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?

Thanks

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.

Leave.

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.

66 Replies to “Ask Your Bartender: Bartending Schools”

  • Dale says:

    Your answer to Bartending School was the most comprehensive I’ve heard to date. I bucked the trend by attending bartending & landed a job immediately. New Buffalo Wild Wing here in OKC a few years ago. However, I was in my forties and a professional.

  • sebsn says:

    well seems to be hard work 😀 i have nothing to do with bartending except being a frequent bar visitor but i like yout writing style 🙂

  • This is exactly how I got a job in the industry. Now, I’m convinced that going to bartending school might actually work against you. It DEFINITELY doesn’t help these days.

    Here’s an article my friend wrote based on his experience at bartending school. He never really got a decent job in the industry and has since given up on it.

  • Jeffrey says:

    Thanks, Joe! That’s a great article he’s linked to, there, kids. I recommend it for an informative read, written by someone who actually completed bartending “school”.

  • Brendon says:

    I have worked in the Industry for about six years. I wanted to be a bartender but I decided that I would make money while I trained. It is all about being in the right place at the right time, and the patience to keep you waiting to be in that right place on that given time. Trust me though, it pays off. I worked all the day shifts for a long time. Now I run a busy bar and have Thursday, Friday, and Saturday shifts. I make more in this job than MANY people in their career jobs. I wouldn’t change anything about how I came up. Just remember, all the time you spend working your way up the ladder is training time. You don’t become a good bartender in 6 months. It takes time.

  • Dominik MJ says:

    That’s really funny – I never recognized that this is a system – but more or less I did it also like that…
    Ok in Germany you can do an apprenticeship in hospitality industry management (I did this for 2 1/2 hard years) – and getting a job in an hotel is then quite easy (with an appropriate approach…) – but then I wanted to move into other bars and I did it exactly like that – working as a normal barman – moved to do a morning shift (quite long) but then also took over evening shifts etc.

    Sometimes it can also help to work besides the normal shifts for free to get to know the evenings – and you can just help and be trained of the bartender…

    Great article!

    Dominik MJ

  • ML says:

    I wish I read this before I graduated from bar school!I don’t want to be a barback forever (more than a few months) how would someone make that transition. Living in NYC I notice a lot of barbacks end up being from other countries(for cheap labor)how do you compete against that?

  • greatjobgal says:

    I bartended for a long time and bartending school is pretty useless if you want to get hired at an established bar, club, etc.

    It can however get you a job as a bartender in a catering hall…and if you find a nice one that is busy, you can do very well (good money)…and get some hands on experience that will help you land a job in the future as a “real” (kidding) bartender.

    I’d definitely recommend giving a catering hall a try for your first year if you can’t get hired elsewhere. I know a few people that went that route and were able to land jobs after that, since they had some experience.

  • Jessie Jane says:

    Hey Jeffrey,

    You’re right on with all of this. In fact, you’ve inspired my own tips for bartenders at my blog. I suppose it’s like the old adage, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

    —Practice, practice, practice.

    Best,
    JJ

  • Waitress says:

    Hey there jeff, (or should i call you my husband to be *wink*)

    fantastic advice. You wouldn’t believe how many deuchebags come into my bar getting plowed and asking if they can have a job. For that matter, a lot of women come in plowed and try to dance on the pole as well.

    I’ve always been against bartending schools. I’ve been bartending for five years now, since the day I turned 21 and never went to school. *that may be because I’m dead sexy and have a great ass, but hell, you take what you can get*

    again, great article. I think i might link you on my site.

    always

    waitress

  • Finn says:

    Hello there Jeff,

    I found this page while jumping blogs, and this entry interested me in particular because all the people I know who bartend have told me that going to school will get you NOTHING at all… so I wanted to read what you had to say about it.

    I also wanted to share with you that personally, this resonated because EVERYTHING YOU SAID WAS TRUE.

    I’m a huge Golden State Warriors fan– that’s all fine. Except when they play away games. I don’t have television or fancy ESPN streaming broadcast subscriptions, so I bit the bullet a few months ago and went out looking for a bar, because the most common place to watch a sports game, supposedly, was a bar.

    As I drove around, I spotted a television with Redwood-tall men in uniforms, and pulled into the lot. I parked, and made my way on inside, thrilled to have found a way to watch my boys play. The bartender sidled over and asked me what I wanted. I wasn’t there to drink, so I just ordered a beer and sat and watched my game. I wasn’t aware of the $3 tip rule– I only left $2.

    The bartender sized me up a bit while I sipped my beer and watched the game. I was a youngish girl, alone, at a bar. He decided fairly quickly that I was not there to cruise for wang (like you said, the bar myth about girls alone in bars!!), and instead of one television playing football and one basketball, he had both of them on the basketball game because he said I was polite. He slid me a drink token and told me that next time I came in on his shift that I’d have to use it. I was thrilled. He introduced himself, then introduced me to a few of his regulars, and we got to talking a bit. He asked me what I was doing there, when there were so many “young bars” in town I could be going to. He named a few in the area and told me which people inside said bars I could talk to in order to make sure I was not harrassed. He then waved his arm about the place and said, “It’s not much, but it’s family.”

    “I LIKE it!” I told him. It was sincere. Everyone was nice and seemed to know each other, the bartender was very personable AND I got to watch my game! After that, I thanked him and left.

    The next away game, I went back. He remembered my name, remembered what sort of beer I liked, and turned the game on for me, as I was wearing my Warriors sweater. Another game was already in progress when I arrived, but he changed it anyway.

    “You don’t have to do that, if they’re watching!” I told him, not wanting to upset the regular patrons.

    “My bar, my rules,” he told me.

    “Well, thank you very much.” I told him. He introduced me to another regular who I’d not met previously, on my right. The other patron, also very personable, paid for my beer. I still left a $2 tip (which was under what you said, sorry).

    After the game was over, I still had half a beer left, so we got to a lot of talking. He told me about his life adventures and some of his aspirations and I shared mine as well. He taught me some self-defense moves on the patio just in case anyone ever “got fresh”. Then, he asked me how I would like to learn working bar. He told me it would be hard work, and that LISTENING was key, but that he was willing to teach. I told him I would be thrilled. He introduced me to the bartenderess that worked day shift, and she was just as nice as he was.

    As midnight drew near, I told him I thought it was time to call the cab. Instead, he told me to grab my stuff and gave me a ride home, and had the bartenderess cover for him while he did so.

    I am set to start working under him this month!

    Everything you said was so true, and it just resonated so much. I know that was long-winded and probably unnecessary, but WOW. I get more excited every day!

  • dave says:

    I like your comments but this school turns up different results. As of mid January we generated over 120 actual hard bartending job leads in the DC region. That stretches throughout Maryland, DC, and Virginia. During January we heard back from about 25 grads getting jobs in the region.

    Many clubs in the region refer people to us. We actually invest in advertising to several thousand local employers and are able to generate constant new leads.

    By the way, we never copy leads off of craigslist. So many of them require experience. What an act of bs.

    Your suggestions are worthwhile also. There are a variety of ways to get bartending jobs.

    People visit our school and we can show them actual new hard leads and where people got work.

    Can’t speak for all bartending schools around the country but that is how we operate.

  • Jeffrey says:

    Thanks, Dave! It’s good to get another perspective on this argument. While there are so many sheisty schools out there making empty promises, it’s good to see that there are people working to live up to their promises.

  • Pam says:

    Hello! Outstanding blog! Just discovered you today (March 22, 2007)

    Well, something possessed me to immediately enroll in a bar tending school in Chicago. I’ve never worked at a restaurant!! (yes, call me crazy) but I am sort of a “closet mixologist” and pride myself on some outstanding drink recipes I’ve created (always using my own fresh squeezed citris – never the nasty mixes). I also know about wines…blah blah blah. So I thought I might be a talented bar tender, right? Wrong. I started class the other day – I absolutely and completely HATE this style of learning. (and I’m an actress who can learn lines quickly…but this is bullcrap). I just do not see how people learn all these drinks in this short amount of time. The lessons are awful and fast and sloppy – the teacher slurs his words because he’s speaking too fast so I cannot hear him! – then we’re quizzed on the f—ing drinks without enough time to even learn them! Insane!

    I’m going to cancel today and hopefully get some money back. I’m so disappointed. Maybe I’m just a bad bar tender! I thought I’d love it – I really have a passion for creating drinks and I’m very knowledgable on wines. But I suppose there is far more to it, yes?

    I seriously give an outstanding applause to those of you already working in the industry. It really seems very very tough and you all are obviously very talented.

    Best!

  • Mextra says:

    I was going to join a bartending school in the nyc area, but after reading this blog and hearing other peoples views i have deceided not to jump the gun. THe school i was about to join is very pushy, they remind me of peramid scamers, so i was already a lil iffy about them.
    I advise everyone to be catious when joining these schools.

  • Mark Parry says:

    You are dead on about a bartending school making one a bartender. I’ve posted at other sites on this topic and could not agree more. I always use myself as an example as I went to college, have two degrees and worked as a city planner for about seven years and for a private engineering firm as a planner for the last two. I think it took about five or six years to begin to consider myself a professional planner.

    I am constantly confused by the fact that most bartenders seem to think that their profession is one of the few where formal schooling is a waste of time. I think that part of the problem may be some sort of underdog image that needs to be kept up. Maybe it is a deep-seated feeling of low collective self-esteem? After all, bartending is not much different than cooking and there are plenty of professional culinary schools. Why should the bartending field not have great schools? Perhaps the main problem is that bartending schools have not come into their own with regard to quality.

    I went to a bartending school almost a year ago here in Tampa. I have to say that they were up front about most everything. They said that I could sit in on a class if I wanted, that they get job leads but in no way guarantee a job, that other students get the same leads and that ultimately landing a job is up to the student, etc., etc. Naturally, they did hype themselves a bit and lauded all the jobs that their students have filled but that is to be expected.

    I tend bar at private parties secured for me by the school (although I finally got my first job based on business cards I had made up and now hand out). This works out for me as I have a regular 40 hr (more like 50) per week job as an urban planner and a wife and a year and half old son at home. The flexibility works for me and there are almost always a handful of guests at each party who appreciate the fact that I’ve brought my own simply syrup, hand juicer, a variety of bitters and even some herbs (such as mint) from my garden and get the chance to enjoy a well-crafted cocktail (rather than just a gin and tonic).

    My advice for anyone thinking about attending bartending school is to do a little homework and get a reality check:
    1. Make sure they have an occupational license (if the community in which the school is located requires them);
    2. Check with the local Better Business Bureau for negative reports;
    3. Sit in on a class;
    4. Ask about the qualifications of the instructors;
    5. Ask where other students have gotten jobs and check them out and see what those students have to say;
    6. Realize that a 40 hour course in just about anything is not going to make you a profession “fill in the blank”. Period, end of story.

    As such, I do not call myself a bartender – I tend bar. I think there’s a difference. Umm, with one exception; I have a home bar and I am the house bartender there 😉

  • NYC GRAD says:

    Hey folks.

    I disagree with this “bartender”. I am living proof that the RIGHT school, say one that has been in operation for 40 years,can get you a job.

    I just finished barschool in New York City on 29th street. Four days after graduating, I was hired at Seven Bar and Lounge on 7th Avenue for a Thursday night shift, as well as the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch and happy hour Monday through Friday.

    How’d I get that?

    Answer: I worked as a server for 5 years and headwaiter for 2 at Cheeseburger in Paradise.

    If you are in the food industry and know the ropes of CUSTOMER SERVICE, take the bar class. Most times restaurants or bars will appreciate the fact that you went the extra step to learn how to bartend on your own; restaurants and co-workers of such establishments do not have time to train barbacks, or even walk-in hires from 3 weeks of coming to the same bar. Also, I have never seen a barback even come close to being a bartender in the method shown above; you bareback for at least 2-3 years in a PROFESSIONAL ENVIRONMENT. No one wants to loose money or take the time to teach because then THEY loose money. THEY TEACH YOU THIS AT BAR SCHOOL.

    If you are really serious about bartending, get involved with the indistry by serving first. Learn the drinks as you are serving them. Build your resume, becuase in the REAL world, you don’t slide in that easily by making “friends” with a bartender. If you do, you are working at a bar that doesn’t even come close to volumous bars and restaurants in the city that make you REAL money, like 1,000 to 2,200 dollars a week.

    EXPERIENCE in the industry is KEY. Time spent learning about all aspects of the industry lands you a job as a bartender.

    PS. It helps knowing how to SERVE and BARTEND because you can cover multiple shifts.

    Hope this helps someone in Manhattan reading this.

    Sincerely,

    A Professional Bartender.

  • Thanks for sharing, NYC GRAD.

  • Darryl says:

    I am actually a bartending instructor. I took my position with a bartending school for the same reason I bartended in the first place, my passion for drinks. You cannot believe how much crap I have to put up with anytime I tell someone what I do for a living. I’ll try not to write a novel, however let me give you a few things to think about.
    First, let me agree with Mark. It is absurd to think that bartending is the only profession in the world that cannot be taught at a school. Out of all the bars I’ve worked for, not one has ever taught me a thing about making drinks. Usually they train on the register the first day, tell you where it’s ok to smoke and tell you that you’ll get paid every other Friday. To take it a step further, I live in L.A. and I can list all of the bars the make a decent drink on one hand. I do not think that it is necessary to go to a bartending school to learn how to bartend, but you need to learn somewhere. Based on the bad drinks and bad service I’m accustomed to, I would say that nobody is taking the time to learn anything, anywhere.
    I do not have anything bad to say about any of the schools. I think it comes down to the individual instructor. Are they there to get a paycheck or are they passionate about teaching? If I followed the guidelines and curriculum my boss gave me two and a half years ago my class would suck. I instead use it as an extremely rough outline of subjects to study. I teach to only use fresh ingredients, to never take shortcuts and that there are other uses to the barspoon besides layering shots. I teach only 70 drinks in two weeks as opposed to the 500 that keep getting mentioned.
    Although I find it rewarding when many (not all) of my students find jobs, the most rewarding aspect of my job is when a student comes back to tell me about the many compliments they have been receiving from their patrons. Most people around here are very unaccustomed to quality cocktails. Some of my students don’t find work and some do but still manage to be awful bartenders. I can teach them what I know but it’s ultimately up to them as to whether or not they want to take pride in there work as so many of us do.
    I guess my point is the same as a few of the other posters. Do your research. If you have a bad feeling about the school or instructor, listen to your gut and don’t waste your money. By the way, my school is located in L.A. as I mentioned and we charge less than $400.00. So please don’t over pay for a school. I’m purposely leaving out the name of the school so that my comment is taken seriously and not as an advertisement. Lastly, even you have mentioned Cocktails in the Country. So I’m not in disagreement that it is easy to get ripped off by bartending schools, but there are good bartenders out there that enjoy sharing what they know in a class setting. By the way I love this site and thank you for all of the hard work you put into it.

  • Thanks, Darryl, you’ve given us much to think about.

    It’s good to know that there are legitimate schools out there. I mean, I imagined as such, but finding a quality bartending school is about as touch as finding a quality bar. In this day and age, it’s still sketchy at best.

  • Chris says:

    Hey Daryl, I’d love to hear the one handed list of good places for a drink in LA!

  • David says:

    Jeffrey–

    First off, I love your website! The content of your site, more than anything else I’ve come across, has confirmed for me that mixology and bartending are a hell of a lot more than a job or a set of skills–that there’s an art and a science to it as well.

    The bartending school issue seems to be a hotly contested one…having researched it a little now, I’ve seen everything from “bartending schools are just a bunch of bogus shysters trying to take your money” to “bartending school is crucial and necessary and anyone who knocks it is insecure or narrow-minded.” And all VEHEMENTLY argued, too.

    I went to bartending school in Chicago. (Actually, the same one that Pam of comment #15 above went to, and I had that same fast-talking teacher, who I’m told has since left.) And I agree with what seems to be the general consensus: yes, you learn some things, but not everything, and regardless it is rarely enough by itself to get you a job.

    In fact, the best response for the “how do you break in” question that I’ve come across is just that you have to be in the right place at the right time. After some time on that first break-in job, you’ve cleared the experience hurdle, so it only needs to happen once. And that can be anything from sheer luck, like walking into a place that desperately needs someone THAT NIGHT and will take the chance on you, to being hired despite not having much experience because you bring something else to the table.

    Case in point: when I was looking for work I had the bartending school certificate, and about a month bartending at a seasonal beach restaurant which didn’t really have a full bar to begin with and closed for the winter soon after I started working there. In other words, almost no experience. But I got the next job because I had a background and some connections in theater and the management wanted to start a bunch of new promotions, including an improv/comedy night. They figured I could help with that, so I won out over other candidates who presumably had more experience.

    So it seems to me like a job-seeker ought to use whatever they have at their disposal–time, talent, even just persistence–to land that first gig, because after that it’s much easier.

    Anyway, I wanted to ask you a question as well: most people agree that bartending school isn’t always going to help get a job, but some even say that it’s detrimental to have it on the resume. I’m moving cities in a month or so, and as I’m applying for new jobs, do you think that even if I have some experience, listing bartending school might cast a bad light on my application?

  • David

    Thanks for the insight! You’re right, blanket statement regarding bartending schools is, in retrospect after meeting people like yourself, completely wrong. However, the current state of affairs suggests that bartending schools in this country are more often bogus than not.

    I don’t know if there’s a direct correlation between that and the fact that bartenders themselves in this country are more often bogus than not.

    I suppose the same could be said about the average American drinker. Anyway.

    To answer your question, I think that putting the bartending school on the resume is probably a good thing, and hopefully you’ve already got some good experience under your belt to back it up.

    My whole point is this: a resume with nothing but bartending school on it will more than likely get you sent home. Experience is king here.

    Thanks for reading, and good luck!

    Jeffrey

  • Mack says:

    Just finished school in Manhattan.

    I think what I really wanted out of the school was the confidence in making the drinks correctly and fast enough for my comfort. I got that.

    The school was quite comprehensive, too. My instructor went over everything he can squeeze into two weeks/4 hours per day. The school requires their teachers to have Bachelors or a Masters Degree.

    What really closed the deal for me was when they emphasized that I can always “come back” to review(retake the class) or master and practice mixing drinks.

    I have 2 years part-time/full-time as barback in an upscale restaurant. Hopefully that will help in getting a job.

    But I must say, if I owned or managed a bar/restaurant, I would take a graduate of the school in to serious consideration for a bartending position over someone who only had 6 months of barbacking or serving experience(although that’s a really big PLUS).

  • Good points, Mack. Can we know what school you attended?

    Thanks for writing.

  • Nicole says:

    This is all really great information, because I’ve had a really hard time finding a job, mostly because I’m really unsure of how to get that first job that you need to then have experiences…in order to get a job. I went to bartending school a while ago, and have some server experience, but really like your method of securing a job. However, what do you suggest to people who want to bartend but are under 21? I can bartend at 18 but I can’t become friends with the bartender by havin a beer with them for a few weeks if I can’t drink yet. Any suggestions for underage hopefuls? Thanks- nicole

  • kevin says:

    Just wanted to say thank you for your website .I was just going to paid for school because a friend of mine has opening in his bar and ask me if i knew of anyone .I said i’ll do it so i came home and started looking for school to go to but this website of your just pushed me to wing it. Im a regular at this bar. so i hope and pray for my success. once again thank you .kevin

  • Nicole says:

    Nicole, some states like Kentucky allow you to be a bartender at 20.

  • Stephanie says:

    Thank you all for the information you have posted. I am in the same position as Nicole. I have a year of experience as a waitress at the same restaurant and I have been trying to work behind the bar to no avail. The place I work at doesnt want to promote someone who is under 21 to serve drinks. The legal age to serve alcohol in my state is 18. I have 4 years of experience in the service industry overall. I have been looking at bartending schools for the past few months. I cant go into a bar and try to get noticed since I am not 21. Just wanted to get some opinions from those of you who are in the industry.
    Thanks so Much
    Stephanie

  • Belinda says:

    I ran a bartending school in South Florida for 6 years. Love every minute of it! I have been a bartender for 15 going on 16 years. Worked in every condition possible; catering, hotels, nightclubs, private clubs, resturants (up-scale and duck your head from flying beer places) in everyone of these joints there is one common denominator……your attitude! If your in a crappy mood, had a fight with your mate, your goldfish died, don’t bring it to the bar. Always have a smile and it doesn’t hurt to know a joke or two. Every customer that comes into a bar has a story of why they need or want a drink, be a good listener and don’t fuel thier fire with your problems. Besides learning how to sling drinks you need to be somewhat of a therapist. And for the underage crowd, yes some states the legal age to serve is 18 but most bar managers won’t hire under 21 cause your friends are under 21 and if they came in your most likely to serve them. Sorry, but like I’ve told the kiddies…flaunt what your mamma gave ya or the doctor made ya! Flirt, flirt, flirt. Most bartender and managers are dogs in thier own right, if you can’t get behind the bar till your 21 show them that you have the skills to keep the 64% male dominating clientele in thier establishment! If this statement makes you squemish then your getting in the wrong industry. Looks are a hugh part of bartending. Not saying you have to be a “10” but look your best everyday. And if the establishment serves food, please wear light perfume or none at all! Between the smells of the food and what you might think is a good “smell for you” might not be for others.

    If your not sure if bartending school is for you, let me ask you a question: What goes in a Vodka and Cranberry? If you can’t figure that out you need the school. I went, only because I didn’t know the diferent types of beer (I don’t drink beer) and the new shots or drinks….one major rule in bartending is that you’ll findout that one drink will have 5 different names. Don’t worry if you never heard of it, this is what you do:

    #1) Ask you partner behind the bar if they heard of it (if “no” go to #2)

    #2) If you have a bar recipe book (which I hate seeing someone use) look inside for the recipe (if “no” go to #3)

    #3) Ask the customer whats in it. If they don’t know, I tell them they shouldn’t be drinking it.

    Hope I put a light on things..Good Luck!

  • Thanks for sharing, Belinda. I will take issue with your point #2, there, though.

    I keep a small library of books behind my bar at all times, and feel that any bar that doesn’t stock at least three books on the subject of bartending isn’t worth a damn.

    I would much rather see a bartender consult an expert than try to wing it with my drink any day.

  • deb says:

    I have been a bartender since I turned 21…17 years…I tried bar managing (yuck) and the worst bartender I ever had was the one guy who went to bartending school. Being a good bartender is largely about being able to read people, being a good (tough, responsible, honest) employee, and not turning yourself into a raging alcoholic in the process. (minor, ranting alcoholics make good bartenders) The problem with bartending school is they try to teach you how to do things the “right” way and bartending is highly personalized. I work at a family-owned business, Friday days, sat, sun, mon, thurs nights. We have lots of regular patrons and they like all four of us tenders but for different reasons..again, no one way of doing things. My favorite new employee we ever had said “I know how to do XXX, but I don’t know how you guys do it.” She lasted a long time and everyone enjoyed her…humility isn’t something bartending schools teach.

  • Vin says:

    Hey Jeff, here’s a question I have for you. Right now I’m workin’ 40 hours a week just to pay off my crazy school loans from college. I’m barely able to keep my head above water, and I’m already living at home. While I was at school, I was sort of the resident bartender for my fraternity (at functions where we had a fully stocked bar) and took pride in passing on the torch to the next “bartender.” I feel like I can make a decent drink, but I know there are a lot more out there for me.

    As far as slowly working my way into the industry, I’m not 100% sure that’s something I’d be capable of doing. Say I followed your general guide and worked late nights while keeping my 40 hours with my current employer. The big day comes and my new boss says, “hey, blablabla called off, we need you to fill in for her tomorrow afternoon.”

    Obviously the new boss would probably already know I work full time elsewhere and probably wouldn’t offer such a shift to me to begin with, but I guess my point is, even if it was offered, what could I do? Call off sick from my main job to get a random Tuesday lunch shift?

    This is where I was looking to bartending school. What I want is a good contact list, a little training, and an ice breaker in an interview. I don’t wanna work Friday nights to start, but eventually, sure. Something like a rung in my ladder when I talk to a manager and see if they know of anyone who has an open night of the week I could start would be what I’m looking for.

    I guess what my view of this “debate” is…Is that bartending school is not for everyone, but surely it’s for someone. Reading the posted opinions here, do you think it’s something that may be for me? If not…what’s a guy to do to supplement his life with a decent part time gig as a bartender? Or am I maybe barking up the wrong tree?

  • Vin – I worked in architecture offices for many years while coming up tending bar. It can be done if you find the right place – many establishments are sensitive to the fact that their employees maintain seconds jobs.

  • katsaisemszew says:

    Hi all!

    As a fresh http://www.jeffreymorgenthaler.com user i only wanted to say hi to everyone else who uses this forum 😎

  • Tristan says:

    Hej Jeff, question for you…

    I am a 23 year old student in california and I would really like to land a barbacking or bartending gig… my question is in regards to my limited experience which was as a bartender in Sweden last year for nearly 10 months and roughly 4 nights/week… it was at the busiest student pub in the 4th largest city in Sweden… is international experience credible experience? i did have to speak Swedish (which i am fluent in but does me little good in california) the majority of the time.

    what do u suppose my chances are with that sort of experience? in fact, is it even more interesting than if it were in the states? im not entirely confident in the matter…

    thanks!

    tristan

  • Tristan – International experience is very credible on your resume. Definitely include it.

  • ryan thomas says:

    I’m only 20 and want to become a bartender part time to work my way through school. In kentucky im old enough to get the job, i think, but how do i go about getting it?

  • Adam says:

    I actually attended bartending school when I turned 21. I had 5 years of previous restaurant experience in every position, including some beer only bartending and also catering experience. I already knew a decent amount, but at the time it seemed like a good idea to go through a “school”. They were a pretty well connected school and I did land my first job through them. Now the job was crap, I was working as a server and was “training” on bar for weeks and weeks and ended up quitting before I got my own shift…However my brother-in law was good friends with the owner of a new local high volume club. He got me an interview, after 5 minutes of talking I started work the next day, which happened to be their busiest night. Made $300 my first night. The next night I was working by myself and its all history from there. Guess I got kind of lucky.

  • Scotty says:

    Hi Jeff, I am 63 years young, single, and lead a pretty active lifestyle. I’m strong and fit and just finished a few days of barbacking (10 hr shifts) at a convention here in Vegas. I loved it. I’m trying hard to get into bartending and I’d be interested to hear your opinion about a mature man like me starting a career in bartending. My goal is be a top bartender at a golf club or fine dining establishment, but having trouble getting work and thinking about going to a bartending school while I keep searching for a bar job just to get experience mixing drinks. I was a top salesman for years and love to sell…now all I want to do is bartend and sell myself and have some fun doing it. I would be great! Honestly, do you think an older (chronologically only) guy like me have a chance?

  • Eric says:

    As a manager at a high volume, popular, and high end establishment, we would never hire someone based on bartending school alone. We would hire from within our own ranks first. We at least know what our own people are capable of handling.
    Simply, getting experience as a barback, server, cocktailer, etc carries more weight than bartending school. School may teach you what you NEED to know, but employers need to know you CAN do it.

  • Wendy says:

    I loved this article! Any tips on how it would work differently for a woman?

    Thanks!

  • Mike Hunt says:

    Wendy, you wouldn’t need to do much. Just flirt and show a little cleavage.

    -Mike

  • Shredlife says:

    Good to see this thread has gone 5 years without any negativity and strictly advice. Also love the fact that managers and owners are checking in to see what the pros are teaching. Theres love and succes as well as passion in this industry people. Im following

  • Ludmila says:

    Does anybody knows a place in sf or east bay I could go to check? Im looking to be a bartender .

  • Eemia says:

    Your BRILLIANT
    Your bartender blog is ALWAYS 100%

    I’m impressed.
    Although not sure if I’m impressed with you and how well rounded and spot on your views and/or experiences are or if impressed with myself for sharing those almost identical brilliant views and/or experiences.
    HA
    Please continue to blog – I have enjoyed your writing for years now and look forward to more.

    Thanx,
    Eemia

  • Greg says:

    Looked into bartending school myself, as the plant I work in will be shutting its doors soon. Found some good reviews of schools and some not so good so I think it depends a lot on where you go. Something I noticed when I googled “bartending jobs las Vegas” many places hiring wanted “one year experience or certification from bartending school.” hope that helps

  • Jack K says:

    I hope you still check this blog Jeff.

    Here is my dilemma. I am 18 almost 19. I’ve shuffled around from fast food, to hard labor, to commissioned sales jobs. Trying to hold something down until I decide I am ready to enlist in the Army.

    There other day I quit the sales job as I decided that is not for me. My plan is to enlist when I am 20 (the Job i want in there require 20 yrs old+)

    After quiting, I sat around ALL DAY, thinking of what in the hell do I do now? I narrowed down Bartending sounds like the only thing fun and strikes an interest to me. I have NO IDEA how long I will still in the Army. My original plan was a career. But I am not at that stage of life where I don’t know what I want to do until I retire. I could see my self spending the rest of my life in war, or a bar. Haha.
    I have other passions but nothing I would want to do day after day.

    I came across the Minnesota School Of Bartending. It has an A+ BBB rating. (Not accredited though). They same legitmate to me even after all the NEGATIVE stuff I have heard about Bartending schooling.

    My problem is I don’t have 5 years to spend as a busboy or waiter or barback. (not to mention i’ve heard worse than good about barbacks actually getting in as a bartender).
    I only have 1 year to support my bills and to have fun with my friends and girl until I leave.

    But I have highly considered this as something to come back to if I get wounded or decide not make a career out of it. This school offers lifetime free refresher courses. Should I take this route? or just not even bother with bartending for the time being.

    Please don’t beat around the bush with your reply. I’d rather you be blunt and honest. you won’t hurt my feelings. Haha.

  • heather says:

    i graduated bartending school just over a yr ago, so i’m just a baby, but i’m workin!

    so, here’s another way to get experience after bartending school, i.e. catering/events business.

    in the process of a career change, from horrifically boring and suicide inducing work in a cubicle, (i am NOT a cubicle/office person by any stretch), i was already a massage therapist on the side, but wanted to add bartending to my bag of tricks…so having no luck getting even a barback position, i bit the bullet and went to bartending school, cause i knew i’d kick some serious butt at it, (and i do 😉

    i was lucky enough to make a good connection with one of the instructors, who, upon discussion of job placement, (which they offer aid in the form of job listing), i found out the school also hires out bartenders for private events, and was grateful when she offered me a place on the list of event bartenders…that was about a year ago, and since then i have grown and become more and more comfortable with my bartending skills, and am applying to other catering/event businesses to gain more experience and confidence…hopefully within the next year i will have enough experience to be attractive to a prospective employer…cuz i would love me a good/popular dive bar 🙂

    also, i wanted to thank you SO much for the resume tips and the above tips, i will put those in my bag of tricks for the future.

    keep up the awesome blogging!
    *raises a glass*

  • Rhett says:

    Fantastic answer, but if you plan to do this all around town you probably don’t need to be a bartender because, guess what- YOU’RE RICH… If you can “do this all around town” then you must just want a hobby…

    I’m unemployed and looking for a bar back job, and I can’t go in to 1-3 bars a week and order whiskey (i don’t do beer) and make small talk…

    The small talk I can do, no problem, but I’m monna need a job to try to find a job.

    Depressing.

    • Rhett – Sorry that this isn’t the magic bullet you’re looking for, but it’s the only advice I have. If you’re unemployed and broke, then yeah, this method probably isn’t going to work. In that case, I don’t have a solution for you. You’re fucked.

  • Lucy says:

    Great blog.

    I’m in the UK, female, getting close to 35 but forging a career path within beverage service. I am doing a 2 year Wine Business course which incorporates the Wines Spirits and Education Trust WSET Diploma (Level 4) I’ve got distinctions already in Levels 2 and 3.

    I’ve worked in pubs (called brewhouses in the US?)for many years on and off and currently in a big country pub for over a year but this does not provide any cocktail worl. I want to get into professional bartending and a Global Bartending Certificate is offered by a local Mixology School run by one of the country’s top mixologists. We dont have the plethora of scheister courses in the UK but they are all twice the price.

    Even so, is undertaking such a course a good thing with intentions as I have to get into cruise ship work and 5*hotel bars? I am meeting with the school to discuss plan but it would be interesting to hear from you. I was told being female, with an English accent and massive passion for beverage service and despite my not as young as some age can and will go far in this world.

    Thank you.

  • Lucy says:

    And apologies for my horrendous typos and bad grammar!

  • Rhett says:

    Well thank god I’m used to that, Prison ain’t what it used to be.

  • Rhett says:

    But in all seriousness, I did enjoy what you wrote. You, out of all the websites I’ve searched, have been the one that pulled me in the most.

    I hope that writing is bringing you good fortune,

    Happy New Year

  • Bill Konger says:

    I love your plan! Very sneaky and what’s great is that it actually works. I got my job as a bartender after working as a waiter in a restaurant with a bar. On slow nights there wasn’t a bartender on duty so they had the waiters and waitresses mix the drinks for the customers so that’s how I learned and eventually, they put my in as bartender one night when the current bartender had to call in sick. I love this job and I learn new things every night.

  • Ashley says:

    I must say, for you to outright claim that “no professional bar manager is going to hire you as a bartender straight out of school” is extremely misleading.

    Myself, as well as a solid handful of people that just I know, found jobs as bartenders within weeks of graduating bartending school with zero previous experience (and no experience in the restaurant/serving industry). we found these jobs with honest resumes and no “I’ve got a guy” assistance from anybody.

    I learned invaluable knowledge from my bartending school experience that I have used over and over again, and gave me the confidence to seek out a bartending position.

    What I’m saying is, don’t give definitive “facts” to your readers, instead I simply suggest you share your OPINION, but don’t be outright misleading.

    On that note, much of your advice is helpful, I’m not trying to discredit you!

    Cheers!

  • Ina Jano says:

    Uhm you do realize that to get a bartending job in major cities like Miami they won’t even hire you unless you have a bartending license. My friend is moving to Miami and she’s been a Bartender for 4 years off clearwater Beach, and they told her the most i can do for you is give you a job as a bottle service girl. So she’s most likely going to have to get her license anyways. It’s not just for people that have no experience at all and are hoping to find a job. I myself have been a server for years, and I’m moving to a college town and over winter break i want to get my bartending license because with my serving experience and license I know I’m opening up opportunities for myself.

  • Joe says:

    Very nice post. I absolutely love this website. Keep it up!

  • 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

    Cheers

    • 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

  • Sarah Smith says:

    It’s interesting that bartenders can get their experience and training on the job rather than in bartending school. I would imagine that it would be better to get liquor licensing from a school. However, from your information, only the bar would need the licensing and the bartender just needs to have a required permit and be able to mix the drinks correctly.

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