Bartending can be a lucrative side hustle or a full-time job, and offers a number of benefits.
For example, bartenders often work flexible schedules and have the chance to earn a lot of money in engaging, fast-paced work.
Plus, bars are busiest during nights and weekends, which makes becoming a bartender a popular side hustle.
This article will cover the most important information you should know if you’re considering bartending as a side hustle. Keep in mind that available bartending opportunities depend on your location and previous service industry experience.
Tess Thompson from Money Done Right contributed this post.
Know the Law
Even though 21 is the legal minimum drinking age across the country, you don’t necessarily need to be 21 to work as a bartender. In fact, many states allow you to start bartending at age 18.
This makes it a great part-time job for college students and other young people who may not have enough experience to earn as much money in another position.
Of course, individual employers may have their own rules separate from the laws in your state.
Bartending Certification and Licensing
While certification isn’t necessary to become a bartender in every state, it’s often the best way to demonstrate your capabilities and become a more attractive candidate.
Different states and bars have their own requirements, so make sure to look into the rules in your area before getting a specific kind of certification. Roughly half of all states require new bartenders to earn a state-issued bartending license.
Certification courses sometimes cost a significant amount of money, so don’t invest heavily in training unless you’re serious about working as a bartender. When I was looking, I found courses as low as $9, all the way up to $600!
As long as you meet the age requirements, you can start applying to bartending jobs once you’ve acquired the relevant certification.
Work Your Way Up to Bartending
Everyone wants to work at a nice bar for higher wages and tips, but that may not be realistic for your first bartending job. Unless you have connections, you’ll need to demonstrate your skills and reliability for a while before you can get the kind of position you’re looking for.
If you’re just starting out on your journey as a bartender, your best option may be to get an entry-level job as a barback at a local bar. Barbacks are responsible for a variety of prep tasks that assist the lead bartenders including:
- replenishing stocks
- cleaning dishes
- preparing ingredients for use in drinks
Barbacking isn’t always a fun job, but it’s the best way to get into the world of bartending if you don’t have connections or previous experience. It’s much easier to work as a barback, and bars will generally hire anyone willing to perform these tasks.
As a barback, you’ll have a firsthand look at life as a bartender, and you’ll gain valuable experience working in a bar. You’ll have a much better chance of getting a bartending job once you’ve spent at least a few months doing the less glamorous work.
Learn to Make Drinks
Some of the skills you need to bartend can only be learned on the job, but you can improve your mixology skills before you’re hired as a bartender. Learning to make drinks is obviously one of the most important aspects of becoming a better bartender, and it’s easy to get better at home.
And fun to practice!
The first step toward becoming a reliable bartender is learning how to make simple, well-known drinks like:
- old fashioneds
Every bartender should be able to put together the most common orders quickly without having to check ingredients or ratios.
You can start developing your own tastes as a bartender once you’ve mastered the basics. You’ll naturally buy more ingredients for your home bar as you expand your range of drinks, and you can always experiment with new combinations to see what works and what doesn’t.
You’ll spend most of your time making drinks on the menu once you get a job as a bartender, but some customers may ask for something that isn’t on the menu or even a custom drink.
The best bartenders can craft interesting one-off drinks based on their knowledge of the ingredients they have on hand.
Develop People Skills
You generally won’t need to talk with customers as a barback, but that rapport becomes incredibly important once you’re working as a bartender. This not only to makes your customers feel valued but also helps you earn more tips.
While making great drinks and tracking orders are the most basic bartending skills, they’re the most replaceable. The best bartenders also know how to have good interactions with all kinds of customers.
Keep in mind that you’ll have different types of conversations working different shifts. During the afternoon or weekday nights, for example, you may only have a few customers in the bar at any given time. In this situation, you’ll need to have more personal interactions while maintaining a positive vibe.
Things get more complicated once you start working busier shifts. In addition to putting drinks together and monitoring a larger number of orders, you’ll also want to have quicker conversations with each customer.
It’s important to stay on top of all responsibilities without appearing stressed or rushed.
You might think that bartending is all about making drinks and having conversations, but it involves a surprising amount of physical labor! A long shift can be incredibly strenuous, especially if you aren’t prepared for the physical stress involved in working at a bar.
The most obvious difficulty that comes with bartending is simply working an entire shift on your feet.
If you’re coming from school or a traditional office job, you may not anticipate how difficult it can be to remain standing for hours on end. You’ll also be bending down and moving from place to place throughout your shift.
With that in mind, you should know what you’re getting into before taking a job as a bartender.
If you’re hired, make sure to invest in some durable shoes that will keep your feet comfortable at work. Remember to take regular breaks to keep your body fresh.
Keep Looking for Bartending Opportunities
It’s easy to settle into a routine once you get your first bartending job, but you should always be on the hunt for a better position.
Each new job makes you a better hire in the future, so don’t stop looking for a new job after getting one you’re satisfied with—if you’ve worked in a decent bar for a few months, for example, there’s a good chance you could move up if you’re willing to take the time to look through the listings.
This tip is especially relevant for people who are interested in upgrading their bartending work from a side hustle to a full-time job.
While bartending is great as a second job or a part-time job for students, you shouldn’t rule out the possibility of turning it into your main source of income, especially as you start to work at nicer (and more expensive) locations.
What Education Do Bartenders Need?
While there are no college degrees or formal education requirements, bartending school is commonly recommended as a way to get started as a bartender or add to your existing skill set.
There’s no standardized curriculum or certification involved in these courses, though.
That lack of standardization and real-world experience often makes bartending school less valuable than simply working as a barback. If you’re interested in taking a bartending class, remember that different programs aren’t created equally. Look for a course with a strong placement record.
Keep in mind that cheaper classes aren’t necessarily a better deal if they don’t advance your career or improve your skills. You can expect to spend at least several hundred dollars on a good bartending program, but it may be a worthwhile investment if it helps you get better jobs.
How Much Can Bartenders Make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that bartenders earn a median hourly rate of $10.84, and an annualized income of just under $23,000.
On the other hand, bartenders routinely talk about earning $200 or more per night. If it’s busy and the drinks and tips are flowing, you could easily earn that much or more.
And while legally, you’ll owe taxes on any cash tips you earn (see below), my guess is most of those go unreported.
Networking as a Bartender
Networking is typically associated with more conventional jobs, but it’s an equally important skill for bartenders to develop. Personal relationships mean a lot in the hospitality industry. You never know when you’ll need to use your network to find a job or make connections with bartenders and those in other areas of the field.
You can start networking by simply acting respectfully and thoughtfully toward co-workers and being a team player whenever possible. Good performance and a strong work ethic are particularly relevant as you work your way up the ladder as a barback. If you’re planning on becoming a bartender, it’s critical to show your co-workers and manager that you’re a reliable employee.
Depending on your interests, you could also benefit from networking with regular customers working in other industries. Get to know people who consistently visit your bar, both for networking opportunities and simply to learn more about them. Personal connections are often some of the most rewarding parts of being a bartender.
Once you’re working as a bartender, order some business cards and give them to potential contacts whenever the opportunity arises. Most connections probably won’t amount to anything, but there’s always a chance that they’ll lead to something you would have missed out on. You could also build relationships with people working in other cities in case you want to move your bartending career somewhere else.
The most common mistake people make while networking is waiting until they need a connection. It’s difficult to find what you’re looking for on short notice, so you’ll have a much better chance if you already have a list of contacts. A strong network will make a big difference if you lose your current job or need a change of scenery.
What Sucks About Bartending?
Bartending is a great opportunity that works for a wide range of people, but you should have realistic expectations when you’re starting out. You’re more likely to be disappointed if you’re only thinking about the positive, glamorous aspects of bartending.
A Weird Work Schedule
It might sound nice to work nights and have your days free, but bartenders often come to resent their work schedules over time. Most of your friends and family will likely be working during the day, and they’ll be off while you’re busy working in the evenings.
Bartending can also have a significant impact on your sleep schedule, especially if you start taking on night shifts at a bar that’s open late.
It can be difficult to balance getting enough sleep with being awake during the day and maintaining your usual lifestyle. The usual bartending schedule comes with a variety of unique challenges that you don’t experience while working a typical 9-5.
You’ll Owe Taxes on Cash Tips
Paying taxes on your earnings isn’t exactly a negative, but it’s something to be aware of as a new bartender.
Some people think they can keep 100% of their cash tips and only pay taxes on their salary. But the truth is you’re liable for taxes on your entire income, including tips.
With that in mind, it’s important to plan for taxes in advance. That means saving a percentage of your cash tips based on your expected effective rate for the upcoming tax season.
If you think you’ll owe 25% of your income, for example, make sure to track your cash tips carefully and put 25% into a savings account.
Socializing (or Listening to People’s Problems)
Bartending is primarily about making drinks, but interacting with customers is also a critical skill for bartenders to develop. If you’re used to an office job, you may need some time to adjust to making conversation with customers for an entire shift.
On the other hand, some bartenders feel that this aspect of the job makes shifts pass more quickly. Whether or not bartending is right for you is heavily dependent on your personality.
Do you have the mental energy to take on a job that involves so much socializing? (And potentially listening to customer’s problems!)
While drinking on the job is probably frowned upon, it can be hard to avoid when you’re surrounded by others who are drinking. This can of course lead to a dangerous habit and potential downward spiral.
If your state still allows indoor smoking, prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke is a serious downside as well.
Another potential health concern bartenders report is hearing loss from working in loud venues.
Becoming a Bartender: Conclusion
Bartending is one of the most lucrative side hustles for people who work or attend school during the day, and it can even be a great full-time position for the right person. These tips will help you get started and work your way up to your ideal bartending job.
Alternatives to Becoming a Bartender
If your main goal is to make extra money, becoming a bartender certainly isn’t the only way.
Here are some of the leading options I think might be a good fit.
Focus Groups, Consumer Research Studies, and Surveys
You can find several companies that facilitate online and in-person consumer research studies and focus groups.
If you have downtime during your day or evenings, you might be interested in these online survey sites and apps. Generally they pay very little, but it can add up, and they’ve very easy to do:
- Swagbucks – Earn up to $35 a survey with this mega-popular app, and get a $10 bonus just for signing up!
- Survey Junkie – Earn up to $40 a month and cash out beginning at just $5.
- YouGov - Long-running survey panel, with data often cited in the media.
- Pinecone Research – Earn $3 for each 15-20 minute survey. They'll send you a $3 check after your first one.
- InboxDollars – Get a $5 bonus just for signing up!
- Branded Surveys – One of the best-rated survey sites with millions paid out.
- American Consumer Opinion – Join millions of free members and earn up to $50 per survey.
Driving for Dollars
And if you don’t like the idea of having strangers in your car, there are some interesting delivery options as well, including:
- Uber Eats – Ride, drive, or walk to make local takeout deliveries in your town and earn up to $25 an hour doing so.
- DoorDash – Make up to $25 an hour* as a food delivery driver for DoorDash. Here’s our full DoorDash driver review.
- Instacart – Get paid to shop for and deliver other people’s groceries. Enjoy weekly payouts and a flexible schedule. Check out our full Instacart Shopper review here, with insights from a side hustler earning an extra $450-500 a week.
*For illustrative purposes only, actual earnings may differ and depend on expenses. Hourly pay is calculated using average Dasher payouts while on a delivery (from the time you accept an order until the time you drop it off) and includes compensation from peak pay, tips, and other incentives.
Mobile Notary Service
Several Side Hustle Nation readers have reported great success ($1500 a month and up!) becoming loan signing agents.
Check the link above to learn more about how this side hustle works and why it might just be “the best kept secret in real estate.”
All of these allow you to work similarly flexible nights and weekends, just like in bartending. They have their own sets of pros and cons, so make sure to explore your money making options and see what makes the most sense for you!
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