Ask Your Bartender: Bartending Schools

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Jeffrey Morgenthaler

Hey Bartender,

I’m a fine art student who draws paints, does flash work, and have done print work. But I’m unemployed for the moment and thinking about bartending school as an alternative job till i get another graphic/web design position, I know bartending school isn’t a job but possibly a means to the end of being a bartender.

What do you think of the schools that are 40 hours and if it might be a reasonable investment?


Zach in St. Louis

Hey Zach

I’m not a huge fan of bartending schools, and it’s not only because they make you believe that you’re learning valuable information as they cram 500 useless drink recipes into your brain. What I don’t like about bartending schools is that they make you think you’re actually going to find a job.

Sure, a bartending school is going to give you a bookful of recipes, and some resume-writing tips, and some of the bigger schools might even have some connections around town that will post job openings on their bulletin board. But here’s what they’re not telling you:

No professional bar manager is going to hire someone as a bartender straight out of school.

Sorry, kids, but it’s true. You don’t become a doctor, lawyer, or architect straight out of school, and the same goes for bartending. It takes training, time, and working your way up the ladder in order to be running the show on a Friday night.

If you’re not a complete idiot, you can get a job in a bar with no experience, and for half the cost of a bartending “school”. And I’m going to show you how.

Let’s say that a typical bartending course is forty hours long and costs $500, yet doesn’t get you a job. I’m going to bet that you can get a job for the same money or less in the same forty hours. Here’s what you do:

1. Pick your target wisely, Daniel-San. First, find a bar that you’d like to work in. To make things easy on yourself, make it a local bar and not a big chain. The bar you choose is going to be your target, and you’re going to slide on in before they know what happened.

Find out as much as you can about the establishment. Does it have staff turnover? If you picked my bar, you’d be out of luck – there are only two of us, and one of us is going to have to die in order for a shift to open up. That’s not the type of place you’re looking for. Conversely, there’s a bar in town that has an entirely new staff every six weeks – that’s probably not going to be a good job either, as the owners are obviously psychotic.

Pick a bar that’s staffed with people in your own demographic. If it’s staffed entirely by old ladies, you’re probably barking up the wrong tree as a 22 year-old guy. Look for a place that you’d fit in nicely.

2. Make The First Strike. Now it’s time to visit your target. Go in to the bar and have a drink. Alone. And bring a book. Timing is critical here. Nobody wants to talk to you on a Friday or Saturday night. Go in at night, when the decision-makers are likely to be working, and go in on a slow night. Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays are great times to hit your target.

Sit at the bar, preferably at one end, and order a beer. Yes, a beer. Don’t order a Lemon Drop, Mai Tai, or Long Island Iced Tea. You’re not here to get drunk, you’re here to have a drink and make an impression. Be polite, say please and thank you, offer to pay for the drink rather than running a tab, and tip appropriately. A dollar isn’t going to get you noticed, but a ten-spot is going to make you look like you want something. Leave your bartender three dollars for that beer. It’s a signal, and the bartender is going to assume you’re in the industry.

Now it’s time to thumb through your book. Remember, you’re not here to get drunk, you’re here to make an impression. With that three-dollar tip, you’re sitting pretty, and the bartender is probably going to pay attention to you. Be friendly, smile, and turn on the charm. Complement the bar.

Have another beer. Over-tip again. Ask the bartender, who is obviously taken by your charm and grace, his or her name. Get them to remember your name. Ask when they’ll be working again, and then leave.

3. Back Again? Repeat step two. This time, you’re going to already be in the bartender’s good graces. Repeat all of the steps exactly as you did the last time. By the end of your visit, your bartender is going to be dying to know who you are. He or she will probably ask what you do for a living. Tell them what you do, but keep it at that. Be polite and be sober. Ask your bartender what other places in town he/she would recommend that are similar. Make a note and visit those places as well. Ask questions. Seem interested.


4. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. By now, your bartender is going to be thrilled to see you walking through the door. Do everything as you’ve done it before. Order a beer (by now your bartender probably knows what you’re having), tip well, and talk politely. Do this again and again. You’re going to encounter other staff members, and soon the whole establishment will know who you are. Above all, be polite to everyone. You’ve been noticed, and the staff is happy to have you around.

5. Drop The Bomb Now that you’ve insinuated yourself into the establishment, it’s time to let everyone know that you’re looking for a job, and that this is just the kind of place you’d love to work. How do you do that? You work it into casual conversation with your bartender. Don’t tell the door guy, or the cocktail waitress, or the manager. Tell your bartender, almost confidentially, that you have no experience, you want to learn the ropes, and that you’ve always wanted to be a barback. Yes, a barback.

Ask the bartender if they know anything open around town and keep your options open. You might not land a job here, but there might be another place that you can get your foot in the door. Ask around, and make sure you’ve been doing this same thing in some of the other bars your bartender mentioned in Step Two above.

6. Weaseling is What Separates Us From the Animals… Except the Weasel. Keep this up around town until you land a barbacking job. It might take a while, but something’s going to open up and you’re going to be the one who gets in there first. Why? Because everyone around town likes you by now. They know you’re looking, they know you’re a really great person, and you’re going to be the first one they think of then a job comes available.

Be persistent.

7. Be Strong. Like Bull. Congratulations, it’s your first night on the job. You’ve got a try-out as a barback at one of the bars you selected, and now it’s time to show them that you’ve got what it takes. Show up early, never on time, and don’t even think about being late. Work hard, speak little, move quickly, and don’t complain, not once. This is what we’re all looking for in a barback, so be that person. You’ll get the job, trust me.

8. Know the Ropes. Now that you’re everyone’s favorite barback, and you’re working hard, never complaining, and never late, you’re going to use this time to get to know every single thing you can about the job. Ask questions. Be interested. Offer help. Because soon, you’re going to be offered a shift of your own.

Now, it might take weeks or even months, but you’re working behind a bar already, so be patient and suck it up. You’re getting a better education than you’re going to get in any bartending school, and they’re paying you to do it.

By now, you’ve probably already paid for the beers you drank a few weeks ago when you were scouting for targets. Relax!

9. Bite the Bullet. You’re going to be offered a shift of your own, but you’re not going to like it. In fact, you’re going to hate it. Why? Because it’s going to be the Tuesday day shift. Take it. I worked mornings and happy hours for years before I moved up to Friday and Saturday nights. Take the shift, but try to hang on to your late-night barbacking shifts. Remember, you’re still at the bottom of the ladder, so nothing is beneath you. Work whatever shifts they throw at you, and do the best possible job you can. Remember, you’re making money.

10. Who’s Laughing Now? Congratulations, you’ve just been offered a night shift. It’s a Monday, and it’s slow, but there is that one group that always comes in, so you’re guaranteed a few dollars. Suck it up, take the job, and do the best possible job that you can.

Hey, guess what? You’re a bartender. I’ll have a beer, please.

65 Replies to “Ask Your Bartender: Bartending Schools”

  • Hi
    Just wanted to say I’m a proud owner of a famous bartending school in downtown Newark New Jersey and we are the only bartending school that actually is a real bar so we train all of our students with the real customers after the 40 hour program to get them some experience before we guarantee them a job in the field. Not having a bartending certificate can get you a job but will never get you the confidence you need so I highly recommend bartending school for anyone that’s interested in making some serious cash in this field.
    Thank you Jesse (famous bartending school)

  • sergio fernandez says:

    I have been working in the industry for more than 18 years
    I’m a certified somellier, advance Mixologist and certified wine and spirits professional.

    I graduated from bartending school years ago until I opened and run a school myself.

    Everything you can do for educational purposes is great,in fact i would rather hire somebody with at leas a certificate.

    You need to move your way up, this is a career that require a lot of study if you want to take it on a professional aproach.

    It depends how serious is the bartending program.

    I always suggest the ones oriented to fine dining because you will be able to work anywhere in the industry.

    Bartender without doubt is the best job in the world


    • Kelly Badder says:

      Wow! I’ve wanted to tend bar .. like forever… I’m a nurse and burnt out from the politics. I’m 54 with 32 years as nurse extraordinare … my friends say I’d make a great bartender… what’s the best shortest route I guess… I’m starting over here! Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

      • Nadine Riess says:

        Hi Kelly,
        Research your closest Bartending schools- there are good and bad so make sure you ask the right questions and go in to see if their facilities are up to par. Look at testimonials from past graduates and talk to a few. I graduated bartending school in 1993… I had a very successful career as a bartender and as bar and nightlife consultant. I have opened and successfully run multiple schools. I am the owner and Director of a state licensed Bartending School and we live up to our promises and stand behind them one hundred percent. I don’t just speak for my school when I say that what Jeffery Morgenthaller generalizes about bartending schools is so 1990’s. When I went through (in the 1990’s..), this was the case… I stood in a line and made drinks over and over again. I landed my first job because of my my bartending certificate. I knew how to make drinks but not how to do the job of a bartender and believe me- there is a HUGE difference. Most Bartending Schools have evolved since then and those that haven’t, are mainly out of business by now. Make sure you learn on a fully functioning bar, equipped with an overwhelming amount of products as well as basic and specialty glassware. There should be a functioning POS system, ice machine, soda guns, draft beer system, wine station (yes- they should teach you proper wine service) as well as distractions like televisions and sound systems. The lights should be dim able and you should feel like you are standing in an actual bar. There should be a limit on class sizes and a clear overview of how their job placement services work and what your expectations should be for the program. That should give you a good start! Good luck!
        -Nadine Riess

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