Mixing cocktails and pulling pints for hoards of excited customers on a night out makes bartending a demanding, but exciting job prospect. Bartending careers have exciting prospects, and if your establishment encourages tips, you can go home flush for cash. So, if you want to be a bartender, which is the best route to land a job? Is it better to attend a bartending school, or just learn on the job? Opinions differ, but are bartending schools worth it?
The Big Question: Are bartending schools worth it?
The answer is sometimes, depending on what you want to achieve. Bartending school can be pricey, costing anywhere from £50-£500 or more per course, usually including around 40 hours or so of instruction. In bartending school, you generally mix coloured water together and use foam garnishes, neither of which actually prepares you for making cocktails (with the exception of a professional school). Some better schools include alcohol tastings, and comprehensive histories, but there’s still no substitution for learning. Most people can learn to mix drinks by buying a book (or watching YouTube videos), and practicing at home.
The main goal of bartending schools is to make money, and there’s not ever a guarantee this school certificate will lead to a job; however, some places - such as the European Bartending School - do offer support along the way, from education to getting a job. It all depends on where you go and what your end goal is.
When bartending schools are a good idea.
A reputable certification such as from the European Bartending School, which is the only worldwide recognized certification, can offer opportunity to travel, a wider array of cocktail knowledge, and support in launching your career. If you want to become a mixologist and learn a specialised skill, professional school can give you that edge.
If you're simply looking for a weekend job or looking to pull pints in a pub, then bartending school might not be worth the cost and effort, but if you want to take skills to the next level - skills you cannot gain through training with your current employer - and you want to work in bars and travel - then bartending school is for you. Reputable spirit brands sponsor and partner with the European Bartending School such as Coca Cola, Hendrick's Gin, Glenfiddich, Aperol, Drambuie, and others. (Note that SHOES FOR CREWS (EUROPE) is not sponsored by or affiliated with EBS.)
What should you ask your bartending school?
Bartending schools, especially a reputable one, can offer you practice and knowledge that is hard to gain on your own, so if you still feel that bartending school would be a worthwhile option - if only to gain a little knowledge - then you need to ask your potential program some questions:
- How long does it take your graduates to find a professional bartending job after graduation?
- May I talk to some alumni about their experience?
- Do you offer job placement assistance?
- Can I speak to some employers you work with to ask how they like your course’s graduates?
- What percentage of graduates now work as professional bartenders after one year?
- Do you train students about point of sale restaurant systems?
- Do you train students about health and safety considerations, and how to deal with intoxicated customers?
- How do you train students about cash handling, increasing mental maths and change giving?
If the course cannot give a satisfactory answer to your questions, it may be a waste of time, effort, and money.
So, how do I get into bartending?
Most employers say that they generally do not hire bartenders from bartending schools (with the exception of small places, perhaps), but instead they promote from within - from the bottom up. However, reputable bartending schools will help you find a job after graduation.
Your best shot at becoming a bartender is working your way up. For small pubs, begin as a dishwasher or glass collector, and learn from the bar staff. You can quickly learn how to mix drinks, pull a pint, or pour wine. For larger places, you can start as a barback, dishwasher, server, or a glass collector and work your way up too, whilst learning on the side as you understand how every cog turns. Nothing beats experience when it comes to learning the full range of skills and bolstering your CV.
For example, if you apply for a job at a bar, and you have experience as a bar back, that shows the employer that you have knowledge of a multitude of bar tasks. If your CV simply had bartending school listed, they employer only knows that you may have a rudimentary knowledge of drinks-mixing and garnishing, but you don’t necessarily know how to stand up to the pressures of real-time service.
Bar backs are the do-it-alls of the bartending world. The bartender is the front man, but without the bar back, nothing will be kept together. The bar back knows how to clean everything, replace bottles, clear dishes, rinse shakers, refill kegs, make garnishes, fill ice, wash glasses, replenish straws and napkins, and so much more. They’re indispensable to the service, especially in busy establishments. They help keep the cogs of the machine running smoothly so the bartender can stay at their station, churning out the drinks.
When the employer goes to hire a new bartender, you can bet they’ll look to promote their bar backs because they’re in the know. Plus, if a bar back can’t make his or her shift, then the new bartender can fill in too. The more people who have experience in running the business from the bottom up, the more successful the bar will be.
Make sure you stay safe on the job
When becoming a bartender it’s important to know about health and safety, and to lower (or eliminate) your risks of slipping and falling at work by wearing the appropriate, slip-resistant footwear. Oh, and water-resistance is a good idea too!
So, would you rather pay someone to give you the skills you need, or get paid whilst learning? Bartending can be hectic and busy, so the only way to get better is through practice. Starting out lower on the totem pole may not seem fun, but you’ll gain invaluable experience - and you get to earn a little cash too! A bartending school can teach some basics, but when it comes to landing the job, it’s just a nice piece of paper, and is definitely not worth your cash.
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