So you’ve been looking into online bartending school and possibly in-person bartending classes. Now, you’re trying to decide whether or not they’re worth attending.
Sound about right?
Good. The chances are, you’ve seen that there are 2 answers commonly given to people who are wondering whether bartending school (online or otherwise) is worth it.
In the blue corner, you have the bartender who says it’s a complete waste of time and money. “Bartending can only be learned on the job. Period!”
In the red corner, you have the bartender who says that bartending school helped them learn the skills & develop the confidence necessary to land their first bartending job.
So who’s right?
Well, they’re both right in their own way. Bartending, as a skill, is primarily learned & practiced on the job. It’s true that no amount of theory can teach you what’s it like to be a bartender similarly to how no amount of theory can teach you how to drive a car.
You need experience to develop the craft behind tending bar.
It’s also true that online bartending school isn’t necessary to land a job. Plenty of bartenders got to where they are today without ever formally attending one. The myth of a bartending license is just that… A myth.
However, although online bartending school isn’t necessary, the real question that we should be asking is, is it useful?
And this is where the bartending school advocates have got it 100% right.
Is Online Bartending School Useful?
How could it not be?
Instead of having to learn everything you need about bartending on-the-job while you have a million and 1 things to do, you get to learn the fundamentals & theory of bartending from the comfort of your own home.
That means that you won’t have to constantly annoy your bar manager/fellow bartenders by asking them unnecessary questions day-in & day-out. Instead, you can save everyone’s time (especially your own) by learning the fundamentals on your own.
Even if you do take the traditional route (i.e. you don’t attend bartending classes), there’s a lot to learn about bartending. And no matter how talented you are, you won’t be able to simply ‘learn it all’ on-the-job.
Some form of study will be necessary to learn about spirits, beer, wine, cocktails, customer service and the responsible service of alcohol.
That is unless you want to be the bartender who can’t hold a conversation with their customers about what you’re pouring…
Finally, having learned about bartending before you land your first job shows the bar manager that you have the willingness to learn.
To them, that’s a VERY good sign that you show potential. Because along with having the right personality, having the willingness to learn is one of the most important qualities to becoming a great bartender!
It’s important to realize that online bartending school (and in-person bartending classes) won’t, and can’t, make you an amazing bartender. Developing the skill & composure of a great bartender requires on-the-job experience. And plenty of it!
Online bartending courses can help kick-start your career by teaching you how to get started in the industry, the fundamentals & theory of bartending, and about the most important cocktail recipes & techniques.
But you need to apply what you learn in a real-life bar setting to excel.
If you combine online bartending school with on-the-job experience, you’ve come across a great combo.
To summarise, all-in-all YES, online bartending school is useful. As long as you use it for its proper purpose.
Alternatives: Read Books & Blogs, Watch YouTube Videos.
If you’re not convinced bartending school is worth it, your best alternative is to read books & blogs and watch YouTube videos. If you want to save money, time and/or you’re not entirely sure that you want to be a bartender yet, this is your way around bartending school.
And whilst I recommend this for some people, this approach ends up sacrificing time for money. Instead of following a structured bartending course, you end up spending precious time searching for the right information when you’re not even sure what the right information is!
That’s why if you’re already serious about becoming a bartender (and you have some spare cash), I recommend taking a structured bartending course. It will help you land a job quicker and you’ll make back what you spent on the course as soon as you’re hired.
Time vs money? The choice is yours.
What should you look for in an Online Bartending School?
Ideally, any online bartending school/class should complement the experience you gain on-the-job. So what should online bartending school teach you?
In general, it should cover the following 4 areas:
- Getting the job
- ‘How To’ Instructional Content
- Customer Service & Responsible Service of Alcohol Principles
Getting the Job
First and foremost, if your goal is to become a bartender, you need to learn how to become a bartender.
So the school/course you take should place an emphasis on getting the job. This means giving you a reliable job hunting strategy, resume building advice, interview preparation, and trial shift advice. You can read more about all of this here.
If fill-in-the-blank resume templates and practice interview questions are included, even better.
Secondly, the course should teach you about bartending theory and the theory of liquor, beer, wine, and cocktails. The history of bartending & cocktails is optional and not entirely necessary. But it is interesting to learn about.
‘How To’ Instructional Content
Thirdly, there should be instructional content on how to do things behind the bar. The most obvious of these being pouring draft beer, opening & serving wine, making cocktails, and pouring liquor.
Any ‘how to’ question you might have about bartending, should be covered by the course.
Customer Service Principle & Responsible Service of Alcohol
Finally, it should take you through important customer service principles (so you can make more tips!) and the responsible service of alcohol. This should include strategies for cutting drunks off, recognizing when someone’s had too much, how much alcohol is in that glass, wine vs spirits vs cocktails vs beers, etc.
**Note** No matter how thorough a ‘responsible service of alcohol’ section may be in an online bartending school/course, it’s likely you’ll still need to take a real alcohol service certification program. These programs are usually run by the government, NOT bartending schools…
Outside of the content, you should look for courses that offer ’30-day money back guarantees’ so you’re not locked into something that you immediately regret. Most online courses offer this guarantee nowadays, so I would be suspicious of any that don’t.
Also, I’d find it difficult to justify spending more than $200 on an online bartending school. Unless they’re offering something else that’s incredibly valuable (e.g. government issued responsible service of alcohol certification), anything more than $200 is too expensive.
If all those boxes get ticked, you may have found a good one!
What to Avoid
Be wary of any scammy looking websites. There are plenty out there claiming to be “THE” online bartending school. But their websites look as dodgy as a 1960’s porn set.
Avoid any that claim to offer guaranteed job placement assistance. It’s highly unlikely that they’re real and if they are, they’re probably as useless as an “exclusive” job advertisement board… Remember, Craigslist is free!
Finally, avoid any that oversell bartending certification. Being a “certified bartender” means nothing. Sure, a bartending certificate can give you a sense of accomplishment (which is great), but it won’t help you get a job. Nor is it necessary so take this certification for what it’s worth – not much!
If a school oversells the certification aspect, they may be trying to mislead you into thinking that you need to take ‘their course’ to become a bartender.
Online Bartending School Vs In-Person Programs
Most of what you learn at live bartending classes can be taught online. Video demonstrations make that easy nowadays, especially if you have the tools & equipment to practice along with them.
However, online courses won’t give you everything.
In particular, you won’t have access to a live instructor who can correct your techniques as you go or answer any questions. A decent live instructor is always going to help you learn what’s required faster.
But, you also get access to this kind of instruction when you work behind a bar. That’s why online bartending courses and on-the-job experience is such a great combo.
Another benefit to live classes is that you get to learn about bartending with a group of other aspiring bartenders. This generally makes the experience more fun, gives you more accountability to do the work, and you might even make a few good friends out of it.
The accountability side of things is important to point out because when you take an online bartending course, you don’t have that. You’re responsible for EVERYTHING! And whether or not you do the work is up to you…
Whereas in-person bartending school has a group and an instructor there to help keep you motivated.
The major benefits online bartending school has over in-person classes are that they’re cheaper, you can take the classes from the comfort of your own home, and you can constantly re-visit the lessons throughout your entire bartending career.
Is Online Bartending School for You?
If you’re self-motivated, you want to speed up the learning process, and you don’t want to invest the time or money into in-person bartending classes, online bartending school is probably for you.
Not only will it give a solid grounding in bartending, but it should give you the necessary confidence to get out there and land your first job.
If that doesn’t sound like you (self-motivation is important!), consider in-person bartending school instead. Your instructors & fellow students will help keep you motivated throughout the course and make sure that you do the necessary work.
If money is an issue or you’re still not sure about bartending, books, blogs and YouTube videos are your best alternative.
Unfortunately, I haven’t found any online bartending schools that tick all the right boxes yet. But I’m sure that will change in the near future. Right now, your best alternative is a solid bartender’s manual/starter pack.
Rob Doherty has a good one that you can take a look at here.
I’m also in the process of creating exactly that called, a field manual for new & Aspiring Bartenders. On top of an a-z bartender manual covering everything we went through above, it will come with fill-in-the-blank resume templates, proven job hunting strategies (regardless of your experience), and printable cocktail recipe flash-cards.
If that’s something you’re interested in, register your interest below and you’ll get early access at a discounted price :-).
Other than that, let me know if you’ve got any questions in the comments section below!