Learn About Being a Bartender

Updated November 30, 2023

What does a bartender do?

A bartender is a customer service professional who makes and serves alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages in bars, restaurants, event venues and other locations. While preparing and serving drinks, bartenders engage in conversation with customers, learn customer drink preferences and monitor customer behavior to prevent excessive drinking. Additional responsibilities include:

  • Maintaining a clean workspace

  • Entertaining guests

  • Continuously re-stocking all necessary bar items

  • Taking and processing customer payments

  • Checking identification of patrons consuming alcoholic beverages

  • Following all requirements of the establishment and local health department

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Typical salary

A bartender’s salary varies across states, venue type and even from night to night within the same establishment. Their salary includes an hourly rate and customer tips, which accounts for the significant variation. Bartenders can earn higher tips for providing better customer service.

For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link. Some specifics include:

  • Common salary in U.S.: $11.75 per hour

  • Typical salaries range from $7.25 to $28.05 per hour.

  • Average additional compensation from tips: $150 per day

Bartender requirements

Depending on where you want to work, there may be formal and informal requirements to serve as a bartender. These could include:


Although formal education beyond high school is not a requirement to be a bartender, many states have private bartending schools where you can learn related skills. In bartending school, students typically learn how to set up and clean a bar, how to make drinks, recipes for common orders and customer service skills.


Training can include the formal training of a bartending school or informal training by working alongside an experienced bartender. Training under the supervision of an experienced bartender will often include instruction on how to prepare and serve drinks, setting up, cleaning and restocking the bar, taking customer orders and processing payments. Each establishment will determine its own requirements for the length and format of training.


Although not required in every state, there are two types of certification that aspiring bartenders can earn: a bartending license and a bartending certification. 

Bartending license

This certification is often referred to as an Alcohol Seller or Server certification. A bartending license focuses on the responsible serving of alcohol and includes both state liquor laws and guidance for protecting an establishment from alcohol-related liabilities. You can earn this by completing a three-hour online course and passing an exam. Although there might be some variation between states, the certification is generally valid for three years.

Bartending certification

This credential focuses on preparing and serving drinks. It includes learning about drink recipes, mixology, glassware, drink garnishes and more. Bartenders already working in the field can also take advanced specialty courses that focus on specific aspects of the industry such as spirits and liqueurs, ice blocks and more. Courses range from one-hour overviews to 40-hour certification programs and typically do not require renewal.


Being an effective bartender requires a combination of technical and interpersonal skills. Considering customer tips make up a substantial portion of a bartender’s salary, bartenders need to refine and improve their skills. Some of the most essential skills for a bartender to have include:

  • Communication: Being an effective communicator who speaks clearly and listens well is critical. Strong communication skills help you understand what your customers want and answer questions they may have.

  • Interpersonal skills: A friendly personality that engages customers in conversation is a very valuable skill.  It helps you pass the time, learn about customers and ensures customers enjoy their experience and want to come back again.

  • Good memory: Whether it is the specific ingredients in each customer’s drink order or the list of which beers are on tap, a strong memory is crucial for bartenders. Remembering the names and drink orders of regular customers also helps bartenders build relationships.

  • Multitasking. Besides taking orders and serving drinks, bartenders clean and stock the bar throughout a shift and make sure customers are drinking responsibly. Being able to multitask helps bartenders complete these jobs efficiently and productively.  

  • Free-pouring. Free-pouring, the technique of pouring directly into a glass without a measuring device, is a critical technical skill for bartenders. Over-pouring can cause spilled drinks or lost revenue while under-pouring can result in a dissatisfied customer.

  • Handling money. Bartenders complete several transactions during a shift and they must be quick and accurate.  This technical skill includes counting money, making change, processing credit cards and counting money in a drawer at the end of a shift.

Bartender work environment

Bartenders work in restaurants, bars, hotels and many other food and beverage establishments. They may be hired to work at specific events or have a job at a fixed location. The work environment can range from a casual neighborhood bar to an upscale rooftop lounge in a large city. Bartenders often work weekends, late evening hours and sometimes during holidays. Bartenders often work in fast-paced environments with many customers at one time. The work environment tends to be very social, with lively conversations throughout their shift. 

How to become a bartender

Working as a bartender is a unique, social and fast-paced experience. Knowing what to expect and being prepared to meet those expectations is critical. Here are five important steps to becoming a bartender.

  1. Check your state’s age requirements. The age requirement to be a bartender varies by state. Some states allow you to be a bartender at age 18 and others at age 21. Start by researching the age requirement in your state.

  2. Learn the job. Consider applying for a job as a barback, which is essentially a busser for the bartender, to learn more about the job and hospitality industry. Working as a server, busser or restaurant manager can also introduce you to what being a bartender is like.

  3. Get any necessary certifications. Research what certifications are required in your state or at a particular establishment, then consider what supplemental certifications or training to pursue. This can include a formal bartending school or individual classes in mixology, pouring and more.

  4. Create a compelling resume. Create a concise but powerful resume that includes specific details about your experience and qualifications. List your certifications, relevant work experience and any specific, relevant accomplishments.

  5. Submit your application. Find and apply for bartending jobs. Follow up on your application with a phone call or in-person visit to confirm the employer received it, reiterate your interest and inquire about the next steps.

Bartender job description example

Our neighborhood sports bar and restaurant is looking for an experienced bartender who excels in a collaborative, fast-paced environment. The bartender will be responsible for serving drinks at the bar and preparing drinks for waiters serving in the restaurant, pool hall and bowling alley sections of our establishment. At the end of each shift, the bartender is responsible for checking alcohol inventory, counting the cash drawer, cleaning the bar area and restocking any used items. Strong customer service skills, attention to detail and an ability to remain calm under pressure are a must.

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Related careers

Bartenders are one of many positions in the hospitality and service industry. Related careers to explore include:

  • Busser

  • Server

  • Barista

  • Kitchen manager

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