Bartending Law: Do Bartenders Need A License?

do bartenders need a license
Joe | Last Updated: November 24, 2023
I'm Joe, a veteran bartender with over a decade in the industry and a burning passion for mixing drinks.

Bartending is an AWESOME career to get into, it’s a booming industry that is fun, fast-paced, and incredibly rewarding, with a sprinkle of hard work (wink-wink).

It has a low barrier to entry with few requirements aside from a smile and good conversation, but are there any legal requirements to becoming a bartender?

Whether you’re an aspiring bartender that’s looking to get into the industry or a bar owner looking to hire more staff, you’ve likely come across the topic of bartending licenses.

In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at the legalities of becoming a bartender and answer a common question that often comes up when discussing the topic. Do bartenders need a license?

By the end of this post, you’ll know all there is about who needs a bartending license, how to get one, and the difference between a license and a certification.

So let’s get to it…

Do Bartenders Need A License?

The requirements for bartending licenses vary depending on where you’re situated in the world, in the United States, some states require a bartender to be licensed or obtain certification whilst others do not.

A bartending license is a document that verifies that an individual has completed the necessary training or education to work as a bartender, similar to a driving license, only that it permits the sale of alcohol instead.

The license typically indicates that the holder has been trained in responsibly serving alcohol, legal regulations surrounding alcohol, safety procedures, and basic training for the role of a bartender.

Licenses are used to ensure that bartenders are knowledgeable and trained about the laws surrounding alcohol as well as best practices to serve alcohol responsibly.

do bartenders need a license
Image by QuantFoto

Bartending licenses are certified and regulated by the state government rather than at a federal level, with the state government having the ability to change and establish its own requirements based on what they see fit.

The training provided when obtaining a license covers many topics including the effects of alcohol, signs of intoxication, how to reduce conflict, learning when to refuse service, and much more.

Whilst the requirements for needing a bartending license vary from state to state, it’s still a very useful program to go through for any bartender looking to scrub up on their knowledge.

Not only will it provide you with extra training, but it also gives you an advantage over other bartenders should you apply for other bartending roles.

What States Require A Bartending License?

Almost half of all US states require bartenders to hold a state-issued license, so it’s important to check the laws in your state if you are planning on becoming a bartender.

In the states where a bartending license is not required by the bartender, the license will often be held by the bar owner or insurance provider.

But as mentioned above, even if you live in a state where a license is not required it’s still a good idea to hold one as you’ll be up to date on the laws surrounding alcohol and have a leg up on the competition.

Unlike bartending school, it isn’t a big ordeal to obtain a basic bartending license, with most states leaving the training length up to the provider which can often be between 2 and 4 hours long and often costs $10 – $30.

Below are just some of the states where a bartenders license is mandatory, but keep in mind these are subject to change;

  • Washington
  • Arizona
  • Wyoming
  • Alaska
  • New Mexico
  • Oregon
  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut

Where Is A Bartending License Not Required

Truthfully, there is no such thing as a “bartending license”, just different permits and certifications that permit the sale of alcohol in different states.

The majority of states in the US do not require a bartender to hold any “license”, but they are still required to follow the laws and regulations surrounding the sale of alcohol.

Outside of the US, in the UK for example, bartenders are not required to hold a license to be employed in a pub or business that sells alcohol.

do bartenders need a license
Image by Kate Millet

The business owner or designated premises supervisor will hold the license which permits staff to legally serve alcohol in that establishment.

France, Spain, New Zealand, Germany, and many other countries follow the same process where the bartender is not required to hold a license, and instead, they are permitted to serve alcohol under the business owner’s license.

Bartending License vs Certification

When discussing bartending licenses and certification, wires can get crossed easily as they seem like the same thing, but are in fact very different.

A bartending “license” is a formal authorization granted by a government agency that permits the individual to work as a bartender and serve alcohol.

Licenses are typically obtained in as little as two hours and cost up to $30, they’re easy to obtain and are brief training courses on how to serve alcohol responsibly.

On the other hand, bartending certification is often completed by attending a bartending school and is a much more rigorous form of training.

Bartending certification is voluntary training that demonstrates an individual’s knowledge and skills as a bartender, often completed by attending a bartending school.

These certifications are usually completed over a two to three weeks timeframe and last for around 40 hours total, ensuring that the person is ready and confident to work behind a bar.

The bartending certification covers topics such as mixology, serving customers, laws and regulations, bar management, and much more.

It’s a great way for beginners to gain the training and knowledge they need to hit the ground running when they do secure a role as a bartender.

Costs of bartender certification vary depending on the school and location, but the price is usually somewhere between $200 – $600.

How To Get A Bartending License

You’ll be glad to know that you don’t need to attend a formal bartending school to obtain a license. It’s actually very straightforward and doesn’t require much time or cost.

do bartenders need a license
Image by Tomas

There are many ways to obtain your bartending license from the comfort of your own home, and tests/courses can all be done online.

Below are the steps to obtaining a bartending license.

  1. Research local requirements – check your state’s bartending requirements to ensure you’re completing the correct certification.
  2. Complete the training or education – depending on the state, you may be required to complete a formal training program or education to obtain your license. This is likely a short course covering alcohol service, laws, hygiene, and more.
  3. Pass an exam – some jurisdictions may require you to pass an exam, so once you feel ready and have completed your training you should apply to take the exam.
  4. Submit an application for the license – once the exam is passed, you’ll need to apply for your license by submitting an application to the appropriate government authority.
  5. Obtain your license – once you’ve passed the examination and submitted your application, your license will usually arrive 2 – 3 weeks after you applied, then you’re good to go!

Wrapping Up

To wrap up, most people will NOT need a bartending license, BUT, almost half of the states in the US do require bartenders to hold a license, so you’ll need to check your state’s requirements to stay on the right side of the law.

If you’re outside of the US, there’s a good chance that you’ll be covered by the business owner’s bartending license, but you should also check with your local authority to be on the safe side.

There are many places where holding a license is not required at all, but I recommend everyone looking to get into the industry to get one, purely because it’s an advantage when applying for jobs in the bartending industry.

Ultimately, whether or not you need a bartending license will depend on your location, so it’s crucial that you check the laws in your state before you take on work as a bartender.

Thanks for taking the time to learn more about the laws and regulations surrounding becoming a bartender.

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed learning more about this topic and I’ll see you in the next one.

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