Opinions vary widely when it comes to the pros and cons of attending bartending school. I have met bartenders and bar managers who think of it as a valuable tool and look upon those who have earned a bartending diploma as better prepared than those without. There are also many people who think of bartending as a costly waste of time, advocating that the only real way to learn bartending is by getting behind a real bar.
I think that the truth lies somewhere between the two. On one hand, it is true that by attending a bartending school a person learns a great deal about the bartending process that they otherwise would have to learn on the fly. This knowledge of technique and recipes can come in very handy when looking for a job, especially when competing for a position against applicants with no experience whatsoever.
And detractors have their point, as the majority of bartenders are promoted from within an establishment or picked up from another bar rather than hired based on walk-ins. The bartending school nay-sayers are also correct when they assert that bartending is a skill that requires knowing how a bar or restaurant works from top to bottom, and that working your way through the various positions is a huge advantage when it comes to entering bartending with the solid knowledge-base needed to excel.
I think the best way to approach the bartending school question involves your personal goals in becoming a bartender. If you want to learn how to become a bartender as a career and not just a job, I do think that having worked through all of the roles in a bar will help you better understand the entirety of bar operation. If, however, you are more interested in jumping into a bartending job in order to make some good money over the course of a few years, or to get a second job to bolster your income, bartending school is a good way to get a jump-start on the basics that every bartender must know.
What You’ll Learn
Bartending schools come in all shapes and sizes, and what and how much you learn depends on which one you choose.
Online courses are usually cheaper and easier to work into your schedule, but they can only provide you with the most basic knowledge, such as drink recipes and a few techniques. Bartending is a very hands-on process, so if you do decide to enroll in bartending courses, I suggest participating in-class.
Bartending courses can last from one to two weeks, with the shorter classes being more elementary in nature. You’ll learn what the various bartending tools are, how to use and organize them, the drink making process, recipes, how to run a point of operation (POS) register, and about the different liquors.
Longer courses often involve added training in table service, more advanced drinks, flair bartending tricks, and a variety of additional information. Oftentimes the more extensive courses will involve having the students actually go into a bar either to shadow a real bartender or do a bit of real bartending themselves.
How Much Does it Cost?
The cost to enroll in bartending school varies greatly.
Basic online video courses can run anywhere from $35 to $200, but as I mentioned before, be wary of these sorts of courses, and especially the cheapest ones. Don’t pay for some course that promises training only to have you watch basic videos and read recipes. You can learn all of that using YouTube and a cheap recipe book.
In-class courses vary in price based on the length and depth of instruction. It is fairly common to see these programs run in the $200 to $400 range, but sometimes they can be quite expensive. One popular example is the New York Bartending School, which costs nearly $600 for a comprehensive 40 hour class.
Conclusion: Is it Worth It?
If you don’t have a very good knowledge of liquors, drinks, and bar tools, but you still want to get into bartending, it might be exactly what you’re looking for. If, on the other hand, you are one of those people who already knows a lot of drinks and is always the person mixing cocktails for everyone else at get-togethers, it might not be able to provide you with all that much new knowledge.
As for the expense, if you put down the money on bartending school, complete it, then successfully land a job, you won’t be complaining about the money spent on training. When you get off the clock every night with a pocket full of cash, that few hundred dollars you spent on classes will seem like a pittance.