Bartending is portrayed as a glamorous profession, being featured in movies and television shows where the bartender knows fancy tricks or gives advice to his customers. Whether you want to make a lot of tips at a packed club or if you just want a more casual job working for your local bar, bartending school is one of the best ways to get your foot in the door. I have written this article from my first-person experience attending the Professional Bartending School of Knoxville in Tennessee, and I hope I’m able to give readers a clear description of what they might expect if they’re thinking of going to bartending school.
The tuition for my personal experience was around $600, but you should contact your preferred bartending school to check their individual rates. Bartenders can earn $100-$300 a night on average and are eligible for a variety of different jobs, such as private parties and cruise ships. Experience is important, and bartending school would look good on any potential bartender’s resume.
The Alcohol Beverage Commission requires potential bartenders to complete a short course on alcohol safety and serving procedures. You will learn about blood-alcohol content (BAC), signs of intoxication, laws regarding alcohol, how to deal with an intoxicated individual, and other important information that will be helpful in your new profession. The ABC course will probably take around five hours and the current cost of the class is around $70. It will be separate from the actual bartending class, and will earn you an ABC card that lets you serve alcohol legally.
There are a few different options when considering the scheduling of your bartending classes. The Professional Bartending School of Knoxville currently has weekly morning classes from 10am-2pm and night classes from 6pm-10pm. Morning or night classes will last two weeks. They also offer a weekend class for five weeks on Saturday from 10am-6pm. They will work with you on your schedule, and even offer an express course where you can take two classes in a single day and be done with the course in one week instead of two.
The Express Course
I chose to finish the course in one week, because I was taking paid time off from work to complete it. Since they offered to let me do it in one week instead of two, the choice made sense. Be warned, taking two classes in one day will be very intense. For anyone with the time to spare I would strongly recommend choosing either morning or night classes, but not both. You will have quizzes, tests, and recipes to memorize. Because of the class times I had four hours between classes to eat my lunch, study, and practice (more on this later). The extra week would have given me more time to study and become familiar with the skills. Instead, I had to cram.
The bar where you perform your skills test looks like it’s full of expensive liquor, ready to be served… Or spilled by your fumbling beginner’s hands. Try not to worry though, because the bottles are full of cheap liquid made to look like the actual stuff. The contents were apparently a business secret, but the clear liquid was just water. As part of our bar-cleaning responsibilities at the end of the day we were asked to refill the “liquor” bottles using jugs containing their appropriately colored liquid representations. For bottles claiming to be liquors such as vodka and gin, as well as other clear liquors, we just used tap water. As silly as it seems, the bottles looked authentic on the shelves, adding to the excitement of learning to be a bartender.
The bartending course consisted of ten four-hour classes. Morning classes did odd numbered chapters and night classes did even numbers. For me, this meant two chapters a day for a week, but anyone doing one class a day would do the other chapters during their second week of classes. The chapters covered different kinds of drinks, like martinis, highballs, shots, tall drinks, beer and wine, etc. There were daily quizzes, a written test, and a skills test.
The Skills Test
The skills test was the hardest part for me. During my time at bartending school we were asked to practice making drinks, as I mentioned above. We usually did this during the second half of each class. Also, as students, we were allowed to use the skills area while class wasn’t in session. Sometimes, during the four hours between classes, I would go back to the classroom and practice making drinks. For the skills test students must have a quick memory of the recipes they learn, making a specific number of drinks in a set amount of time (I want to say we had to make twelve drinks in five minutes, but I’m not sure, and don’t want to mislead anyone). You will have to know the right glass, if the drink requires ice, the right ingredients, where the appropriate liquors are located, and the right garnish. By the end of the class you should know pouring techniques, and will need to be able to pour something as small as half an ounce of liquid strait from the bottle, and with two hands at once to be able to make the time limit. The skills test can be nerve-racking, but completing it successfully is a huge accomplishment.
Learning to bartend isn’t as simple as someone might think. There are lots of things to consider besides pouring beer (we did that too, but it wasn’t a major part of our training), and I know I haven’t included every single step of the process. However, these are the things that I remember the most about bartending school, and will probably be the most significant features of your training as well. This article should help you prepare for the course, but the preparations are yours to make. Become familiar with the different kinds of drinks, know what a dry martini is and how to make it extra dry. Learn how to garnish and get familiar with tools like the shaker, something that you’ll need to use during the skills test. Above all, have fun. A happy bartender is a bartender that earns lots of tips.