How to Start Bartending: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Start Bartending: A Step-by-Step Guide


Bartending is more than just making drinks; it's an exciting career brimming with creativity and potential. Whether you're looking for a vibrant career or a creative outlet, bartending offers a blend of both.

  • Career Choice: Bartending can be a rewarding professional choice with opportunities for growth, specialization, and even entrepreneurship.
  • Excitement: The environment keeps things engaging and dynamic. You'll rarely face a boring day behind the bar.
  • Creativity: Crafting unique cocktails allows you to experiment with flavors and presentation, transforming drinks into art.

If you're interested in becoming a bartender, here's a simple overview to get you started:

How to Start Bartending: 1. Understand basic bartending skills. 2. Learn about different types of liquors and flavor profiles. 3. Get familiar with essential bartending tools. 4. Gain experience through on-the-job training or bartending school. 5. Develop customer service and time management skills.

Continue reading to dive deeper into each of these steps and help you embark on your bartending journey.

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Understanding the Basics of Bartending

Types of Liquors

To start bartending, you need to know your liquors. There are six main types that form the base for most cocktails:

  • Whiskey: Known for its rich, smoky flavor. Commonly used in classics like the Old Fashioned and Whiskey Sour.
  • Vodka: Versatile and usually neutral in flavor. It's the base for many cocktails like the Martini and Bloody Mary.
  • Rum: Sweet and tropical, perfect for drinks like the Mojito and Piña Colada.
  • Gin: Herbal and aromatic, used in cocktails like the Gin & Tonic and Negroni.

Each liquor has unique characteristics and can be used to create a variety of drinks.

Flavor Profiles

Understanding flavor profiles helps you create balanced and tasty cocktails. Here are the four main profiles:

  • Sweet: Adds a sugary taste. Think syrups and liqueurs.
  • Sour: Adds a sharp, tangy flavor. Common ingredients are lemon and lime juice.
  • Bitter: Adds complexity. Bitters and some herbs fall into this category.
  • Umami: Adds a savory element. Though less common, ingredients like tomato juice (in Bloody Marys) can provide this flavor.

Balancing these flavors is key to creating delicious cocktails.

Measuring Ingredients

Precision is important in bartending. Use the right tools to measure ingredients accurately:

  • Jiggers: These are double-sided measuring tools. They help you pour consistent amounts of spirits and mixers.
  • Pouring Techniques: Free pouring is another method, but it requires practice to get consistent results. You can use a pour spout to control the flow of liquid.

Accurate measurements ensure your cocktails taste the same every time.


Garnishes add flair and enhance the flavor of your drinks. Here are some common types:

  • Citrus: Lemon and lime wedges or twists add zesty freshness.
  • Olives: Often used in Martinis, they add a briny, savory note.
  • Herbs: Mint and basil can add a fresh aroma and flavor.

Garnishes make your cocktails look appealing and taste even better.

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Continue reading to dive deeper into essential bartending skills and tools.

Essential Bartending Skills

To excel in bartending, mastering a mix of skills is crucial. From creating balanced cocktails to providing top-notch customer service, each skill plays a significant role in your success behind the bar.


Mixology is the art and science of crafting cocktails. A mixologist does more than just follow recipes—they understand the balance of flavors and create new, exciting drinks.

  • Cocktail Creation: Knowing how to mix classic cocktails like Margaritas and Martinis is essential. But, creating your own unique drinks can set you apart. For example, adding a splash of elderflower liqueur to a gin cocktail can create a refreshing twist.

  • Balance of Flavors: Great cocktails balance sweet, sour, bitter, and umami flavors. Imagine a Margarita: the sweetness of triple sec, the sourness of lime juice, and the bitterness of tequila combine to create a balanced drink.

Customer Service

Customer service is the cornerstone of bartending. Your goal is to ensure every guest has a fantastic experience.

  • Listening and Empathy: Listen to your guests' preferences and make recommendations based on what they like. If someone loves fruity drinks, suggest a Piña Colada or a Strawberry Daiquiri.

  • Recommendations: Asking questions helps you understand what your guests want. If a guest asks for a drink suggestion, you might ask, "Do you prefer something sweet or more on the sour side?"

Organization and Time Management

A well-organized bar and good time management make your job easier and more efficient.

  • Workflow Efficiency: Keep your workspace tidy. Put bottles back in their designated spots and clean as you go. This reduces clutter and helps you find what you need quickly.

  • Multi-tasking: Bartenders often juggle multiple tasks. You might be mixing drinks, taking orders, and chatting with customers all at once. Staying calm and focused is key.


Clear communication with both customers and coworkers is vital in a busy bar setting.

  • Clear Instructions: When working with a team, communicate clearly to avoid mistakes. For example, if a server orders a drink, confirm the details to ensure accuracy.

  • Team Coordination: Coordinating with your team keeps things running smoothly. If you’re running low on an ingredient, let your team know so they can restock it before you run out.

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Mastering these essential bartending skills will not only make you a better bartender but also help you provide an exceptional experience for your guests.

Continue reading to learn about the tools and equipment every bartender needs.

Bartending Tools and Equipment


Shakers are essential for mixing cocktails. They come in two main types: Boston and Cobbler.

  • Boston Shaker: This consists of a metal tin and a mixing glass. It's favored by professionals for its versatility. To use, pour ingredients into the tin, place the glass on top at an angle, and give it a firm tap to seal. Shake, then break the seal by tapping the side. Use a Hawthorne Strainer to pour your cocktail.

  • Cobbler Shaker: This three-piece shaker includes a tin, strainer, and cap. It's perfect for beginners due to its built-in strainer. Add your ingredients and ice, secure the cap, and shake vigorously. The built-in strainer allows for easy pouring.


Strainers ensure that only the liquid part of your cocktail makes it into the glass, leaving ice and other solids behind. There are a few types:

  • Hawthorne Strainer: This strainer has a metal coil around its edge, fitting snugly over a shaker tin or mixing glass. The coil captures ice and pulp, ensuring a smooth pour.

  • Fine Mesh Strainer: Also known as a tea strainer, this is used to catch small ice shards and tiny bits of herbs. Hold it above the serving glass while pouring to ensure a perfectly smooth cocktail.


A muddler is used to crush fruits, herbs, and spices, releasing their flavors into the cocktail. It’s essential for drinks like Mojitos and Old Fashioneds.

  • Wooden Muddler: Classic and elegant, but requires careful cleaning to prevent splitting and odor retention.

  • Stainless Steel and Plastic Muddler: More durable and easier to clean, especially if stored in a wet environment.

Using a muddler correctly can elevate the taste of your cocktails by infusing them with fresh, vibrant flavors.

Bar Spoons

A bar spoon is a long, slender spoon used for stirring cocktails. Its design allows for smooth, controlled stirring, which is crucial for drinks like Martinis and Manhattans.

  • Spiral Handle Bar Spoon: Often has a twisted handle for better grip and control. The design helps layer drinks and stir efficiently.

  • Weighted Bar Spoon: Features a weighted end for balance and precision. Ideal for measuring small amounts of syrups or liqueurs.

With these tools in your arsenal, you’re well-equipped to make a variety of cocktails. Next, we’ll explore how to get started in the bartending industry.

Getting Started in the Industry

Bartending School vs. Experience

When it comes to starting your bartending career, you have two main paths: bartending school or gaining on-the-job experience. Each has its pros and cons.

Bartending School Pros: - Structured Learning: You’ll learn about cocktails, bar operations, pour sizes, and beer and wine knowledge. - Job Placement: Some schools offer job placement services. - Certification: Completing a course can give you a certificate that may impress some employers.

Bartending School Cons: - Cost: Courses can be expensive, sometimes costing hundreds of dollars. - Lack of Real-World Experience: Schools can’t replicate the environment of a busy bar.

On-the-Job Experience Pros: - Hands-On Learning: You’ll learn how to handle customers, work with co-workers, and stay organized. - Paid Training: As a barback, you earn money while you learn. - Real-World Skills: Gain practical experience that bartending school can’t teach.

On-the-Job Experience Cons: - Starting at the Bottom: You’ll likely start as a barback, doing the less glamorous jobs. - No Formal Certification: Some employers may prefer applicants with formal training.

On-the-Job Training

Barbacking is one of the best ways to start. As a barback, you’ll assist bartenders by fetching ice, replacing bottles, cutting garnishes, and washing glassware. This role gives you a behind-the-scenes look at how a bar operates.

Shadowing experienced bartenders is another excellent way to learn. By watching and helping them, you’ll pick up techniques and tips that you wouldn’t learn in a classroom.

Mentorship can also be invaluable. Find a seasoned bartender who can guide you, offer advice, and help you refine your skills.

Certification and Legal Requirements

Age Restrictions: Most states require bartenders to be at least 18 years old. Always check your local regulations.

Responsible Service of Alcohol: Many states require certification in responsible alcohol service. This ensures you know how to serve alcohol safely and legally. Certifications from organizations like the Beverage Alcohol Resource (BAR) or the United States Bartenders' Guild (USBG) can boost your credibility.

In countries like Japan and China, bartending certification is more formalized. For example, the Nippon Bartenders' Association (N.B.A.) offers exams and certifications, while China’s National Labor Department provides vocational certificates.

In Canada, certification requirements vary by province. Some provinces, like Ontario and British Columbia, require bartenders to have specific certifications for responsible alcohol sales.

Understanding these requirements and obtaining the necessary certifications will make you a more attractive candidate to potential employers.

Next, we’ll discuss how to build a successful career in bartending, including job search strategies, resume tips, and interview preparation.

Building a Career in Bartending

Starting a career in bartending requires more than just mixing drinks. You need to know how to find a job, create a strong resume, and prepare for interviews.

Job Search Strategies

Finding a bartending job involves several strategies:

  • Online Listings: Websites like Indeed, Monster, and Glassdoor often have listings for bartending jobs. You can filter by location, experience level, and type of establishment.
  • Networking: Talk to people in the industry. Attend events, tastings, and seminars. This is a great way to meet bar owners and managers who might be hiring.
  • Social Media: Follow bars and restaurants on platforms like Instagram and Facebook. They often post job openings and updates.

Resume Tips for Bartenders

Your resume is your first impression. Make it count by highlighting key skills and experiences.

  • Highlighting Skills: Focus on relevant skills like mixology, customer service, and time management. Use bullet points for clarity.
  • Experience: List your past jobs in reverse chronological order. Include details like the name of the establishment, your role, and key responsibilities.
  • Certifications: Mention any certifications you have, such as responsible alcohol service or mixology courses. This shows you’re qualified and committed.

Interview Preparation

Preparing for a bartending interview involves anticipating common questions and practicing your responses.

  • Common Questions: Be ready to answer questions like "How do you handle a busy bar?" or "What would you do if a customer said their drink wasn't strong enough?"
  • Scenario Responses: Think about how you would handle specific scenarios, like cutting off a drunk customer or dealing with a fake ID. Practice your answers to sound confident and professional.
  • Presentation: Dress appropriately for the interview. A neat, professional appearance shows you take the job seriously. Don't forget to bring a copy of your resume and any certifications.

By following these steps, you'll be well on your way to landing your first bartending job and building a successful career in the industry.

Frequently Asked Questions about Bartending

How Much Do Bartenders Make?

Bartenders earn a median hourly wage of $15.15 as of May 2023. Annual salaries hover around $31,510. However, income can vary widely based on location, type of establishment, and experience. Tips play a crucial role in a bartender's earnings and can significantly boost take-home pay. Some bartenders report making anywhere from $200 to $2,000 a day in tips, especially in high-end or busy venues.

What Are the Best Bartending Schools?

Attending bartending school isn't a necessity, but it can be beneficial for some. Here are a few well-regarded options:

  • ABC Bartending School: Known for comprehensive courses that cover everything from drink recipes to customer service.
  • Bartending College: Offers both in-person and online classes, focusing on practical skills and job placement assistance.
  • European Bartender School: Offers international certification and a global network, ideal for those looking to work abroad.

Pros of Bartending School: - Structured learning environment - Certification upon completion - Networking opportunities

Cons: - Costly (hundreds of dollars) - Bar owners often prefer real-world experience

How Can I Improve My Bartending Skills?

Improving bartending skills requires a mix of education and hands-on experience. Here are some tips:

  • Practice Mixology: Experiment with creating new cocktails. Use resources like The Bartender's Black Book for inspiration.
  • Enhance Customer Service: Focus on listening and empathy. Good bartenders are also good listeners.
  • Get Organized: Efficient workflow and time management are key. Practice setting up your bar and keeping it tidy.
  • Learn from Others: Shadow experienced bartenders and ask for feedback. Real-world experience is invaluable.
  • Stay Updated: Follow industry trends and continuously learn about new liquors and techniques.

By focusing on these areas, you'll not only improve your skills but also enhance your overall bartending experience.


Embarking on a journey in bartending is not just about mastering the basic skills. It's a continuous learning process that requires passion and dedication. The world of bartending is vast, filled with endless possibilities and opportunities to grow.

Continuous Learning

Staying updated with industry trends is crucial. Attend tastings, seminars, and classes to keep your knowledge fresh. For instance, many successful bartenders frequently attend events hosted by alcohol producers and distributors to learn about new products and techniques. This not only enhances your skills but also helps you network with other professionals in the industry.


Passion is the driving force behind every great bartender. Whether it's the creativity involved in crafting a new cocktail or the satisfaction of providing excellent customer service, your enthusiasm will shine through. Every drink you make is a reflection of your creativity and understanding of flavors. So, keep experimenting and refining your craft.


At socialmix, we're dedicated to supporting your bartending journey. From beginner workshops to advanced mixology classes, we provide a supportive and fun environment for you to explore your passion. Our collection of drinkware and bartending tools is designed to help you elevate your skills and impress your friends and customers.

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In conclusion, the key to mastering bartending is patience, practice, and a passion for flavors. Keep learning, experimenting, and most importantly, have fun. Cheers to creating memorable experiences, one cocktail at a time!

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