Bartending School – Do You Need it? [The Real Truth]

Let me guess: you want to become a bartender, but you have no experience, and you want to know if bartending school is the answer to deliver those results?

I know, it’s like I’m inside your head, right? Kidding of course, but I imagine that you are here because you totally need bartending school advice. And a cocktail. Probably. I can help you with one of those. For the other one, you’re on your own.

If this is your first time here, let me tell you why I’m so great. Kidding again. I’m not so great, but I have been in the bar/restaurant industry for 30 years. I bartended for 15 of those years and have served more drunks than McDonald’s has served hamburgers.

I’ve also been a bar manager, GM, and I now own my own bar consulting and bar inventory business. Not to mention I have one of the most successful online bartending courses in the world. I don’t say this to brag and impress upon you how great I am. I tell you this because unlike most of the people, videos and blog posts you find on the Internet, I come from the trenches, like a weathered marine. That pours shots.

Not only did I bartend at some of the highest volume bars in the San Francisco Bay Area, but through my consultant business I have personally hired (and helped other bar owners hire) hundreds of bartenders and I can tell you exactly what bar managers are looking for when hiring a bartender.

If you want to know the true formula to becoming a bartender, check out: How to Become a Bartender [Everything You Need to Know]

Now, allow me to give you a hint in my best super-hushed-whisper-voice: bar managers don’t give a shit about bartending school certificates.

I know, shocking, isn’t it? Even so, keep reading, because I’m about to give you several factors to consider before deciding to go to bartending school or not.

You should also know that I don’t just speak of bartending schools from afar and only based on theory and guestimation.

For researching purposes (and so I could share my experiences and knowledge with good folks like you) I actually attended a reputable bartending school recently. I paid my own money, like a real adult, and sat through 40 hours of class.

Sort of like an undercover agent. Or that guy who ate McDonald’s for 30 days to show everyone how fast food turns you into a wheezing, out-of-shape potato. Of course I didn’t really suffer any negative health effects by attending bartending school, but I like the thought that I sacrificed a lot in order to serve you better. It makes me feel important.

Let’s get into it…

Reasons You Should Go to Bartending School

bartending school

Let’s start with the positive, because I know when you sat down at your keyboard and typed in “bartending schools near me” you were eager with anticipation to see what popped up on your screen. You wanted to find that magical bartender schools that would educate you like Mr. Miyagi educated Daniel-san in The Karate Kid (sorry if you’re too young for that reference), so let’s cover what you’ll learn first.

Because despite the fact that I bag on bartending schools a bit, I’m not completely against them. I’m really not. It’s simply a matter of preference. They do a fine job and when you walk out, you’ll know a lot more than when you walked in. Here’s a list of common things you may or may not learn in bartending school (depending on the school):

  • Alcohol history and education (beer, liquor, wine)
  • The bar tools and how to use them
  • The bar set-up
  • Cleaning and closing side-work
  • Serving responsibly (not over-serving drunken baboons)
  • Dealing with drunken baboons
  • Glassware
  • Handling money
  • Customer service
  • How to change a keg
  • How to make drinks
  • Proper techniques (hopefully)
  • Drink recipes
  • How to garnish drinks
  • Resume and interview tips

Those are the basics and it’s good stuff. The quality of those teachings will vary, but in the end, you should at least get some good knowledge and practice.

What you need to pay attention to is that everything on that list can be learned in an online bartending course, except for actually practicing making drinks. But that too can be done at home. In other words, knowledge does not need to be learned in-person. It just costs more.

With that said, let’s move on to the pros of signing up for and attending a physical bartending school.

Bartending School Pros

  • You will be in a social environment with other students also learning
  • You can ask questions right then and there
  • You will be able to practice the techniques live with an instructor supervising
  • Since you paid money, you’ll be obligated to show up every day and not skip out
  • You may or may not receive some helpful tips on building a resume and preparing for the interview

As you can see, those are good reasons. The people running the class (for the most part) are usually fairly knowledgeable and they really do want to help you succeed as a bartender. However, it’s not all daisies and bourbon (why does anything good always have to be compared to rainbows).

Reasons You Should NOT Go to Bartending School

Now, here’s something you need to understand. As much as it would thrill the instructors for you to get a job after you take their class, when it comes down to it, their only job is to train you. That’s what they get paid for. It’s not their job to actually help you land the job, so whether you become a bartender or not, they get their money because you already paid yours.

This is similar to school teachers. Whether you become a doctor or a homeless lump living in a box, they get paid the same amount. I’m not saying they don’t care, but they simply teach the curriculum and move on to the next class. Your success rate as a human and professional does not land back on the instructor.

Let’s take a quick looksie at why choosing a physical location bartending school might not be so great.

Bartending School Cons

  • It’s expensive (see how expensive in FAQ below)
  • There are some really bad ones out there and most don’t have a money-back-guarantee (I do though)
  • They don’t use real alcohol
  • They use foam garnishes
  • Some of the training you receive will be useless or flat out wrong (sorry, but it’s true)
  • They make you believe that the certificate they give you at the end has value
  • They make you believe that they have power to get you a job (they don’t; not even close)
  • You are tied to their schedule (in other words, not self-paced)
  • Can’t learn how the drinks should actually taste (because they don’t use real alcohol)
  • Their knowledge of how to execute a plan to actually get hired is extremely limited

And it’s this last one that is the most important. When I first created TheRealBarCourse years ago, I simply included all the things that other online bartending schools included: skills, knowledge, theory.

But this is simply not enough to get you behind a real bar. As a person responsible for your success, I can’t just teach technical skills to someone and release them into the wild. They need a plan to make it happen. Simply put, you need guidance.

It wasn’t until I started my own business that I realized there is formula to being successful. Not just for getting hired as a bartender, but for succeeding in any area in which you wish to reach your goals.

And it has nothing to do with how many ounces of rum goes into a Mojito.

So I redid my bartending course and based it on my 5-step success formula. Instantly the success-rate of my students skyrocketed. It is the holy grail to achieving everything you want in life. Check it out.

The 5-Step Success Formula For Becoming a Bartender

I discovered this awesome formula to success when starting my business Bar Patrol, and it will work for any venture you want to go after in your life. Guaranteed.

When I started Bar Patrol, it was an inventory auditing business. My job was to count inventory for bars once per week to audit and make sure they weren’t losing money. But first, I needed actual clients in order to get paid, which meant I had to walk into dozens of bars to sell myself.

By using the 5-step success formula, I landed 10 new clients within a few months and was making more than $10,000 per month counting inventory.

The great news for you landing a bartending job is that you only need to make ONE SALE. You only need to convince one bar to hire you. That’s it. You’re in.

Here is the 5-step formula I used to grow my business, and the same formula I now teach inside TheRealBarCourse to my students:

  • Gain knowledge
  • Practice your skills
  • Make a plan
  • Take action
  • Follow-up

STEP 1: Gain Knowledge
You’ve heard that knowledge is power? It’s true. Until you’re fully educated, you aren’t ready to start taking action.

STEP 2: Practice Your Skills
Once you get super smart upstairs, it’s time to take that knowledge and put it into practice.

STEP 3: Make a Plan
Imagine what would have happened to George Clooney’s crew in Ocean’s 11 if they just breached the Bellagio’s vault blindly with no plan. This is probably the biggest failure in the teachings from traditional bartending schools, or any other bartending course I’ve found. Nobody lays out a plan to show you how to succeed, which is a recipe for failure.

STEP 4: Take Action
You can study your course material, memorize recipes and practice your pour counts until your wrists lock up with tendinitus, but if you don’t take action to achieve your goals, you will continue on the exact same path you’re on now and end up living in your parent’s basement until you’re 84 years old.

STEP 5: Follow-Up
This is the most forgotten and most powerful step in getting anything you want. In the business world, 84% of sales are made after the 5th contact with the buyer. Yet only 10% of sales people follow-up more than three times. That means those 10% are making 84% of the money. How about taking that knowledge when following up with bar managers? What sort of advantage would you have over other applicants? Remember, you only need ONE SALE.

What’s the point to all the rambling? Bartending schools only teach the first two steps of the 5-step success formula. If you don’t have a plan after bartending school, you can go ahead and kiss your money good-bye.

Should You Sign-up For an Online Bartending School?

online bartending course

Ok, full disclosure again. Transparency is very important to me. I am pro-online bartending course. But not just for the reasons you think. Yes, I have an online bartending course called TheRealBarCourse, but the truth is I have trained hundreds of bartenders in a live setting, and yes, they left there with some good training and some good skills.

But my students’ biggest success has come from what I teach in my online bartending course, which unveils the secret to getting their foot in the door and actually getting hired using the 5-step success formula (we actually extend it to 7 steps inside the course to get more specific).

Because getting hired as an actual bartender is everything. You won’t truly learn to become a great bartender until you practice serving drinks in a real bar, and the only way to do that is to wow the hiring manager in the interview so you can get hired and start gaining some real life experience.

After all, what good does it do you to go to bartending school, learn the skills you need to learn, only to sit at home on your couch eating Cheetos because nobody would hire you? What a waste! Michael, one of my students learned this the hard way by losing $600 and two weeks off his life. Check out this email I received the other day (yes, it’s a bit blurry; that’s not your eyes).

Online bartending classes allow you to get all the education you need, including memorizing drink recipes, how to use the tools, customer service, etc. etc. Everything you can learn at a traditional bartending school for a lot less money. Because when it comes down to it, getting hired is all that matters, and that’s what my goal is for you.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bartending School

Let’s dive into some questions you might have about bartending school that might have been missed above.

How Much do Bartending Schools Cost?

On average, bartending schools cost anywhere from $400 – $1,000, and as I mentioned earlier, they don’t offer a money-back guarantee, so if you don’t like it, or it doesn’t help you get hired, you’re SOL.

Will They Help Me Get a Job?

Most bartending schools will claim that they will help with job placement. Some will flat-out lie and promise that they have connections that will get you hired. In reality, they have no power to help you with this. They will guide you to some job boards and perhaps help you post your resume, but bar managers could give a shit about bartending schools. When it comes down to it, you need to have the plan and take the action to get it done, and they will not help you with that.

How Much Are Online Bartending Schools?

Online bartending courses will vary from $25 – $300. If you’re paying $300 for an online bartending course, you’re paying too much, unless it works of course.

Do I Need a Bartending License or Certificate to Bartend?

No. Yes. Sometimes. Thoroughly confused? Perfect, my job is done here.

Ok, seriously, you do not need a bartending license or certificate that shows you completed a skills course. Any bartending school that implies that you need this or that they’re certificate you receive at the end of their course has any value should be dipped in boiling tar, hung by their toes and beaten like a kid’s birthday piñata.

However, about half the states require an alcohol awareness course, which is sometimes called a bartender license or certificate. You can take this course online for about $8.

Will Hiring Bar Managers Like Seeing it on My Resume?

Let me put it this way: most managers will take one look at your “XYZ Bartending School Graduate” on your resume and tip over backwards in their chair laughing. Ok, maybe not that dramatic, but if a bar manager is going to take a flyer on someone with no experience, they are going to hire the person because of who they are and how well they persuaded them during the interview. The bartending school itself will have very little weight when it comes to getting hired.

Will They Help Me With My Resume and Interview Skills?

Many of them do, but the question is, what kind of advice are you receiving from bartender trainers when it comes to creating a resume and nailing the interview? Most of them (probably all of them) won’t focus on what’s most important, which in this case is telling the hiring manager when you can do for them. The school will spend time having you explain why you’re so great, which is fine to a point. But when it comes time for the interview, the manager wants to know what you will do to help them succeed. This is a big area we focus on inside TheRealBarCourse.

Should I Try to Get Hired as a Barback or Server First?

I personally think this is a great way to go if you can’t get hired as a bartender first. Not only can you work as an “apprentice” and learn a lot as you work your way up, but servers and barbacks make good tips. It’s a great job. I worked as a server first and averaged $150 per shift before moving into bartending. Don’t have an ego. Get in any way you can. It’ll be worth it.

Will Bartending Schools Teach Me Drink Recipes?

Yes, but this is a dangerous area, because many bartending schools will misinform you when it comes to drink recipes. First, I can’t tell you how many bartender schools teach how to make drinks incorrectly. There are a lot of variations out there, but they should be teaching the most traditional methods and they don’t always do this.

Second, they will often give you a booklet or some form of list of 2,000 or 10,000 drink recipes, just to impress you. In fact, they will use this as a sales point when trying to get you to sign up. The truth is, you only need to memorize about 50 drink recipes to be a solid bartender. 100 drink recipes and you’ll be able to make 95% of the drinks ordered. Don’t get overwhelmed or let the thought of memorizing cocktail recipes stop you from becoming a bartender.

Inside TheRealBarCourse I use my Triple Imprint Method to help the most common drink recipes to soak into your subconscious so that when the time comes, you are ready to go. But that’s for another blog post.

Conclusion: Should You Sign-Up For Bartending School or Not?

should i go to bartending school

As someone who has been in the industry for 30 years and who has helped hire hundreds of bartenders…AND who has actually attended bartending school, I simply feel it is unnecessary to spend your time and money signing up for bartending school.

As I mentioned, though, it is a matter of preference. Some people learn better in-person. Some people learn better on their own. But what’s most important to me is the method of the teaching. When it comes right down to it, I simply don’t see bartending school methods that are getting the results that they should considering the amount of money being spent. Those results being: getting you hired as a bartender.

I hope that helps. Thanks for being here. I’ll see you next time.