Bartender licensing: A guide for employers

Editorial Team

4 min read
Three bartenders mixing cocktails

Whether you run a bar or a restaurant, you probably need someone to mix drinks. And given the ongoing staffing difficulties most small businesses are still struggling with, it can be good business sense to start training some of your best employees to work behind the bar, in addition to hiring experienced bartenders.

Helping your servers and other employees get their bartending licenses can be a true win-win: your employee gains a valuable new skill and certification, and you gain more staff who are certified and trained to work behind the bar. 

Here’s what employers need to know about bartender certification:

1. Half of all states require bartending licenses.

Roughly half of the states in the U.S. require bartenders to have a state- or county-issued bartending license. In some states, managers of bars or restaurants that serve alcohol may also be required to complete mandatory training. But even if your state doesn’t require a bartending license to serve liquor, your insurance company may require or suggest that every employee serving alcohol get one. Research the requirements for your state to make sure you’re following the law, but consider encouraging employees to get bartending licenses even if they’re not required. 

In most cases, state licensing programs can be completed online for a small fee. As an employer, you can help your employees by letting them work on coursework during slow periods or paying the fee for their licensing program. 

2. Getting a bartending license is different from going to bartending school.

State licensing programs will focus more on the legal issues that can arise when serving alcohol. They’ll help bartenders understand state laws, spot fake IDs, and learn how to avoid overserving. Bartending schools, on the other hand, focus more on mixology and the ‘fun’ side of bartending. As an employer, you should know that most pros consider on-the-job training to be far more valuable than bartending school. It may be worth your time to support an employee through a bartending certification program versus bartending school. It might be better to have them work some shifts as a barback, observing and assisting one of your experienced bartenders.

Read: How to conduct alcohol server training: A guide for restaurants and bars

3. Just getting a bartending license won’t be enough training for your aspiring bartenders.

Because bartending certification programs typically focus mainly on legal issues, simply putting your employees through one of these trainings won’t prepare them to actually work behind the bar. Again, the best way to get your servers or other employees ready to serve drinks is to have them support your experienced bartenders as a barback. 

You can also host all-staff trainings on key bartending skills. Even your employees who would never want to work behind the bar can benefit from an all-staff session on food and drink pairings or an in-house tasting. Make it fun by turning training into a contest—who can safely carry the most drinks without spilling a drop? Who has the most accurate free pour? Who knows the most about the wine list?

Read: 3 reasons why you should offer a mocktail menu at your restaurant or bar

The more staff you have who can legally serve alcohol, the more options you have when you’re short-staffed or someone calls in sick. Training more staff in the finer points of bartending can also pay off in servers who are better able to suggest the perfect drink for each customer. And supporting your staff in getting bartending licenses and on-the-job training is a great way to retain your top employees by proving you have their long-term best interests at heart. 

To learn more about how Clover’s restaurant and bar POS systems can help you deliver an unforgettable guest experience and stay on top of inventory, contact a Clover Business Consultant today.


This information is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal, financial, or tax advice. Readers should contact their attorneys, financial advisors, or tax professionals to obtain advice with respect to any particular matter.

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