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Do I need a Bartending License?

Unlicensed Bartending and Misinformation

Is there any other way?

Actually, no, there isn’t any other way. Bartending licenses do not exist per se. Oh, the various academies and bartending “schools” will attempt to convince you such a thing exists, but it is a simple fiction designed to convince you to part with up to $1,000 of your hard-earned cash to train with them.

This is not to say that all such schools ought to be avoided. Some of them are actually good, charge a lot less, and teach you useful bits of information. Moreover being a graduate of such a school may give you a psychological edge and the confidence to overcome those first night jitters.

Just be warned that such a certificate will look great on your wall, but bar owners really don’t care if you have one. If the school gives you a little wallet card, that’s a good place to keep it – in your wallet. Showing it might actually decrease your chances of obtaining a job.

You can show it, and in a deprecating way, say: “…and I even took a mixing course so that I can reliably make all the most common, basic drinks without having to thumb through a rolodex or open a book.” Then they know that you did some real preparation but don’t think you magically became a bartender because you went to a “school”. Many will test you to see if you really can mix and tend.

In the beginning…

In all likelihood you’ll start as a back bar assistant bar tender. You’ll be keeping the beer fridge filled, replacing dead soldiers (disposing of empty liquor bottles and replacing them with fresh ones for the bartender), topping up the ice, juices, and making drinks for servers in the restaurant area (if there is one).

Some bar owners insist that you use shot glass or jigger to dispense alcohol, but if you’re allowed to free-pour then you should know the technique. People feel like they’re getting full value when you free-pour so your tips are better. They’re getting the same amount of liquor, but they feel better about it.


Now there are some certifications you can (or in some cases must) obtain. The have names like Smart Serve, ProServe, or an alphabet soup of letters like TIPS, MAST, TAPA, ASAP, SIR, RSA, or any number of others. Usually it is determined by the bar-owner, but in some jurisdictions, such as Oregon it is set by local ordinance, whereas in Washington (state) a class 12 permit or a class 13 permit is required to serve alcohol in licensed premises, and in Wisconsin a state license is required.

Some states require an alcohol server/food handler’s certification. In the case of the latter, only one person needs to be certified as a food handler (usually the manager) but it is becoming a popular “preferred skill” so getting that could be an aid to getting a job.

There is no universal age to bartend either, but 24 states require 21 years of age; 24 states require 18 years of age; 4 states require 19 years or age; and 2 states require 20 years old. No, there are no new states, just variable status is some states with multiple age requirements.


Need more information? We’d be more than happy to help. We’ll teach you just what you need to succeed without costing you an arm and a leg! Get ready for a new career…come visit us now, while you’re thinking about it, and let us get you started in this fascinating field.