Education and Training Requirements

High School

Because bartenders must be good at calculating tabs, high school math classes are important to take. If you would like to own your own bar someday, consider taking business or accounting classes. You might also take family and consumer science classes to gain exposure to food and beverage measurements and preparation. Communication is a key part of this job. The bartender who can chat with customers, making them feel at home and welcomed, and work well as part of a team will have the most success in this profession. To improve your communication abilities, therefore, take English, speech, and any other classes that offer you the opportunity to work on these skills. Psychology classes will be useful because bartenders may encounter awkward social situations and regular customers sometimes talk with their neighborhood bartender about their problems and life challenges. With American bar and restaurant clientele becoming increasingly diverse, it is a good idea to take a foreign language, such as Spanish. 

Postsecondary Training

A wide variety of vocational and technical schools offer complete courses in bartending. It is recommended that you complete a formal training program to prepare for this work. Such training will not only teach you about mixology (how to make mixed drinks) but also instruct you in areas such as business and marketing. It is important to note, though, that you must be old enough (usually at least 21) to serve alcohol in order to attend bartending school. Many bartenders also learn their trade on the job. They usually have had previous experience as bartender helpers, waiters' assistants, or waiters or waitresses.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Bartenders must be familiar with state and local laws concerning the sale of alcoholic beverages. Although not required to by law, many restaurants and hotels hire bartenders who are certified in alcohol awareness. A bartender and an establishment that serves alcohol can be held liable in accidents or injuries caused by a customer who drinks too much. Most bartending courses include this certification in their training programs and some restaurants and hotels also offer alcohol awareness certification to all employees who serve alcohol. In some states, bartenders must have health certificates assuring that they are free of contagious diseases. Because of the large sums of money collected in some bars, bartenders must sometimes be bonded.

Other Requirements

Aspiring bartenders must meet age requirements, which vary by state. While some state laws allow 18 year olds to serve alcohol, some restaurant and bar managers may prefer to hire employees who are over 21 years old.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Any experience one can obtain in a restaurant or bar will be useful. Generally, bartenders must be at least 21 years of age, although some employers prefer they be older than 25. If you are not yet 21, you can work as a waiter or a kitchen worker at a bar or restaurant.

Bartenders must be in good physical condition in order to stand comfortably for long periods of time and to lift heavy cases of beverages or kegs of beer. Because they deal with the public, they must have a pleasant personality and a clean, neat appearance. (Of course, for certain sorts of bars, a clean, neat appearance can be a detriment!) Bartenders should also have good common sense, knowing when a customer has had too much to drink, and how to handle uncomfortable social situations. They should also be familiar with a variety of alcoholic beverages—for example, a gin and tonic made with high-quality gin tastes markedly different from one made with ordinary liquor, and the proper technique for pouring a pint of heavy stout from a tap is an art form in itself. Finally, since bars can be loud, bustling places, bartenders must be able to work well and quickly under pressure.