Bartending School: Should I Go Online Or In a Classroom?

Bartending School: Should I Go Online Or In a Classroom?

The first thing you need to do is determine what your goal is here. Do you simply want the “Certificate,” or do you want to actually get in there and pour drinks? This is your starting point, and the type of bartending school you choose does make a difference.

Attending Bartending School at a physical location is great – but a bit expensive. Online Bartending Schools have really gotten a lot better these days – and that’s what I would recommend. For a lot less money, time, and hassle.

Bartending School – Should I Even Go?

Both types of Bartending School will supply you with general knowledge and basic skills. Both allow you to practice your skills – behind a “lifelike” bar or in the privacy of your own home.

So, in my opinion, what it comes down to is who is providing the best instruction? Does the instructor have a ton of experience? Has he worked in multiple locations and types of bars? Or, is he brand-new to the Food & Beverage Industry – and trying to pass himself off as an expert?

But what if I go to a really good Online Bartending School, watch all of those online YouTube videos – and then practice at home? Great idea, and I highly recommend it if you decide to learn online.

Don’t misunderstand me here. I believe that both types of schools are worthwhile, but, again, what is it, exactly, that you’re looking for? How much time do you have? How much are you willing to spend?

Maybe you have applied at places where the bar manager says something like “Go to bartending school and then we’ll hire you.” If that’s the case, then invest in an online school. Learn the basics and re-apply.

Side Note: Bartender School is for your benefit. Not the bar’s. Not the Bar manager’s. A certificate is nice, yes, but I have never heard of a Bar Manger request to see one! Bartending School is simply a way for you to gain some bartending skills – and bring something to the interview table.

bartending school cocktail

Now, keep in mind that someone with no bartending experience is probably not going to be hired at a high-volume nightclub. Even if you have attended Bartending School. Probably not gonna happen – but I have seen lightening strike. You need some hard-core experience to get those types of jobs.

Let me give you a real-life example. A few years back, I had a young lady apply for a bartending position at a local sports bar I was managing. This place was very high-volume and as crazy as it gets.

She had no bartending or food service experience but had gone to an Online Bartending School. She had been applying at every bar in the area with no luck.

She had dropped off her resume about a week earlier, and this was her second visit to my bar (make a note: persistence is the key), so I took the time to sit down with her and found out something interesting.

At no less than two other places she had been applying at, the bar managers asked her (because she had no experience), if she had been to bartender school. Even more interesting, they told her they would not even have asked about bartending school if she had had some experience.

And, one of them specifically stated that he would consider hiring her if she were to have just a little bit of experience to go along with her training at Bartending School. That should be encouraging to brand-new bartenders. And this was a busy place!

There are two points to make here. Firstly, there are bar owners and managers out there that do take Bartending School seriously. I know I do. Secondly, Bar Managers, even at very busy bars, will take into consideration any skills learned from a bartending school.

So, you might be wondering what happened to this young lady. She was out-going, moved at a quick pace, and presented herself extremely well. Exactly what I look for in bartenders.

I hired and trained her as a food server and a bar back at the same time. Three months later we gave her two shifts per week as a bartender – while she continued as a food server. Within 6 months she was bartending 5 shifts per week making a couple of hundred dollars a night bartending. Nice.

And there’s another lesson here: You should have some sort of idea what Bar Managers are looking for in their new bartender hires. I have written a rather extensive post on the 7 Skills and Qualities Bar Managers Are Looking For. Don’t interview without it!

Which Type Bartending School Should I Go To?

You have to ask yourself five questions:

  • Do I Just Need a Certificate?
  • What Can I Afford?
  • How New Am I to the Food Service Industry?
  • How Much Time Do I Have?
  • Am I a Self-Starter and a Real Go-Getter?

If you have experience in the food and beverage industry, and just need a certificate, take the online course. If you have absolutely no experience in the food and beverage industry, or in customer service, you may wish to take the in-house training. Of course, your pocketbook will have a say in the matter so do your homework.

Advantages of Online Instruction

There are many advantages to going to Bartending School Online. Some people have no choice as there are no schools within a reasonable driving distance. That’s OK – you have to do what you have to do. Here are the main advantages for attending online:

  • Less expensive
  • Convenient
  • Learn at your own speed
  • Rapid completion
  • Certification

So, what do I get for my hard earned money? You’re going to be sitting in front of your computer watching videos and taking notes. Most schools will provide a lot of downloadable material that you can study.

They’ll also supply you with a multitude of videos demonstrating pouring techniques, bar set-up procedures, and mock-ups of or instructions on how to handle certain situations. It wouldn’t hurt to check on YouTube for additional instruction.

Side Note: Remember – the class is only as good as the instructor!

Advantages of In-Class Instruction

This would be my suggestion for those of you who have a lot of time on your hands – and could really use the experience of dealing with people. Especially for someone with no experience whatsoever in the bar industry.

Hands-on training and familiarity with a bar set-up are crucial for “getting the feel” of being behind a bar – but a very good online school can teach you the same thing.

  • Hands-on practice
  • Familiarity with an actual bar
  • Interaction with fellow students
  • Mock bar situations
  • Certification taken more seriously by potential employers

Take great care in choosing this type of class. There may be only one bartending school in your area so you may not have a choice. Compare costs, call the school and ask questions. Find out how experienced the instructors are.

There are many bar managers and owners out there that do like to see some sort of training – if you have no experience. Some prefer the hands-on type of experience, but most really don’t care.

What’s important here in the hiring process is that you have made the effort to do whatever you can to get your first bartending job. The Bar Manager will notice!

There is No License Required to Be a Bartender

I figured I should talk about this since many Bartending Schools advertise, “Get Your Bartending License Here!” That’s right – they’re still doing that!

None of the 50 states require a license to be a bartender. At least at the time of this writing. A “certification” is simply a piece of paper that says you got a little bit of training as a bartender. I have never heard of any bar requiring a “license” or “certificate” prior to getting a job.

This is NOT to be confused with an Alcohol Awareness Training Class or a Food Handlers Training Certificate. These are classes that some States require all Food and Beverage employees to attend. They’re easy, only a few hours, and very informative. They are NOT a Bartending License!

Don’t be fooled by bartender schools that say you are getting licensed. That’s bogus, and most make it sound like there’s more to it than there is. You do not need to go to bartender school to get a job. Period.

About “Alcohol Awareness” Training: Easy, very informative, and costs about $30.00. Some schools offer this training along with their bartender training. You can find out more about alcohol awareness training here.

Bartending School Final Thoughts

You’ve made your decision to go to bartending school.  Good for you. Maybe you have already applied at some bars that look favorably upon this type of training – then make a decision!

Hang in there! Just do your homework. Decide which type of school would best fit your needs and go for it.

People have been arguing for years about whether going to bartending school is a worthwhile endeavor. It is. Don’t listen to the naysayers, as any sort of bartender training gets put in the plus column.

Related Bartending Topics

My state requires some sort of alcohol training. What is that? You are correct. Some states require you to take a class about alcohol awareness. You’ll learn about checking ID’s, spotting overly intoxicated bar patrons, and handling unruly customers. It’s a great class, and very informative.

I’m a food server. Is that a good stepping-stone into bartending? Most definitely. You have the experience handling POS systems and the knowledge of how the ‘flow’ works in a restaurant and bar environment. And, you have probably already acquired some great customer service skills. Many bartenders originally started as a server.

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