Good bartenders make or break a bar's image. If the drinks are bad, it doesn't matter how good the place looks. People will spread the word that it's a bar to avoid, and the company will lose money solely by employing someone who can't mix decent drinks. Bartending school might seem like the best place to go and learn all the fundamentals of mixology, but you'll need some experience under your belt as well if you want to get hired by a decent place.
Bartending is more than just knowing recipes off the top of your head. It also includes physical labor, customer service, and time management that some people find overwhelming. But if you enjoy the atmosphere, like working with people and find crafting drinks an art form, going to school could be a worthy investment of your time and money.
Do I Need to Go to Bartending School?
Most states don't require any formal education or training to be a bartender. The most basic requirement is being over the legal drinking age of 21. Beyond that, the requirements will vary from location and employer. For example, a small, family-owned joint won't likely require as much knowledge and experience as a high-end lounge in a luxury hotel.
Even though certification isn't a hard requirement, it can still do you both personal and professional favors. It should ensure that you are passionate, hard-working, and dedicated to your career path. It also gives you background knowledge and skills that can help you find more job opportunities later on, especially if you start somewhere small to get a basic background and work your way up.
Your state may also require you to pass a test and get a bartending license. A bartending license is not the same as certification, which requires more in-depth course work, training in different drink recipes, skills, and techniques.
How Much Does Bartending School Cost?
There are many different schooling options, but the cost of a bartending certification ranges between $200 to $800 for a 40-hour program. If you're already working as a barback, earning your certification can give you the skills you need to advance in your career. Rather than cleaning glassware, fetching bottles from the cellar, and loading kegs, you can make drinks and earn tips, too.
The cost isn't nearly as much as a college degree, so it's an affordable career path for people who enjoy working in the food and entertainment industries. If the cost is still a bit steep for you right now, you can look into taking out a loan from a private lender. With flexible interest rates and repayment options, it's easy to finance your next move without breaking the bank.
Is Bartending School Worth It?
The biggest concern people have before investing in any type of formal education or training is whether it will help them get a job. No one wants to fork over hundreds or thousands of dollars only to wind up earning the same amount they do now. Certification won't guarantee employment, and if you have no prior experience, it isn't likely to score you a high-paying job, either.
Most establishments want someone who has first-hand experience working with customers, making drinks, managing a bar, and taking care of guests. But that doesn't mean that going to school is a waste of time and money. There are many skills, recipes, and techniques you'll discover that you might not have been able to acquire otherwise. These include:
- Equipment operations and management
- Different types of alcoholic drinks and mixology principles
- Upselling and customer relations
- Money handling
- Cleaning protocol and procedures
- How to handle difficult customers
- Earning higher tips
- Essential bartender lingo and drink recipes
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average bartender earns a base salary of $23,680 per year (2019). Tips can vary from $100 to over $400 a night, depending on where you work. So, someone earning $11 an hour as a base pay but makes an average of $10 an hour in tips is actually earning $22 an hour. This could drastically increase your salary if you are employed in a busy venue with good customers.
Ultimately, the decision to get your certification will fall on your prior experience and passion. If you do not have any previous knowledge about bartending, then going to school will be advantageous. It can also add a layer of professionalism to your resume that will benefit you as you apply to higher-paying, more esteemed positions in the future. This is especially useful for anyone who wants to work in high-end establishments or even own their bar someday.