How To Learn Bartending 101 (Practice Makes Perfect)

how to learn bartending
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.

Whether you’re just starting out, or are a seasoned vet, there’s always more to learn and knowledge to gain which will help to enhance your bartending skills.

On the surface, bartending may seem like simply mixing ingredients to make cocktails and being polite to customers, but it’s actually much more than that.

It’s a combination of both practical and mental skills that are developed over time through repetition, and whether you’re looking to serve drinks at home or work a busy uptown bar, a bartending crash course will help you get there.

In this post, we’re going to delve deep into how to learn bartending and provide you with all of the information you need to secure your first bartending job or boss your home bar.

Learning to bartend is like learning any other profession, it takes time, practice, and dedication to become good at it but once you start to get the gist, the process speeds up and becomes easier.

Let’s get into it…

Steps To Learn Bartending

Whilst learning to create cocktails and pour drinks can be done at home, there are some elements of bartending that are only learned through on-the-job training or via a bartending course.

Nothing beats practical experience, which is why it’s so desirable when applying for jobs in any industry.

Below are some steps you can take to learn to bartend and ensure that you’re in the best position possible to excel as a bartender.

Take a bartending course

Attending a bartending course is undeniably one of the most efficient ways to learn to bartend and the many intricacies of serving customers alcohol from behind a bar.

Most bartending courses involve around 40 hours of practical and theoretical training which ensures you’re ready to hit the ground running before you start serving customers.

how to learn bartending
Photo by Jia Jia Shum

Bartending school can be completed in as little as 2 – 4 weeks and at the end of it, you’ll receive a recognized bartender certification which can increase your chances of securing a job.

By attending bartending school you’ll master the basics and learn tricks of the trade from professional bartenders which will increase your confidence drastically behind a bar.

👉 The BEST online bartending course: ABarAbove Mixology Masterclass

Learn drinks

One of the hardest parts of bartending which many newcomers struggle with is remembering cocktail recipes.

There are tons of cocktail recipes out there, with 77 IBA-recognized cocktails that are selected for use in the annual World Cocktail Competition (WCC).

This doesn’t mean that you’ll need to learn all of them, as many bars and restaurants have their own cocktail menus and may only serve a selection.

If you want to get ahead of the curve and learn bartending at home, memorizing the most popular cocktail recipes will give you an edge and help you when the time comes to serve real customers.

It can be scary when you’re serving a customer that orders 5 or 6 cocktails at a time and you don’t know where to start, so learning the basics beforehand is a great idea.

Shadow a pro

In most bartending roles, on-the-job training is provided initially to help get you up to speed with how that particular bar operates and to learn the basics.

This usually lasts for between 2 and 4 weeks before you’ll be expected to work the bar on your own, so during this time, it’s wise to ask if you can shadow the most experienced bartender for a couple of days to gain insights.

Bartenders that have worked in a particular bar for a long time will have mastered how to be incredibly efficient when serving customers, and they’ll be able to provide you with tips and tricks that you would have to find out on your own otherwise.

This can take months to figure out on your own, so don’t be scared to leverage the experience of other bartenders to help get you up to speed quickly.

Develop your social skills

Bartending isn’t just about serving drinks and learning cocktails, you’ll also need to be able to interact confidently with customers and hold a good conversation.

This is the aspect of bartending where many people struggle, especially if they’re not used to being social and find themselves nervous when speaking to new people.

A bartender’s responsibility is to help create a warm, welcoming atmosphere in the bar, and a great way to do this is by sparking up conversations with customers and being polite and friendly to guests.

The difference between a good bartender and a great one is their ability to engage confidently with customers, and many customers will return if they enjoyed your conversation.

Before you start your role as a bartender, practice opening conversations with strangers, even if this is only to say hello or for a couple of minutes.

This will drastically help you during your time as a bartender and help you build confidence in your social skills.

Practice, practice, practice

Learning to bartend isn’t easy, it’s going to take hard work and dedication, especially for those that have never worked a bar before.

That said, learning the basics will put you far ahead of someone that’s never poured a drink before and this will help you vastly when it’s time to get behind a real bar.

Whether you’re simply serving drinks at home in your home bar, or are taking on a new role in a busy bar, learning to bartend is all about repetition and practice.

how to learn bartending
Photo by Ibrahim Boran

The more time you spend behind the bar, the more confident you’ll be when it comes to making drinks and speaking with customers.

Some people take to bartending very quickly and become confident in the role within a matter of weeks, whereas for others it may take them a couple of months before they fully relax.

Just remember that everyone learns at their own pace and the more practice you can get the better.

Practice makes perfect in bartending, so be patient and don’t give up.

>> Read more: Bartending part-time: everything you need to know

What Should A Beginner Bartender Know?

Starting work as a bartender can be daunting for beginners, there are seemingly so many drinks and cocktails to learn that it can feel like you are standing at the bottom of a mountain.

But what often comes as a surprise for new bartenders is how quickly they pick up the drinks side of the job, and how much they struggle with the communication side.

As you work multiple shifts, you begin to memorize how to create each drink and become incredibly efficient when working the bar.

This is great as it helps you clear the bar when times are busy, but where bartenders struggle is when the bar is quiet and they have to engage with customers.

But it’s equally if not more important to be in communication with customers, especially when the bar is quiet.

Giving yourself a head start by developing your drinks knowledge and communication skills can be a springboard for your bartending career.

Another part of bartending that often comes as a surprise to beginners is how mentally taxing and physically exhausting it can be at times.

Be prepared to work long hours well into the early hours of the morning, and don’t expect to go home until you’ve cleaned down the bar and prepped it for the next shift.

You’ll quickly get used to standing up for the full shift and your body will adapt, but at first, it can be incredibly tiring, especially when combined with the unsociable hours.

As you gain more experience behind the bar, you’ll quickly find that serving customers is a breeze and that you can do the role on auto-pilot.

This is where you can really start to thrive and showcase your skills, perhaps you can speak with management about a promotion or maybe you want to specialize in a particular area of bartending such as mixology or flair bartending.

But be prepared for months of learning, optimizing, and messing a few drinks up without becoming disheartened.

It’s a learning process that takes time for even the most skilled bartenders.

>> Read more: 8 BEST Aprons For Bartenders

Can Bartending Be Self-Taught?

You’ll be glad to know that you don’t need to attend a bartending school or learn from an expert to become a bartender, although this certainly will speed up the process.

Bartending can be self-taught at home by reading guides like this one and practicing making cocktails by using some of the recipes and cheat sheets we have in our cocktails section.

So long as you have the necessary tools to create cocktails and bartend at home, you can certainly learn the bartending basics and how to create most cocktails relatively quickly.

Tools you’ll need to self-teach bartending:

How To Practice Bartending At Home

You don’t need to currently work as a bartender to learn the basics. Practicing bartending at home is a great way to learn the skills needed to serve alcohol and show them off to your friends.

Ensure that you have all of the necessary tools as discussed above, and begin to rehearse a cocktail sheet to become familiar with the ingredients.

Be sure that you’re stocked with the essential spirits and mixers and become comfortable with all of the tools required to make drinks.

how to practice bartending at home
Photo by Chastity Cortijo

This also includes fresh fruits such as lemons and lime as well as being stocked up on ice cubes.

Start with easy cocktails such as Mojitos, Pina Colada, Negroni, and Martinis, then gradually as you become more familiar you can begin to move on to more advanced drinks.

Learn how to serve each type of drink correctly which includes which type of glass each drink should be poured into.

Keep practicing at home until you are confident with how to make a selection of cocktails and can do so confidently.

Final Thoughts

I hope that you now know how to learn bartending and now have some actionable steps you can take to up your bartending game.

Whether you’re trying to land your next bartending job or simply impress your friends by making cocktails in your home bar, apply the steps above and I have confidence that you’re bartending skills will increase rapidly.

Remember to stay patient and that everyone learns at a different pace. If you want to really show a hiring manager that you’re fit for the role, display some drink knowledge and let your confidence shine through in the interview.

Bartending is equally about being able to communicate well with customers as it is about serving drinks and making cocktails, so keep this in mind when looking for a bartending role.

Thanks for taking the time to learn more about bartending in this post and feel free to stick around as we have lots of other useful posts that will help you develop your skills.

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