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How to Become a Bartender in California

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Want to make money while waiting for your dreams to take off? Bartending is a great way to earn some extra income or a great career path to follow. For all those aspiring actors, producers and startup CEOs in California who need some extra money, becoming a California bartender may be the way to go.

Obtain legal ID. No matter the city or state, you cannot be a bartender until you are legally able to drink the alcohol you're serving. If you're under 21, you can still work in a bar as a waiter, bar back (person who washes dishes, cuts the limes, etc) or host, but not behind the taps. Make sure you have proof of age before applying to any jobs.

Learn the law. Each city, municipality or county is different. Some will require you to have a food handlers permit. Others will want you to be certified in bartending. City halls, current bartenders or the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control website are the best places to learn this information.

Fulfill the legal requirements. If you need to have a food handlers permit, take the test and get one. If you need to be certified in bartending, get the certification. These goals can usually be accomplished in as little as two days, provided you have studied and know the information. For food handlers, there's usually a guide. For bartending certification, you can study the most commonly ordered drinks.

Learn to make drinks. Online resources and books can help you. Study the most commonly ordered drinks first, then move up to more complex and rare orders.

Apply for jobs. With your newfound skills and direction, start beating down the doors of the local bars. Make sure that you note any previous restaurant or bar experience on your resume, as well as any relevant certification or permits. Don't be discouraged if you have to start as a bar back first--it's a great way to learn the lay of the land and figure out the best way to get tips.

Be the best California bartender ever. Once you've landed the job, make sure you're doing it right. Use your tips to gauge how happy your customers are. Be sure to be friendly, fun and polite. Never start an altercation with a customer and always remember that your job is about people having fun--so make sure both you and your customers are enjoying it.


The best bartenders are the ones who know their drinks. Be sure to sample every one on the menu so you can make recommendations to your customers.

  • The best bartenders are the ones who know their drinks. Be sure to sample every one on the menu so you can make recommendations to your customers.

A blogger and writer since 2001, Zoe Holmes' work has appeared in "The Lincoln Journal Star," "PiQ Magazine" and on She has written about everything from comic books to hip-hop and how-to guides. Holmes holds a Bachelor of Arts in media studies from Macalester College.

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