These days it seems that more and more people are looking for the quick and easy fast-tracks to making money. They want to acquire this money with as little effort as possible, and preferably without having to leave home all that often. To take advantage of this mindset, a slew of online bartending schools have popped up over the years.
A quick web-search brings up an assortment of them, all of which possess nearly identical names such as BartendingOnline.com, BartendingCollegeOnline.com, EBartendingSchool.com, and ABCBartendingSchoolOnline.com. And it is not only the names that are similar–each offers essentially the same things. Quick and easy classes! Low, low prices! And if you pay an extra $75 or so you’ll get a kit of bartending equipment in the mail! (All of which can be purchased for around $20 at any local kitchenware store.)
Each online bartending school claims that they will teach you everything you need to know in order to land the bar job of your dreams, but realistically, what do they have to offer?
What will online bartending school teach you?
As far as I can tell—and I have spent approximately a decade bartending and managing various bars—there is literally next to nothing to be gleaned from these so-called courses. Here are a few of the things they claim to teach:
The basics of various alcoholic beverages – This seems pretty useful, right? And it is. Every bartender should know the characteristics of the many different boozes. But for one thing, this isn’t anything you can’t learn yourself by glancing through a $10 bartender’s guide. Furthermore, to truly know a liquor, you must be able to experience it firsthand. You don’t learn to swim by reading about it—you have to get wet. Neither online nor in-class bartending schools actually place you in contact with real alcohol. And the idea of buying a few bottles to play around with at home will provide you with nowhere near the variety of liquors that can found and experienced at an actual bar.
Tools and glassware – Once again, good to know. But this is also something that can be picked up from a $10 guide. But in reality, the majority of bartenders never end up using muddlers or zesters or even mixers. The fact of the matter is that you can pretty much assume you’ll be pouring drinks directly into pint glasses, tumblers, and shot glasses. And even if you do end up at a place with a more expansive variety of glasses, chances are they have they use most of these glasses differently from other bars.
Preparing and serving drinks – To me this just seems silly. I had a friend who signed up for a random online bartending course, and it attempted to teach him how to make a drink using animations and little diagrams. Many of the websites I’ve looked at offer video lessons. First of all, making a drink isn’t rocket science. The vast majority of drinks are pretty straightforward. And for the more complicated drinks, there is no way to actually learn them without the guidance of a trained bartender and the ability to taste the finished product.
I remember early on in my career when I was trying to learn a Key Lime Pie—which uses something like 14 ingredients—and when I’d made it at home it seemed pretty good. Once I was actually working alongside a trained bartender, however, I found that I’d mixed it completely wrong. I had followed all the right steps at home, but without having someone taste it who knows how it’s supposed to come out, you’ll never know if what you’ve created is accurate. This is the same problem one encounters during in-class bartending school, where real booze is substituted for colored water.
Drink recipes – This may seem like something that is important—and it can be—but once again, you can learn this by reading a guide book. Also, there is such a plethora of widely varying drink recipes that there is no way to learn them without extreme repetition, and not the kind you get from a few days of messing around online. The only way to memorize cocktails is from behind a bar under the pressure of real life. Knowing a few drink recipes won’t get you a job—the job is what teaches you the recipes.
What are the differences between various online bartending schools?
There aren’t many. Most of them start with a flat rate or $35, $55, or $75, then offer add-ons such as printed guide books or bar equipment. They all provide a series of brief courses followed by exams. And most deliver some sort of certificate upon completion.
My favorite stab at individuality comes from ABCBartendingSchoolOnline.com, which boasts that it’s not one of those “fancy sites”, whatever that means. It also claims to be the easiest online training program available. What they’re essentially advertising is that they offer less content and inferior training, and considering that I don’t have faith in the training provided by any of these sites, that’s a pretty bold stance they’re taking.
ABC also offers a job placement program. I’ve only found a few sites that claim to provide such a program, but I wouldn’t trust them. For example, the ABC “job placement assistance program” allows you to see a list of local job openings. There is no actual assistance. You can find a list of local jobs on Craiglist for free.
In-class bartending schools often offer job placement programs as well, but in reality this consists of little more than handing graduates a list of local bars and pushing them out the door. I have worked at nearly two-dozen bars, and not one of them has ever been contacted by a bartending school—online or otherwise—about any form of job placement program.
Another great attempt at separating from the pack comes from EBartendingSchool.com, which claims that it will teach you how to do flair bartending tricks such as flipping bottles and lighting things on fire. First of all, this is an essentially useless skill unless you want to bartend in Vegas or someplace like that. Second, I feel dubious about anything that claims it can teach you how to flip bottles and set things on fire safely without having an actual teacher or guide present. It’s the same reason why kids blow their hands off after learning how to make tennis-ball bombs off of YouTube. You’re going to end up with singed eyebrows and glass all over your carpet.
EBartendingSchool.com also doesn’t provide a certificate—which almost every online program does—saying on its website that any course that offers such a certificate is pulling the wool over your eyes as to the validity of the ‘diploma’, and that bar managers don’t actually care about them. In a way they’ve let the cat out of the bag—bar managers don’t find validity in online bartending courses, period.
So what’s the verdict?
Bartending school—either online or in the class—is a complete waste of your time and money. While I would like to give in-class bartending school some sort of benefit of the doubt, the reality is that bar managers simply do not care about bartending school. I have literally never once worked with or hired someone who took part in any sort of bartender training. It simply doesn’t give any real-world, practical instruction. And in fact it shows that you’re too lazy to go out into the world and put in the real time and energy that it takes to land a bar job.
You don’t find a bar job by sitting at home playing bartending videogames online. It takes getting out and shaking hands, passing out resumes, and putting a face to a name. So get yourself a cheap bartending manual then get out there and pound the pavement.