Do You Need a Bartending License [The REAL Truth]?

Whenever I’m asked how to get a bartending license from someone wanting to become a bartender, I can’t help but picture some stiff government worker—perhaps an ABC agent himself (Department of Alcohol Beverage Control)— sauntering into a bar in a long, tan trench coat (and possibly a detective’s fedora) and barking gruffly at the bartender behind the bar, “Show me your license, punk!”

The bartender, looking panicked, would scramble frantically to find his/her wallet or purse in order to dig through it and produce the requested document to show proof of their high-level training when it comes to customer service and their ability to pour liquid into a glass and serve it to the public.

If for some reason the bartender is unable to produce the esteemed document, the ABC officer would force them to the ground with their hands behind their head so they could properly handcuff them and take them away for practicing mixology without a bartender license, all the while grumbling, “You make me sick!”

Yes, I’m fully aware that I probably watch way too much CSI and that I’m being quite silly, but this is because the answer is a resounding: “No, you don’t not need a bartending license in order to become a bartender.”

Unless you do…

Allow me to expand on that.

What Bartending Schools Will Tell You

Bartending schools love creating the illusion that the certificate they provide for you upon completion of their course holds some sort of magical value that will help you get hired. It does not.

bartending license

The fact is, this certificate that they hand out is a Word document they created and it has the same significance as that participation certificate you received at the end-of-season soccer party when you were eight-years-old.

The skills and lessons you learn in bartending school or an online bartending course can help expand your knowledge and education on how to become a bartender, but there is no official state requirement to acquire a bartending license in order to be hired as a bartender. In other words, don’t pay hundreds of dollars for a bartender certificate that is worth as much as a 5-year-old’s drawing pinned to the refrigerator.

This begs the question, for hundreds of dollars, is it worth it to go to bartending school? You can read more about that here, if you’d like. The truth is, bartending schools will allow you to practice making drinks, but they are no substitute for the real thing (no matter how much they promise it) and bar managers will give the same casual attention to “Bartending School Graduate” on a resume as they do a fly who has landed on their knee.

What you need are bartending lessons that offer a full plan on how to become a bartender. But that’s another article. In the meantime, let’s talk about the type of bartending license you MIGHT need, depending on the state you live in.

The Bartending License You MIGHT Need

When it comes to being certified as a bartender, the only license or certification required in some states is an alcohol awareness course so that you become educated on how to serve alcohol responsibly as a bartender.

These can easily be acquired online, and the requirement depends on the state you live in, as different states have different requirements when it comes to bartender certification. See the chart at the bottom of this article to find your state and/or country to see which states require bartender certification.

I’m a big supporter of the alcohol awareness course requirements for a couple of reasons:

  1. It provides you valuable information on the effects of alcohol and the dangers of over-serving. This is vital information when talking about the liability that both you and the bar face if you over-serve someone and allow them to go out and drive and possibly kill someone. Although the responsibility should mostly fall upon the person drinking, we as bartenders need to help in that responsibility to prevent disasters.
  2. These bartending certification courses are flat out affordable. You can find different certifications online for around $8 – $12, and you can then add it to your resume.

I even highly recommend for aspiring bartenders to take the course even if it is not required in your state, as it shows great initiative to the hiring bar manager. Here is one of the most popular online bartender license sites when you’re ready.

How to Get Your Bartending License

This is the easy part. You can sit at home on your computer (which is what most people are doing these days anyway) and take the course at your leisure. Should only take you about 2 hours, and you will learn some valuable information.

There are a number of sites that offer bartender certification, but you want to make sure it’s an accredited site, so be careful. You can click the link below and it will go to the EAlcoholServers website which is one of the better sites, so you’ll be assured it’s safe and accredited. Plus it’s only $10. Once you get there, just choose your state and you’re off to the races.

Click here to check out the bartender alcohol awareness certification

Which States Require a Bartending License or Certificate?

As of now, approximately half the states in the U.S. require an alcohol awareness course in order to become a bartender. On the chart below you can look for your state and check to see if certification is required, as well as the minimum age to bartend. Below that, I have listed several different countries and their requirements and minimum age to bartend as well.

Make sure to double-check with your state laws just to make sure, as laws are changing all the time. This chart may not reflect those changes and then you’ll send me nasty death threats and possibly smash my pumpkins on my front porch during Halloween.

United States Bartending Certification Requirements

bartending license requirements

Other Countries Bartending Certification Requirements

Ok, Got it. Now, What if I Want to Become an Actual Bartender?

I’m glad you were able to cut through the fluff and understand that the bartending certification is nothing more than a small pebble on your stepping-stone path to becoming a bartender.

The truth is, when you list out a definitive plan, and follow that plan without deviation, you will ALWAYS get what you want as long as you never stop. To become a bartender, you simply need to follow a detailed plan and stick to it, which includes learning the skills, knowledge, drink recipes, as well as what to do once you’re ready to start landing interviews. This is exactly what we teach inside TheRealBarCourse: an affordable online course that provides more behind-the-scenes information and strategy than you will find in any other bartending school or online course.

You can click here to see if registration is currently open.

Or, if you want to see a detailed outline of that plan, click here to read How to Become a Bartender [Everything You Need to Know].

But whatever your goals and dreams are, whether it’s becoming a bartender, a chef, a delivery person or the next CEO billionaire, don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do. Set your goals, make a plan and follow it until you get what you want.

Thanks for being here. See you next time.