How to Become a Bartender

Do you really need to go to bartending school?

Bartenders working behind a busy bar.

Unsplash / Pixabay

There is something sexy about bartenders. They are glorified in movies like Cocktail and Coyote Ugly. They are seen as perennially cool – think of Sam in the old sitcom Cheers. However, being a bartender involves more than just slinging drinks. A good bartender needs to be organized, and dependable as well as have great people skills. But do you need to go to school to become a bartender?

Bartending School

There are lots of bartenders programs available through hospitality schools. Through these programs, you can learn the basics of mixing drinks and how to serve alcohol safely, but bartending is one job that is best learned hands-on. The more you do it, the better you get. 

If you’ve never worked in a restaurant before, don’t expect to waltz into a bartending job – even if you have gone to bartending school. A good bartender has ample restaurant experience. If you are looking to get a foot in the door (or the bar, that is) apply for a job as a busser (busboy) or a barback. These entry-level positions will teach you the ropes faster than any school program.

Do Your Homework

There are hundreds of drinks that people like. Your job is to learn them! Or at least know the basic drinks. Martinis, cosmos, screwdrivers, gimlets—those are just a few of the most popular mixed drinks. Get your self a good bartending book, such as Bartending for Dummies, and commit it to memory. 

If you wait tables at a restaurant, you should already know the beer and wine selections. If you are new to the restaurant or transitioning from a back of the house position to the front of the house, you need to learn the restaurant beer and wine lists.

It means knowing the brands and types offered as well as knowing the differences between them. For example, what makes a chardonnay different from a merlot (besides the color). Or how is an IPA different from a pilsner or a stout beer? Impress both customers and management with your knowledge of the drink list.

Practice Your Skills 

Once you’ve been given the go-ahead by your restaurant manager to serve drinks, practice, practice, practice. To perfect your liquor pour, practice with an empty liquor bottle filled with water. See how long it takes you to fill a shot glass (not long!) then try and to duplicate that amount into a drinking glass. Never, use a shot glass for measurement in front of customers. It looks cheap and unprofessional. Eventually, you will be able to eyeball the perfect pour, and it will come naturally.​

A good bartender pays attention to customers, who sit at a bar for a variety of reasons. Maybe they are lonely and want someone to talk to or just the opposite, they are tired and want to be alone. As the bartender, you must be a good listener or at least be able to fake good listening. You need to know how to read people and interact with them accordingly. That is how you develop a strong customer following, which will please management as much as it pleases you.

Management Experience Is a Plus

Bartenders are often the de facto manager of a restaurant. Usually, the bartender is the person closing up each night and responsible for cashing the servers out and sending the credit card batch. They are also responsible for ordering beer, wine, and spirits and tracking inventory. Bartenders should know how to effectively deal with staff conflicts or take care of customer complaints.  

At first, glance, bartending looks like a fun and easy job. However, the best bartenders are those with excellent customer service skills, who can multitask, and who are honest and trustworthy.