscrew, ice tongs, and a spoon. This means you'll be able to master that standard pour with ease. These are all conveniently stored in a beautiful bamboo holder that really highlights the quality of the set. The tools are also made to be highly durable and machine-washable, so they can take quite a beating and still be used in a variety of settings.

14-Piece Cocktail Shaker Set

Our top pick for beginners is this comprehensive 14-piece kit from the FineDine Store. Included are a 28 and 18 oz cocktail shaker with a lid and filter, a double jigger of 1 and 2 oz, a muddler, a beer and soda opener, 6 bottle pourers, and a Hawthorne cocktail strainer. Best of all, the entire set is made of stainless steel, so it makes cleanup a breeze. No more buying specialty restaurant cleaning supplies. It's also an Amazon best-seller with more than 5,000 five-star reviews, so it's of a quality you can trust. Even experienced bartenders would enjoy how simple, yet useful this set is.

Professional 17-Piece Travel Bartender Kit

If you're a bartender on the go, you need a kit that can easily be packed without having to worry about damage or missing pieces. That's where the Travel Bartender Kit comes in handy. It's a fully comprehensive bartender kit with two rust-proof cocktail shakers, a jigger, muddler, mixing spoon, multiple strainers, and more. Best of all, it all rolls up into a hand-crafted rustic-style bartender tote bag, carefully designed with extra inner straps and compartments to keep the Boston shaker and other barware tools organized and accessible at all times. It actually has 27 different pockets and fixed straps, so you can add even more tools to your collection to take on the road. This way you can make your most popular cocktail recipes anywhere, anytime.

CURMIO Bartender Kit Travel Bag

If you already have your tools and are looking for a good bag, you'll love the CURMIO Bartender Kit Travel Bag. It's not just able to hold all of your comprehensive bartender toolset for traveling, it's also a wine bottle carrier. The bag is designed with two side foldaway pockets with elastic tops for a cocktail shaker & glasses and two padded dividers with adhesive tape to separate the compartment into three parts to carry wine or fragile bottles. It's also made to be water-resistant so those bottles of wine or a pint of liquor won't cause damage if they happen to leak.

Elite Mixology Bartender Kit

For professional bartenders, our top pick is the Elite Mixology Bartender Kit from Barillio. This kit has all the tools a professional bartender would need to make the drinks every bartender should know. The kit contains a 24 oz cocktail shaker with built-in strainer, a two-sided jigger, muddler, mixing spoon, Hawthorne strainer, ice tongs, corkscrew, 3 liquor pourers, 6 pourer caps, 2 pourer brushes, and 2 Bottle stoppers. It's a truly comprehensive kit that can help any professional bartender elevate their craft and ensure customer satisfaction.

HabiLife 21 Piece Cocktail Shaker Set

Cheap options don't have to be low-quality ones. That's where the HabiLife 21 Piece Cocktail Shaker Set comes in. It features 21 stainless steel bar essentials including a cocktail shaker, jigger, tongs, and more for less than $20. They're very easy to clean and the shaker is designed to never leak or rust. This set tops other cheap bartender kits because it's much sturdier than you'd expect and offers enough tools to be useful for even a professional to use. Now you can make spring cocktails and fall cocktails for a fraction of the cost. Most importantly, there's a 100% satisfaction guarantee, so you can return it if it isn't to your liking.

Highball & Chaser Premium Bartender Kit

Highball & Chaser make high-end and stylish bar tools, and this collection is a great choice for your home. Available in gunmetal black, copper, silver, gold, and natural colorways, this set is as much of a centerpiece as it is a set of tools. In addition to the usual bells and whistles, this set also includes a bar knife, lemon twist/zester, and corkscrew so you can handle any drink your guests throw your way. With this kit in hand, your parties will be the talk of the town and making summer cocktails or winter cocktails in no time.

That’s How to Become a Bartender

All of the steps in this bartender’s guide should help you learn how to become a bartender. As we said at the beginning, it’s not a step-by-step process. Once you get that sweet bartending gig, you’ll recognize quickly what makes a shift smooth and what doesn’t. And one of those things is managing your bar inventory with a bar inventory app.

Liquor inventory software like BinWise Pro will streamline your bar inventory and save everyone in the building hours, which gives bartenders more time to do what they’re best at: selling drinks.