Convict To Cocktails: Can A Felon Become A Bartender?

can a felon become a bartender
Joe | Last Updated: November 27, 2023
I'm Joe, a veteran bartender with over a decade in the industry and a burning passion for mixing drinks.

As humans, we all make mistakes, and those mistakes can sometimes cost us dearly, making them incredibly difficult to bounce back from.

For those with a criminal record, particularly those who have been convicted of a felony, pursuing a career in any industry may present its challenges.

In this post, we’re going to explore the various factors involved in whether bartending is felon friendly and answer a question that many felons are keen to learn the answer to; Can a felon become a bartender?

Some states in the US have laws that restrict felons from obtaining certain licenses and certificates necessary to work in the hospitality industry.

But these laws vary from state to state and licenses aren’t always necessary to get into bartending jobs.

Let’s take a closer look…

Can A Felon Be A Bartender?

Laws around whether a felon can be a bartender vary from state to state, but generally throughout the US, YES, felons can become bartenders without any laws prohibiting them, except for in Indiana, Washington, and Kansas.

This means that felons outside of these three states can apply to obtain their license and become bartenders, but some bartending schools and employers may have hesitations depending on your conviction.

For example, violent crimes, sexually related crimes, and drug crimes may make it more difficult for a person to become licensed as a bartender than someone with a non-violent offense such as tax fraud.

can a felon become a bartender
Photo by Benedetta Cauzzi

The main aspect of a bartender’s role is working directly with customers, so bartending schools and employers will take into account the type of felony you have to determine if you’re a good fit for their establishment.

Equally, if you have a drug or alcohol-related conviction this may also cause complications with becoming a bartender due to the nature of the job.

Can Felons Get A Bartending License?

Yes, felons can obtain a bartending license. However, it is recommended that they wait five years after completing their sentence before doing so.

Some bartending schools advise that felons can complete the required training to become licensed, but cannot obtain certification there.

This is why it’s important to contact the bartending school you’re considering enrolling in beforehand to ensure you’re able to complete the school and become certified without issue.

Most bartending schools will have no issue enrolling a felon, but as mentioned earlier, the type of felony you have may play a role in whether you’re accepted.

Drug or alcohol-related convictions will be a major concern for the bartending school, as will convictions involving violence and sexual offenses.

It’s important to be mindful that whilst the bartending school may allow you to obtain a license, the difficulty may come in finding a bartending job.

Do Bartenders Even Need A License?

No, you don’t need a license to work as a bartender, and some employers may hire you without one so long as you are fully transparent about your history and experience.

If you’ve worked as a bartender in the past, there’s a higher likelihood that you’ll be hired if you have a felony and can prove that you’re rehabilitated.

Having a felony does not prevent someone from being an excellent bartender and many bar managers are well aware of this.

can a felon become a bartender
Image by shooterbenjamin

So if you’ve got the necessary skill set and experience, don’t let having a felony put you off from bartending roles as you may well be able to secure one.

Just be sure to be incredibly transparent with the employer and explain your circumstances during the interview process.

Are There Background Checks In Bartending?

Background checks in the bartending industry are rare, but they do happen. It all depends on the type of establishment you work in, with larger and more established bars being more likely to run a background check.

If you apply for a large chain bar with establishments all over the country, there’s a much higher chance that they will run a background check on you.

Whereas smaller establishments are unlikely to run any kind of background check, BUT, it’s still important to be transparent and clear about your felony.

Bartending schools may also require a background check or inquire about your history, but again this is rare and doesn’t happen in most schools.

Oftentimes bartending schools simply require you to pay the admission fee and then they are happy to enroll you in the course.

The hard part begins once you’ve completed bartending school and are certified, as it’s more likely that a background check will be run during the hiring process of employment.

My advice is to be open and upfront about your history with or without a background check, this shows that you’re being fully transparent and are not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.

If the bar manager can see that you’re a decent person and will be a good fit for the role, it’s unlikely that they will hold having a felony over you (depending on the felony of course).

Just be mindful of the fact that at any point during the hiring process, they may ask for a background check, so it’s best to be upfront about it from the outset.

Steps To Take To Start The Process

Now that you know there are no laws stopping you from becoming a bartender, aside from in the states of Washington, Indiana, and Kansas, let’s take a look at the steps to take to start the process.

  1. Start by taking a look at bartending schools in your state and find one that you’re interested in
  2. Contact the bartending school and explain your circumstances and the felony you have
  3. Complete the course and become certified
  4. Scrub up your resume and begin applying for bartending jobs in your area
  5. During the interview process, be upfront about your felony to the hiring manager and again explain your circumstances
  6. Repeat until hired

Whilst it may take longer for you to become a bartender with a felony, there’s nothing stopping you.

It’s an industry that is quite relaxed with regard to rules and one that accepts people from all walks of life.

Don’t be discouraged if it’s taking you longer than expected to find interviews, and consider physically handing in your resume to bars in your area as opposed to applying online.

can a felon become a bartender
Photo by Jean Pier Gomez

This gives bar managers a chance to meet you in person and get a feel for what you’re actually like as a person.

It may even be an idea to start working as a barback if you have no prior experience, this will give you a chance to learn the ropes of working behind a bar and may mean you don’t need to attend a bartending school.

If you’re eligible, it’s a good idea to get your felony expunged when the opportunity arises, this will give you a clean slate and a much higher chance of succeeding in the bartending industry.

Wrapping Up

To sum up, YES, felons can become bartenders. In most states, there are now laws preventing a convicted felon from becoming a bartender, aside from in Washington, Indiana, and Kansas.

We all make mistakes, but it’s how we move past and overcome those mistakes that define us as individuals.

Don’t let having a felony stop you from becoming a bartender if that’s what you want to do, just be upfront and honest with the bar manager and they will hopefully give you a chance.

If there’s one industry that is most likely to hire a felon, it’s bartending. We’re all for self-expression and individuality here, and we’re all for giving good people who made an honest mistake a chance.

Be bold, persistent, and patient and I’m confident you’ll find the job you’re looking for.

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