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How To Become A Bartender: Step 1

Bartending is a great trade to learn to travel the world because it’s good money, a fun job, and plenty of opportunities with the opposite sex. Here’s how to become a bartender.

Should I go to bartending school?

Bartending is a great way to support yourself while you travel. This is how you become one.

Bartending is awesome. I love it and recommend it to anyone who has a social and outgoing personality. If you want to become a bartender but have absolutley no idea where to start, this was written just for you.

I’m gonna start off by saying that there is too much crap on the internet about how to become a bartender.  I call it crap because 95% of the information comes from two very biased sources.

1.    Bartending schools themselves and

2.    Bartenders who have never been to a bartending school.

Any information you read on a bartending school website will leave you floating away with starry glossed over eyes (unless you’re a tweeker that have those already) thinking not only that bartending is the best job in the world, but also the easiest to attain if you go to their school and get ’certified.’

Seasoned bartenders who got their job the traditional way by working up from a lower position poop all over the idea of a school teaching the trade they so dearly love because there is just no way a school can teach you the people/management skills you need to be a bartender before being let down by the schools so called ’job placement assistance.’

The kicker is that neither of these sources go into detail about how to really land a bartending job.  The most advice out there is either ’go to a bartending school and hit up every bar/restaurant in your area’ (wow, that’s fantastic advice) or ’start as a barback or server and work your way up’ (Thanks. Really detailed info there).

Why should you listen to me?

I’ve gone from knowing absolutely nothing about bartending or alcohol to working in one of the busiest authentic Irish pubs in Phoenix, AZ in less than two years.  I may not have ten or more years experience bartending but if you want the most detailed information on the ENTIRE internet about how to become a bartender or you are trying to make up your mind whether you should go to a bartending school, read this whole article. It should cover every question you have about the subject.  If it doesn’t, email me.  I’m not a premadonna.  If you want to converse then so do I.

Not only did I go to bartending school but I started bartending a month after I completed the course AND worked as a server at another place across town at the same time.  I got experience from both areas.  I’ve worked in almost every kind of bartending position there is from temp companies to high volume sports bar to fine dining.

No article or website anywhere has gone into this much detail about this topic.

So lets cut to the chase.

Is bartending school worth the money?

Yes and no. It all depends on the quality of the school and if you’re ok with what the school will and will not do for you.

Just as every medical school or university is not the same when it comes to quality, neither are bartending schools. Although I can’t vouch for every bartending school, the one I went to was the Bartending Academy here in Phoenix, AZ (www.pbsa.com).  They had that annoyingly obnoxious yet catchy ”Hey bartender! What did you learn in school?” song and commercial on the TV a while back.  I was very happy with how it was run and what I learned.

In fact the only thing I was dissapointed with was job assistance. If you call scouting craigslist and reporting the findings back to you ’assistance.’ I had fun, made friends that I still talk to, and learned how to make alot of drinks.

This first step is important. Pay attention.

You should know how to make the basic drinks before applying ANYWHERE. I cannot stress this enough.

Here’s why: It shortens the learning curve tremendously.

There is WAY more to bartending than just knowing drink recipes. If you’re lucky enough to land a bartending position straight away without ever being a server, busser, or a barback, you will QUICKLY find out that it’s hard enough dealing with a packed bar, getting familiar with the computer, being four to six orders deep, people wanting to close out their tabs, and servers waiting for their drinks without having to ask the seasoned bartender how to make every drink that someone orders from you.

Even if you start as a busser or barback whos only job generally is to support the bartender by stocking ice, fruit, beer, etc, you may very well be called upon to help make drinks in the midst of an unexpected rush. The rush could come from people having the day off for a national holiday, a group on a pub crawl, a bachelor/bachelorette party bus that pulled up without making a reservation, showing a popular sports game that wasn’t properly staffed to handle the crowd,  Japanese tourists piling out of a tour bus and taking pictures of everything, people mistakenly thinking that William Hung is performing at your bar that night or just a fluke occurrence. Anything can cause an unexpected rush.

The point is you have a lot more to worry about than how to make drinks.

If you have to constantly ask the other bartenders how to make a Long Island iced tea, it’s a waste of time, yours and the other bartenders. The patience of the other bartenders can wear thin really fast and you definitely don’t want to work in a hostile environment if it can be avoided to begin with. Of course you guys will get along after the rush (probably), but it will suck for the time being.

Memorize the drink recipes first so you can concentrate on everything else.

This is the main reason I advise attending a bartending school. Unless you have the self  discipline to study and learn at home on your own time without distractions I recommend taking the class. I do better in a classroom environment because I can ask questions to the instructor and other students, some of  whom are already bartenders but are in the class to expand their skills. Also since I have money on the line (the course fee) you can bet your ass I don’t want my money to go to waste by not paying attention.

However, the term Bartending School itself is misleading. It will not teach you to bartend in the sense of running a bar itself during a shift. It takes real experience to become a real bartender. But it WILL teach you to make drinks. And knowing drinks is half of the skill set. One half is a huge chunk of the pie.

The other half is social skills/multitasking efficiently under pressure, neither of which can be taught in school. If you’re cool with accepting a bartending school for what it really is, a drink memorization and alcohol information course, and you’re willing to pay to learn it, then yes it’s worth the money.

The price of something should always be related to the value you receive for the product, not how many hours are put into it or anything else.

Everyone is different. Everyone puts different values on different things.  It’s worth the money for some, but a complete waste for others. Deciding if it’s worth the money or not all depends on your personal set of values and whether or not you want to get out of the house to learn it or teach yourself in the privacy of your own home.  Yes learning at home is an option too.

I personally thought the $500 was worth it because not only did I learn how to make a lot of drinks and learn about different liquors and liqueurs, I had fun going to class.  I met cool guys and hot girls. I paid for the experience.

You may not give a crap about the experience and just want the info.  The nitty gritty.  The nasty bits.  That’s ok too.  You can learn this stuff YOURSELF.  Different strokes for different folks.

But since everyone is different there is no simple yes or no in answering if bartending school is worth the money.

When you look at all the information on the internet from the different sources about whether or not you should go to bartending school, the majority of the opinions is NO YOU SHOULD NOT. The main logic behind this reasoning is that bar schools:

•    are expensive – this is relative to how much value you put on the information.  It’s an investment to some but a complete waste to others (I’m of the investment mindset).

•    make you memorize a hundred and fifty drinks when in reality you only really need to know about thirty – 100% true.

•    job placement is overhyped – 100% true

•    you can’t even put that bartending school is your only experience on your resume because other bartenders and bar managers will laugh and throw your resume right in the shredder because you have no REAL EXPERIENCE – Unfortunately 100% true.

Everyone that says no to bartending schools for these reasons is completely justified.


I’m going to piss off alot of bartenders when I say this and I respect their opinions because they learned the traditional way by working their way up from the bottom, but unless they have actually attended a bartending school they cannot say with 100% authority that it’s a waste of money and shouldn’t be considered.

Here’s why: Don’t knock it until you try it.

Example:  I spent $30,000 to go to Motorcycle Mechanics Institute and worked in several bike shops because I thought I loved working on bikes.  The thought of black pepper mixed with ketchup to put on my fries disgusted me and drinking tequila mixed with pickle juice as a shot was revolting.  The last job I ever thought I’d take on this planet was waiting tables.

I can now say with 100% authority that Motorcycle Mechanics Institute was a waste of money (for me) because I hate working on other peoples bikes, pepper mixed with ketchup is delicious (spicy ketchup), tequila and pickle juice makes a hell of a shot, and I love waiting tables as much as I do bartending.  I wouldn’t have realized any of those things if I didn’t actually experience it myself.

If a bartender or one of his friends was actually burned by a shady bar school then they have every right to hold them in a negative light.  And like I said before, just like not all medical schools and universities are of the same quality, neither are bar schools.  Just do your home work before hand.

With that being said…

Bartending is a trade that needs to be learned through hands on in the real world. No amount of classroom time or studying drinks will prepare you how to mentally deal with

•    going from dead to slammed in 10 minutes

•    everyone wanting a drink at once

•    having to tap a keg or two in the middle of it all

•    everyone wanting to pay on separate tabs per drink

•    losing your shaker tin somewhere

•    servers waiting for their drinks in the service station burning holes in you with their eyes because you’re taking too long making their drinks

•    your computer system crashing when it’s slammed (the worst thing ever)

•    and whatever else of the hundreds of things that can go wrong. Oh, and youre on your own. No barback to help stock ice, fruit, and straws or clean glasses for you.

I have seen and have been that new bartender that literally stops functioning from the pressure. My brain shut down and I got so busy with so many things my brain said ” Screw  this, I quit.” I couldn’t process anything and ate kimchee in front of one hundred and twenty people. Embarassing.

How I dealt with this pressure for the first couple of times almost made me question my conviction of being a bartender.  Going from dead to slammed in a short time WILL happen. It will happen as long as I’m a bartender so I better learn to deal with it.

What bartending school is good for:

A good bartending program is beneficial in a couple ways. Even though the course will make you memorize way too many drinks you will never use, it does make you MEMORIZE them. While there are a thousand things you need to know and do well to be a great bartender, obviously memorizing drink recipes is huge.

Most bartending courses are two weeks and you have to study your brains out to pass. You cram a ton of info in your head in a short period of time, half of which you’ll forget later, but the other half will be with you forever, like herpes, but without the cold sores (hopefully).  You need to know this stuff.

If you’re anything like me there’s no way I could force myself to remember so much in such a short period of time on my own. But when I have money on the line (the fee I paid for the course) you can bet your ass I’m not gonna waste it by not paying attention.

Also I learned different techniques of proper drink making, such as muddling, building, shaking, proper amounts, proper pour counts, proper glassware, bar tools, and so forth. This is important because the way a drink is made can affect the way it tastes as much as the ingredients in the recipe do.

Another HUGE benefit is learning about alcohol in general.  Before I started bartending I didn’t know jack about the dozens of bottles I saw behind the bar at the places I went to.  Now I can identify the liquors from the liqueurs and what drink can be made with each of them.  I have to say that knowing this is freaking awesome. Learning the history of different alcohols is fun too.

Like Midori (the melon flavored liquer) is the Japanese word ”green.” Or that Galliano (the tall skinny yellow bottle) was named after Giuseppe Galliano, an Italian war hero, and it’s yellow color symbolizes the gold rushes of the 1890’s.

A book I recommend reading to learn about alcohol is Alcoholica Esoterica by Ian Lender.  Its a hilarious history of booze and answers awesome questions like why beer and whiskey are tough guy drinks and why wine became associated with rich sissys. Also pick up Big Shots: The Men Behind the Booze by A.J. Baime.  It has the histories of a lot of famous men that the alcohol was named after, such as Captain Morgan, Johnnie Walker, Jack Daniels, etc, and it reads like Maxim Magazine.  Good stuff.

Everything the schools teach you can be found for free on the internet but you’re paying for the instruction and the overall experience. In fact I suggest taking a bartending course even if you’re not planning on becoming a bartender because it’s downright fun. You meet some cool people and your homework is to go out and drink the drinks you just learned (then immediately attempt to drive home while seeing double and taking out old ladies and stray kids, parking in your neighbors driveway, drunk text your ex girlfriend about how you’ll never find another girl like her and you miss her so much before passing out on your front doorstep trying to get your key in the lock but it doesn’t work because it’s your neighbors house, remember?).  Indeed.

If you’re new to a town or just want to meet new people in general, taking a bartending course is a great way to do it. Just remember you’re paying $500 or more to learn how to make a boatload of drinks and about alcohol in general. That’s it.  If you’re cool with that then more power to you.

How a bartending course is structured:

I don’t know how other bartending schools are structured but at the Bartending Academy where I went the course is 40 hours long and designed to be completed in two weeks.  Each session is four hours and focuses on one STYLE of drink. For example:

Day 1 – Orientation

Day 2 – Martinis

Day 3 – Shots

Day 4 – Highballs

Day 5 – 2oz cocktails

Day 6 – After dinner drinks

Day 7 – Sours

Day 8 – Cream drinks

Day 9 – Alcohol certification

Day 10 – Test day.

The remaining four days of the fourteen day period are the weekends.

You take notes and learn theory for about half the session and practice for the other half with breaks in between because smokers are babies and can’t go that long without polluting their bodies with cancer sticks.

How bartending schools teach you to memorize drink recipes:

First, just so you know, bartending schools use colored water, not real alcohol dammit.

The way they teach you to remember drink recipes is through word association. An example is a Scooby Snack. It’s made with Malibu rum, Midori or melon flavored liqueur, cream, and pineapple juice. To remember how to make it, think of words that start with the first letter of the ingredients.

Like so:

Mystery-Malibu rum
Places-Pineapple juice

Mystery Machine Cruising Places.

It’s also easier to keep the keyphrase theme in mind. The mystery machine was the van in Scooby Doo so its easy to remember for a Scooby Snack.

Make word, letter, and phrase associations like this for every drink. Another example: An Orgasm:


After Kids Bedtime.

There are also variations to common drinks like this one. A screaming orgasm has vodka added along with the other ingredients. Anything with ’hairy’ or ’screaming’ in the name means there’s vodka in it. (Just remember it’s a screaming orgasm, not a hairy orgasm.  A hairy orgasm just sounds gross. Gross but interesting.)

Another example is the Fuzzy Navel. It’s made with peach schnapps and orange juice. Add vodka and it’s a Hairy Navel (or a Persian Navel, in my opinion).

There are other things to help you memorize the little differences of drink variations (Long Beach Tea vs. Long Island Tea vs Texas Tea vs. Tokyo Tea  etc..). Any reputable school should cover this. Mine did and it’s helped out tremendously.

You will also make flash cards with every drink you make with the drink name on one side of the index card and the recipe, building method, and proper glassware on the other.  Study these religiously.

In fact if I was to teach myself recipes at home this is how I would do it.  Sit down for an hour and write out about thirty flash cards and study them every day.

Another option is to learn one drink per day with the same flash card method.  The drink name on one side and the recipe, building method, and proper glassware on the other.  In 30 days you will know thirty drinks. Easy.

What a bartending school won’t do:

Pretty much everything else. If you expect to land an awesome job just from going to bartending school, you can stuff it right now.  Sorry but it’s true.  Stories of disappointed grads are all over the net.  To be fair, there are great success stories but for the most part, don’t count on it.

The way the schools look for jobs if they don’t have anything lined up for you immediately is by scouring Craigslist.com, CareerBuilder.com, Monster.com, Bubbas Big Rigs Gazette, or anything else with job classifieds.  Come to think of it even highend trade schools use this same tactic.  That’s how Motorcycle Mechanics Institute attempted to find me a job.  Lame.  A retarded monkey with Downs syndrome can do this.

They will however have a lot of leads to people looking for a private party/freelance bartender for an event. This can be a great opportunity for any bartender, new or seasoned. You can make great money and it gives a new bartender experience in how to be social, fun and professional at the same time.

Again, don’t expect them to get you a good job.

It MIGHT happen but you MIGHT win the lottery or get struck by lightning too.  Most bartending schools offer job placement assistance of some sort. I emphasize ASSISTANCE because thats all they do. No matter what they tell you, it’s up to you to pound the pavement and make it happen.

Bar managers of successful establishments do not need to go through a bar school for employees. They have stacks of applications to choose from.  Remember that you’re after a highly competitive position and there is a long line of people who are more qualified than you.

But don’t let that stop you. I didn’t let it stop me.  Just keep in mind you have to start somewhere and it will take time to build the necessary contacts. It WILL happen, just give it time. The best bartending jobs are not advertised.

They are won through networking and knowing others in the industry.

Everyone knows someone who knows someone else in this industry.  It’s like six degrees to Kevin Bacon in real life.  Some of the best bars to work at are the ones that stay open the latest because these are the ones servers and other bartenders go to when they get off from their shift.  Not only will you make your best tips from them but also get to network and rack up a lot of contacts quickly.  Case in point:

How I landed my dream job:

I have my dream job of working in a busy authentic Irish pub because I networked.  When I got off from my shift at the sports bar I went to Tim Finnegans, one of the best Irish pubs in Phoenix and got to know the owners and bartenders there.  It was the main hang out spot in the area for other restaurant workers because they are open the latest and have the best atmosphere.  When a position opened up at Rosie McCaffreys, the bar I currently work at, they recommended me for the position (And believe me, all the Irish pubs in a city know one another, for better or worse). Having a recommendation from a credible source carries so much more weight than going in on your own.  Like I said, the best positions are highly competitive.  It’s hard to get a bartender position in a great Irish pub because the bartenders have been there for years and usually one of them has to die for a spot to open up because the money and environment is so awesome. Having a good referral was my key to getting in.

Advancing in this business is mostly about who you know.

While a good bartending school will provide you the basics of making drinks, proper glassware and the like, what it won’t give you is actual experience. There are many other things needed to know to bartend.

One is how to control you’re emotions. Whether its because a customer rubbed you the wrong way, you got yelled at by your boss, you’re overwhelmed, or all of the above, you gotta keep it together. You’re on display for everyone to see and the last thing you want is for customers to see you break down and eat shit. That’s not good. It’s not fatal, but not good.

For example, if you get swamped and someone who’s running a tab wants to close out and you can’t find their credit card because you or another bartender didn’t put it back in the proper place or gave it away to someone else (it happens) what would you do? You have servers waiting for their drinks, customers wanting to place orders, and now you have to find this guy’s card asap or tell him that you’re a dumbshit and you ruined his night and rest of the week because now he has to call the credit card company or the bank, cancel his card, and wait seven to ten days for a new one to arrive. Because you screwed up.

Or how do you deal with annoying people? Drunk people? Aggressive drunk people? Nice but annoying guys hitting on girls who want to be left alone? People pissed off because you cut them off? No school can teach you that. Only experience will.

Bartending school will not show you how to run a POS system. POS usually means Piece Of Shit (like my 20 year old Honda Civic), but in this instance it means Point Of Sale.  It’s the program on the computer you will use to ring in drinks and food (depending on the age of the computer, it can also be a mean piece of shit).  Alot of neighborhood bars don’t have one and use the old cash register method, but even that is not covered in the bartending course.

They will not normally show you the proper way to pour a beer from the tap or bottle. Yes there is a proper method for each.

And even if they did show you the right way, there are so many factors that can screw you up pouring a proper pint from the tap. It can come out all foamy, drizzle out slower than an old man peeing with prostate cancer, or not at all. You will have to learn this on the job as well.

Pouring looks basic but don’t be fooled. Each tap has it’s own personality and it can change any time of any day like a woman on her period.  There is an art to pouring beer and each bartender has their own methods. It can be a sticking point for someone learning how to do it for the first time because if beer is poured the wrong way it can strip the beer of flavor.  The mixed drinks can be easy compared to learning how to properly pour a pint without wasting half of it.

Speaking of mixed drinks this brings up another point…

Classics like Old Fashioneds, Sidecars, and Sazeracs made in the traditional sense would best be learned by looking elsewhere like www.JeffereyMorgenthaler.com or a traditional bar book.

Many classic cocktail recipes in the bartending course book are bastardized versions to make them easier to make when its busy, like substituting sour mix for real lime juice and simple syrup, or leaving out egg whites altogether (yes egg whites. Many classic cocktails have them).  Learn both ways just in case the bar you work for won’t let you use egg whites or real lime juice, but always know how the drink is properly made.

What makes a good cocktail is good recipes, accurate measurements, and quality ingrediants. You’re not going to make a good cocktail from poor ingrediants.

Another thing is that some (alot) of restaurants don’t recognize the state alcohol certification you are awarded when you graduate from a bar school.  Even though I got my Arizona State Alcohol Certification through the school, it was useless.  I had to pass a TIPS course. This is the most widely recognized alcohol certification course in the country so you better expect to be asked to get this.  It can be done at this site.


Even with all of these drawbacks I still say you should invest in a good school to get started.

You may even find that you really DON’T want to become a bartender.

It’s better to find that out in class BEFORE you spend time, energy, and money marketing yourself to different restaurants and bars.  I spent $30,000 going to Motorcycle Mechanics Institute only to realize later that I hate working on other peoples bikes and working next to the same fat hairy dudes every hour of every day.

I look at it this way:

Most schools and universities charge THOUSANDS of dollars (not hundreds).  Plus going to these places means having two full time jobs, one to support yourself and another one studying and stressing out.

You aren’t automatically a biologist or forensic expert immediately after graduation.  It takes years to build real experience.  It will happen but it takes time.  And what if you didn’t go for a prestigous degree?

What if you graduated with a major in art, communications, sex ed, or Nintendo?

Yup you still have to work your way up from the bottom (that’s what she said).  I hope those four years of studying and tens of thousands of dollars spent on tuition keep you warm at night knowing you are now qualified for that $12 an hour entry level position.

It took me less than two years of paying dues and networking to land my dream job at a busy authentic Irish pub.  I spent $500 for the Bartending Academy course which I made back through my first gig (which was through them). It was a superbowl party where I made $600.

Oh and did I mention being able to work anywhere in the world? Not ever having to fight rush hour traffic?  No filing TPS reports?  Three days off a week?  That I socialize for a living?  Not sweltering my girly features off in the sun working construction?  I may not be the richest person in the world but I’m satisfied.

Can your job offer those same benefits?

Alot of people (myself included) are not doing what we went to school for.  Many bartenders have degrees in other things but they remain bartenders because THEY LIKE IT.

You need to start somewhere. Learning how to make drinks is the first thing you should do. But how do you choose a program that’s right for you?

Choosing a good bartending school:

Find schools in your area.

You can do this by looking in the yellow pages but even my grandma doesn’t do that anymore. The cool kids look online, and we always do what the cool kids tell us so we can fit in.

Just google ’bartending schools’ or ’bartending schools in your city.’  And if you’re slow, you obviously want to put the city you live in (example: Canada) where it says ’your city.’ I mean, jesus…

A major contender in the bartending school arena is The Bartending Academy.  Their website is www.pbsa.com.  They’re in most major cities.  If you call the one in Phoenix ask for Joe Francis,  He’s the center director.  I have no idea who you should talk to anywhere else.

I was completely happy with the school in Phoenix. BUT each school is individually owned and operated so I still recommend going in, checking out the place and talking with the owner and job placement director first.  If they are legit they will take the time to talk to you and answer all of your questions.  They are charging a hefty fee so you have every right to investigate fully.

If you smell an ounce of crap or decide right then and there it just isn’t for you, don’t feel bad for not pursuing it further.  It’s your money.  And you can still teach yourself at home.

Some signs a school might be a rape job with no lube would be if they try to pressure you to sign up or pay with a credit card over the phone without inviting you down to see the place first.

The school is around for one reason, to divorce you from your hard earned money so they can marry it.  Before you let this happen, take time to tour the school in person to meet the staff and check out the facilities.

They should have offices and reception areas to do business in. But more importantly the classrooms should be set up like a real bar, with a bartop, stools, three compartment sinks, proper glassware, tools, and soda gun dipensers.  It should just look like a real, expensive bar, right down to the stereo to listen to Clay Aiken while you practice.

Ask to see the course book.  It better not be a stack of photo copied papers stapled at the corner either.  Big red flag if it is.  It better be a thick, professionally bound textbook that’s packed full of information because although they should include it in the course fee, if it gets damaged, stolen, or lost expect to pay $30 to $50 dollars to replace it.  I know because I had to buy another one because my original one got destroyed when I went to a bar to do my ”homework.”

This is the part where I should give you a list of questions to ask the staff but hey, if you can’t think of your own questions to ask then you obviously won’t care about the ones I suggest.  Just think of questions you want answers to and write them down on a piece of paper before you go in.  That’s easy to follow even for a complete noob right?

Studying from home:

Like I’ve said earlier, you CAN study from home. All you need is a good bar book and a beginners set of bartending tools from BarProducts.com. It’s all up to you.


As I’m writing these very words at a Starbucks inside Barnes and Noble the barista is getting her ass handed to her. She’s the only one behind the bar with a line of customers about 20 feet long. And she’s doing a great job taking orders, making the drinks and handing them out. She looks happy yet focused. She’s obviously seasoned.

Managers want seasoned, experienced bartenders, so how do you get the experience if no one is willing to give you a chance? This is an age old catch 22 question thats true for any line of work. There are two main ways.

1.    Catering companies, temp companies, and private party bartending – The fastest way to becoming a bartender.  This is what I did and was tending bar within a month of completeing the bar school course.

2.    Start as a server, busser or barback – The best way of landing a position in a brick and mortar establishment with the potential to move up fast depending on your work ethic.  These positions are way easier to get than bartender but it gets you in.  I did this the same time I was bartending across town.

So should you invest in a GOOD bartending school? (make sure its a good program, there’s alot of shady ones out there) If you want to become a bartender the fastest way then YES YOU SHOULD. It will prepare you for an enrty level bar position for catering companies, temp companies, or private party bartending.

If you want to learn at home that’s cool too.

Whatever teaching method you chose, just learn how to properly make drinks FIRST.  That’s the most important thing when starting out because it will help out tremendously even if you start off as a server or barback.  It’s one less thing to worry about.
Whichever way you want to learn is fine as long as you learn to do it correctly.

If you want to work in a specific bar and there are no open bartender positions, start at the bottom and work your way up (server, barback, doorman, busser, shoe shiner, the dude that hands out paper towels in the bathroom, whatever to get you in).  Most places promote from within for one reason.  It’s better to go with the devil you know than the one you don’t.

Yes it takes a little longer this way but working in a restaurant is fun anyway, bartender or not,(in fact I was jealous of the servers a lot of the time because they got to walk around and I’m stuck behind the wood; and yes, working in a restaurant is exactly like the movie ’Waiting’) and if you get in with a good place where the bartenders really know their stuff, are master mixologists, or you just really like the place because it’s the only spot in town that showcases local horror art or whatever, it will be well worth it.

Unless you’re a hot chick who gets hired by a sleazy manager or based on looks only, you gotta pay your dues. It’s true with any profession.

So step one to becoming a bartender is learning how to properly make drinks, bartending school or at home.


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  • Wade | Vagabondjourney.com December 8, 2010, 4:54 pm

    This is a truly excellent tutorial. I like how you outlined how you landed that job by making friends and getting a referral. Talking to people, making friends, this is the main way to find work on the road.

    I will put up links to it on some of the Vagabond Journey work pages. Though first I am just wondering if you have any interested in altering the url structure of these pages. Currently, you have them with the year/date/month format. This is good if you like it, but it can be changed to just the post name if you want. This would be better SEO and make the URL much shorter with three less directories. Though if you like the dates, feel free to leave them — just is just a suggestion. This page http://www.vagabondjourney.com/forum/vagabond-journey-bloggers/better-wordpress-permalinks/ has more about that if you want to change it.

    Have you yet had the opportunity to work as a bartender abroad?

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  • brandon December 8, 2010, 11:04 pm

    Yeah thanks for the suggestion Wade. I just made the change. Anything for better rankings!

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  • brandon December 8, 2010, 11:50 pm

    I noticed though that since I changed the permalink, if I click on the link to the article on the homepage, it comes up with a 404 error message. How can I fix that?

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  • Dee'L January 21, 2011, 8:45 am

    wow i had no idea about all this stuff or really about the bar schools thanx for all the info

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  • Erik January 24, 2011, 9:25 pm

    Thank you sir. i applaud you. I’ve gotten tons of information, great resources and a slight boner (no homo).. love the humor appreciate the info.

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  • Some Seattle Dude February 19, 2011, 7:26 pm

    Very, very nicely written and great information. I wish more how-to articles on the internet were as useful as this.

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  • Eder St. Cool February 25, 2012, 8:45 am

    Dude thanks a bunch.

    I’ve been having a flirtation with becoming a bartender for a few years now.

    This article was made all that much better by drinking a beer.

    Crossing my fingers that I’m gonna go for this bartending dream I’ve had now.

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  • lucy September 17, 2012, 2:18 pm

    Thanks it’s been very helpful. I’ve been debating about for awhile, I think I might go with it

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  • Bartending Course October 6, 2012, 2:04 am

    IHMCS offers degree & diploma courses in hotel management, hospitality management, bar tending courses & training.

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  • Blueeyedgal February 22, 2013, 10:07 pm

    Brandon…thx so much for the info. Took a basic course and still feeling like need additional training. Great advice, very thorough and appreciate the witty banter 😉 exactly what I was looking for…thx again.

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  • Remy August 25, 2013, 6:44 pm

    This article brought me on earth way smoother, even though I was with my feet on the ground, still had a little bit blurred picture in my mind about this profession … I am glad that google got me here… Telling you thank you is like saying nothing, because what you wrote is priceless… You made a difference and you did it for a person from another side of the planet. Multumesc (in my language).

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  • Neko October 8, 2013, 5:46 pm

    Thanks really helpful.I was born and raised in Detroit but I’m currently working as a bartender at a club in Osaka, Japan. I landed this job through networking and blessed luck, considering I’m a recent college graduate and I’ve never bartended or worked in the field of hospitalities in food and drink. This job is hard because of the lack of bartending skills and language barrier but fun because I’m learning both skills on the job. I’m now considering taking an online bartending course just to help me memorize those drinks…but then again the drink culture here is different. The liquor and specialty drinks are simplistic here at this particular bar because the customers are looking to get drunk. The only thing I don’t like about the drinking culture in Japan and working at the bar is the fact that they expect the bartender to drink with them, so its common for both bartender and bar owner to be drunk at the end of the night. Because I hate drinking (Ironic…right but I like making drinks, its calming just like cooking, which is something I like doing, even with the many customers and bar drama) and can’t hold my liquor I have bottles of vodak filled with water and Jack Daniels filled with Oolong tea….good acting and BAM! Customers think I’m drinking with them and I’m cold sober at the end of the night; even if my bosses aren’t lol. This job is good experience if I ever decide to return home and want to be a bartender. There are a swarm of online bartending schools, so far I’ve come up with BarSmarts as being credible schooling. Do you know of any more?

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  • Tom Blake November 8, 2017, 12:02 pm

    I agree with absolutely everything! What a well-written and informative piece. As a bar manager, the biggest problem I have with bartending schools is that they convince their students that they’ll land a great bartending job after they’ve ‘graduated’… But is bartending school useful? HELL YEAH! How could it not be?

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