Because bartending involves handling alcohol, which is stiffly regulated in many areas, bartenders may wonder what types of permits and licenses are necessary to complete their job in compliance with the law. Adding to the complication is that licensing laws vary depending on your location. Check with local authorities to be completely sure you are in compliance.
Bartenders don’t just casually pour and serve alcohol to customers. Bartending involves many interactions with liquor, including measuring ounces or alcohol, assisting with inventory counts of alcohol stock and assisting with ordering liquor for the bar or eating establishment. Bartenders must also use knowledge of safe alcohol consumption to regulate customer intake to reduce over-intoxication incidents, drunk driving accidents and disorderly conduct. To be a bartender, you must also be familiar with guidelines determining a person’s age and your legal rights in refusing to serve a particular individual. Because of the responsibility, many bartenders must seek professional permits.
Liquor licenses are commonly defined as licenses held by establishments (such as bars, nightclubs and restaurants) to sell alcohol. These venues may not legally sell alcohol without a liquor license. These licenses can be complicated and expensive, particularly for areas where residents are resistant to businesses selling alcohol or where there is already a high concentration of businesses selling alcohol. In general, while venues are required to hold a liquor license, you don’t need a liquor license to be a bartender. You need other documentation, however.
As with any job, bartenders must provide documentation of a legal right to work in the U.S. This includes documenting identity (through a state-issued driver’s license, for example) and Social Security number. Additionally, most bartenders must prove that they’re over age 21 to pour liquor. Some establishments in some locations allow employees over age 18 to pour beer and wine.
Some states, including Wisconsin, require bartenders to hold a professional bartending license (although this is different from a liquor license.) Bartenders must attend a four-hour training course and pass an exam before receiving their bartending license. Licenses may be valid for two years, after which bartenders must renew by completing the training course and exam again. Bartenders may lose their bartending license for a variety of reasons, including selling to underage drinkers, being convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substances, or selling alcohol after hours. Other states, such as California, implement voluntary training programs where bartenders can undergo training and pass exams to hold a special license indicating that they’ve completed the process.
Morgan Rush is a California journalist specializing in news, business writing, fitness and travel. He's written for numerous publications at the national, state and local level, including newspapers, magazines and websites. Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, San Diego.