Bartending can be a great gig: working in a lively social environment, meeting interesting customers, leaving work with cash in hand and learning to make new drinks. Many bartenders work at night, leaving days free to finish college or work another job. Although bartending can be fun, bartenders are still subject to legal requirements governing the industry. In Wisconsin, this means applying for a bartender license. Meeting bartender license requirements for Wisconsin is the first step toward becoming a professional bartender in that state.
Bartender license requirements are outlined by Wisconsin statutes 125.04 and 125.17. If you’re planning to complete online or in-person coursework to satisfy requirements, make sure bartending schools are in compliance with regulations set forth in these statutes. Qualified schools will state that they are in compliance with these statutes in promotional materials; coursework must be approved by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
In order to receive a Wisconsin bartender license, applicants are required to be over age 18, meet criminal record requirements and be certified by an approved school, according to the website Wisconsin Responsible Serving. You do not need to currently hold a bartending job in order to apply for and receive a Wisconsin bartender license. Licenses are only valid within your municipality; if you move, you’ll need to seek additional licensing. Municipalities are defined as the city, town or village where you live; requirements and regulations may vary depending on location.
Bartenders aren’t the only workers required to earn this certification; it’s called a “bartender” license informally, but in fact applies to all workers serving alcohol in Wisconsin. Bar backs, servers, managers and liquor store clerks must also be licensed, according to the website Wisconsin Bartender License.
You can meet bartender license requirements by completing in-person or online courses; these may last up to four hours. After direct instruction, you’ll be required to complete an exam demonstrating content mastery. Online programs may permit you to print your completion certificate directly from the company website. Topics may include identifying overly intoxicated customers, properly checking IDs and liabilities involved with bartending.
Although you must meet criminal record requirements to receive your Wisconsin bartender license, applications won’t be immediately rejected if criminal activity appears in your background check, according to the site Serving Alcohol. Instead, application reviewers will evaluate the nature of your crime, note how much time has elapsed since the crime occurred and examine your standing in the community before deciding whether to approve or reject your application.
Certain exceptions apply to Wisconsin bartender licenses. You may bartend under the direct observation of a licensed bartender, even if you don’t hold a bartending license yourself. (This can create scheduling difficulties for restaurant or bar managers, however, so you may increase desirability by completing bartender license requirements.) You may also bartend without a Wisconsin bartender license if you’ve received a provisional license indicating that you’re currently completing required coursework. Bartenders may also renew their license without completing coursework in certain circumstances.
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.