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Can Being a Bartender Be a Career?

Charismatic bartender demonstrates his professional skills.

Years ago, people took bartending jobs to earn money while in college, or to help them get somewhere else.  However, these days, interest in this area of hospitality is increasing. How is bartending as a career?

It seems to work great for some, and not too well for others. Working in a bar might give you the hours you need with a flexible schedule to work around other commitments.  Here are a few things you should know about bartending before you decide if it is right for you.

While many people view tending bar or waiting tables as a temporary job, for many people it is their bread and butter. It is often a second job to supplement a day job that doesn’t pay well enough on its own. Can bartending be a full-time career?

Sure it can. Bartending shifts tend to be in the evenings and on weekends, but depending on the place, you can make bank if it stays busy all the time.

What Does a Bartender Do?

Bartender making and serving cocktails on the bar.

Bartenders take care of the customers and manage operations of the business during their shift. Besides taking customers’ drink orders, mixing, and serving the drinks, you will also restock supplies behind the bar, take inventory, and clean glasses. You will also be responsible for cleaning the counter and tables, preparing drink garnishes (limes, olives, cherries, etc), and maintaining an adequate supply of ice, glasses, and food supplies.

As a bartender, you are legally responsible for making sure that anyone you serve alcohol to is of legal age. That means you must check every customer’s identification to avoid serving minors who look older than they are. You could be held accountable if you serve an underage person, or over-serve a customer who is already intoxicated.

Some states have a mandatory test before you can work as a bartender. It will go over this information in more detail. It is not required in every state, but your employer will let you know if it is required for your state.

Pros and Cons of Bartending as a Career

Bartender standing in front of a bar holding a dish towel.


  • Make money quickly
  • Busy shifts earn you more
  • You get to keep all your tips
  • Some bartenders make good money
  • Meet a lot of interesting people
  • Job that can be done anywhere (bartenders are needed in every state)


  • Hard to maintain personal relationships
  • May miss birthdays, concerts, holiday parties
  • Can be inconsistent at times
  • You’re on your feet all day
  • Stocking and lifting heavy items takes a toll on your body

Skills and Qualifications Needed to Be a Bartender

A bartender with beard making cocktail in the bar at the restaurant.

The requirements to be a bartender vary from one place to another and from state to state. You often don’t need formal training to become a bartender. You learn a lot of the job hands-on, and by shadowing another bartender until you learn the ropes.

There are bartending schools that teach you all you need to know if you choose to go that route. You must be at least 18 years old, possess a high school diploma or G.E.D certificate, have basic math skills, be able to follow a recipe, and have good customer service skills. A good bartender should also have an engaging personality, excellent memory, and good physical strength (those beer kegs are heavy).

Many bartenders start out as waitresses/waiters to learn the mechanics of the job and then switch to barback, or helper to fine tune their expertise. On-the-job training is how you learn most aspects of serving customers. State certification: You may also need to complete a state-approved course in responsible beverage sales.

The course takes 2 hours and you will be given an exam at the end.

Work Environment for Bartenders

Bartender mixing and serving drinks for a couple having a date.

Bartenders work in a variety of settings. Most often the work is done indoors, unless it is a catered event. In more formal settings, like fine dining restaurants, you will be required to wear a uniform, but not in others.

It depends on the place. The environment will change daily, some days will be busy and at times it will be slow.

How Much Do Bartenders Make?

How much money you earn depends on your experience, skills, location, and type of business you work in. A lot will depend on the location (New York, Las Vegas, L.A.) and the type of venue. Bartenders can be employed in a variety of settings, such as restaurants, bars, night clubs, etc.

Salary will vary from place to place. Here is the average yearly salary for bartenders (without tips), according to these sources:

  • – $32,840
  • – $27,330
  • – $26,190
  • – $22,880

Hourly salaries may work out to $12 an hour + tips. Again, it will depend on certain factors. Location is a big one because bartenders in California will earn more than those in Illinois or Nebraska because of the clubs and music venues.

A good bartender can easily bring home $100 or more in tips a night, depending on how busy it was.

Best Venues for Bartenders

  • Restaurants
  • Night Clubs
  • Casinos
  • Comedy Clubs
  • Cabarets

Best States for Bartenders in 2022

  • Hawaii
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York

If this doesn’t sound great right now, think of it this way: you don’t have to be a bartender forever. You can take the skills you learn from bartending and move up the ladder to bar manager, go into sales, or start your own business. Many people have used bartending as a jumping off point to another career.

Make Bartending a Long-Term Career

You’ll need to set your objectives and your goals early on, but you can do it.  The most important thing is to choose a venue that fits into your lifestyle. If you are a morning person, don’t take shifts that have you coming home at 4 am.

You’ll wear yourself out trying to switch days and nights. Take shifts that fit your life and your schedule. In order to have a long-term career in the service industry, you need to be an expert at your job.

Memorize drink recipes, names of the different alcohol brands, and what are the most popular drinks. Watch the experienced bartenders get stocked and ready for a rush, then do exactly what they do. Familiarize yourself with the different types of barware and garnishes, as well as what drinks are served in which glasses.

A full-time bartending job can be a very lucrative career, if done right. After a few years, when you have decided to do something less physically demanding, you can use the skills you learned behind the bar to transition into another career.