Mixologist vs. Bartender: What’s the Difference?

mixologist vs. bartender

Bartenders have been a staple behind bars since time immemorial, however, mixologist is a relatively new position on the block and the increased use of the word has increased interest in the profession and its meaning. But separating bartending and mixology is not as easy as some might think.

Here we dive into the bartender mixologist debate, discover what distinguishes bartending and mixology, and give you the scoop on the best place to start your journey to becoming a bartender or learning mixology online.

Mixologist vs. Bartender: An Overview

Bartending and mixology are different things with a large overlapping gray area in the middle. Meaning that bartenders and mixologists are also different things—with a large overlapping gray area in the middle. This gray area is why you can get such a wide range of answers to the mixologist vs bartender question.

In short, bartenders tend bar and mixologists craft novel cocktails. A common way of denominating the difference between the bartender and mixologist is that a mixologist serves drinks and a bartender serves customers.

Do you need to be a bartender to be a mixologist? No. Do you need to be a mixologist to be a bartender? No. But, those working in either of these positions will pick up some of the other’s job specific skill set while working and knowing a bit of both skill sets is definitely to everyone’s advantage.

Let’s unpack the mixologist vs. bartender positions a little more.

What is a Mixologist?

When trying to define a mixologist an obvious question arises: what is mixology? Mixology is the study and understanding of cocktails and their ingredients, specifically how those ingredients interact to produce the flavors, aromas, and mouthfeel that the drinker experiences. Mixology has been described as a culinary approach to drinks.

So, studying mixology is to learn the chemistry behind the apparent wizardry of why a cocktail can taste sooo good. A mixologist is someone equipped with this knowledge, who can then use it to develop wonderful new cocktails that are greater than the sum of their parts.

Mixologists will typically also know the production methods and history of the most popular liqueurs and liquor categories and will keep up with the hippest trends and techniques in the cocktail world.

Mixologists can be found working behind high-end bars, making and serving drinks, and are masters of crafting unique cocktails. There are also mixology jobs producing bespoke cocktails for beverage brands and conglomerates, as well as for private events, restaurants, and bars.

How to Become a Mixologist?

If mixology is a path you’d like to tread then you’re in luck, you can become a mixologist online, and there’s many a mixologist course available to help you learn mixology.

But, not every mixologist course is created equally, and we’ve searched both high and low across the internet to find the best mixology courses out there; read about them here!

The best course out there, to learn mixology online, is the one run by A Bar Above, and you can find their hands-on and self-paced, online Mixology Certification right here. Taking this certification is a great way to get a jump start on your mixology training and your budding mixologist career!

How Much Does a Mixologist Make?

A Mixologist who works for a brand or conglomerate will typically receive a salary. These positions can be found on popular job sites with a mixologist salary of over $100,000. Developing bespoke cocktail menus for restaurants, events, and bars is often done on a contract basis and pay for this can vary based on a wide variety of factors.

Glassdoor currently lists the average mixologist salary in the US as $45,941. This number includes those who work as a bartender mixologist, which is the most common position for someone with mixology training. This is typically an hourly position where you also earn tips, so the annual wage here varies greatly by location and establishment.

What is a Bartender?

A bartender is someone who tends bar and, as said before, serves customers. Both customer service and hospitality are in a bartender’s job description and are implied by both the name and the public’s long-standing relationship with the bartender.

To break bartending down, a bartender is the tender of the bar. To “tend” has many meanings and the ones that concern bartenders are “to act as an attendant: serve”, and “to apply oneself to the care of: watch over”. These describe the bartender’s role perfectly, as the bartender cares for the organization and cleanliness of the bar while serving the guests, making the drinks for them in the process, and creating a fully rounded, bar experience for guests.

If you’re looking for how much a bartender makes we covered that in our How Much Do Bartenders Make? article, and, if you think being a bartender is for you, check out the Bar Basics course from A Bar Above. It teaches you everything you need to know about cocktails and cocktailing basics!

A Bartending Mixologist or a Mixologist Bartender?

A bartender can still be passionate about great drinks, and a mixologist can still be passionate about creating excellent hospitality experiences for people that go beyond just the drinks. The bottom line, when comparing bartending and mixology, is that it is very very rare that you’ll find someone who fits neatly into either the mixologist or the bartender box.

The industry needs both bartending and mixology to continue moving forward, so it also needs both the bartender and the mixologist. The skills sets of both are necessary to be successful in either position, and only strengthen each other. That is why we would recommend you to take both the Bar Basics course and Mixology certification to give yourself a well rounded set of skills and increase your employability!

Tom Drake
Tom Drake

Founder of Crafty Bartending, Tom is passionate about the hospitality industry. For the past 5 years, he has traveled around Europe, Asia, & Australia working as a professional bartender & bar manager. He loves consuming cookies, big macs, beer and wine.

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