How to Become a Bartender
Growth Trends for Related Jobs
Flexible work hours and good tips make it a desirable job option
If you're ready to belly up to the bar for your job, then consider becoming a bartender. This career path works well for social, creative people who are looking for out-of-the-norm work hours—for example, a job that you can work in the evenings after your significant other has come home to take care of the kids.
Naturally, bartenders sling drinks behind the bar—but it takes a lot more work that just pouring drafts and shaking up cocktails. Bartenders also often act as servers, sharing daily specials, taking orders and delivering food. When alcohol is involved, there's always a matter of legality—bartenders frequently must check IDs to ensure that patrons are of legal age, as well as monitor how intoxicated someone is to avoid over-serving.
There's also a matter of bussing dishes, cleaning work areas and maintaining inventory. Some higher-level bartenders may also serve as managers, which would include ordering supplies and overseeing financials.
It's easy to find bartending classes or even full-fledged bartending schools, but that might not be necessary. Generally speaking, bartenders learn on the job and move up the ranks with experience.
However, if your goal is to work in a high-end, upscale establishment, those bartending courses might pay off. Expect, though, that you'll also have to pay your dues by bartending or waitressing at lower-end restaurants or bars, too.
During training, expect to learn state and local laws surrounding alcohol sales, as well as cocktail recipes, the details of stocking a bar, and, potentially, some financial management skills (if the position also requires counting cash or doing inventory).
As of 2020, 45 percent of the more than 644,100 bartenders in the U.S. worked in restaurants or other places that serve food, while 28 percent worked in places that serve alcoholic beverages only. Other employment opportunities for bartenders include social organizations, traveler accommodations, amusement parks, casinos or other recreational locations.
Bartending isn't a career for those who want a steady schedule or to be home every holiday. Bartenders often work late evenings, on weekends and during holiday seasons—though, as you grow in the field, you might be able to move into a position that always works a set schedule.
Years of Experience
Bartenders are tipped employees, which the Fair Labor Standards Act classifies as people who earn more than $30 a month in tips. Because of this, it might not matter much how many years of experience you have, at least when it comes to salary.
Federal laws require minimum wages to be at least $2.13 for bartenders, though some states and localities have higher standards. Some states require that employers pay bartenders the base minimum wage before tips. No matter which state, the combination of wages and tips must equal the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
As of May 2020, bartenders earn a median hourly wage of $12, according to the BLS. Those who work in traveler accommodations—i.e., hotels—earn the most, $12.94, while those bartending at civic or social organizations earn the least, $10.49. The highest 10 percent of bartenders earned more than $22.93 per hour, says BLS.
Job Growth Trend
Some bad news: The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment possibilities for bartenders will increase slower than average for all occupations over the next 10-ish years—jut 2 percent. Additionally, competition for jobs can be fierce.
The good news: BLS also says that the country's population and income growth will create a higher demand for food and drinks, meaning more bartenders will be needed. If you have the drive and the energy to work late nights, it might be the right job for you.
Kelsey Casselbury is an independent writer, editor, and designer based in Annapolis, Md. She is the mother of a preschool boy and a board member at a local children's theatre, where she helps with productions through communications, marketing, and design needs.