We talked to four experienced bartenders to find out if traditional bartending schools are worth the price and the lessons each took away.
Can bartending school really lead you to a successful, long-term career in the field? The best way to find out is to speak with established industry professionals to learn more about their own experiences. Was it worth the time and money they invested? Did it deliver on its promises, whether for hands-on bar skills training or job placement?
“I think there is a lot of attitude towards bartending schools because some people think they lack street cred and part of that is true—the classroom is not the bar and on-the-job training is invaluable,” says Jena Ellenwood, a bartender and cocktail educator at Dear Irving in New York City. She enrolled in a bartending class in Connecticut at the age of 20 while seeking to leave the world of waitressing behind. “However, if it helps give you the tools and confidence to go out and apply for the jobs it’s worth it.”
“The single most important thing [bartending school] gave me was the confidence to put myself forth as a barback or bar apprentice after completing the program—that I had the right to step up and be there.” – Xania V. Woodman
When you’re considering a switch to the field of bartending, the most essential benefit the right training program can provide may be just that, a quick boost to your self-belief. “As a job-changer who had a full career in another field before deciding to learn bartending, the single most important thing Crescent gave me was the confidence to put myself forth as a barback or bar apprentice after completing the program—that I had the right to step up and be there,” says Xania V. Woodman, a corporate mixologist and the lead bartender at Alpine Distilling & Alpine Pie Bar in Park City, Utah.
A common thread is that for many successful bartending school graduates, the chief benefit received wasn’t about the drink making at all. “Luckily for me I was able to use the fact that I went to bartending school and that I had outstanding work ethic to help me land a service bartender position on the weekends, and the rest is history,” says David Leon Jr. After attending ABC Bartending School in Tampa, Florida, he’s been bartending since the age of 19, currently working for the Fifty/50 Restaurant Group in Chicago and its concepts including Portsmith, Leviathan, and Apogee.
“Luckily for me I was able to use the fact that I went to bartending school and that I had outstanding work ethic to help me land a service bartender position on the weekends, and the rest is history.” – David Leon Jr.
“I learned a few skills such as how to hold a bottle correctly, free pouring, and how to accommodate over-served guests,” Leon Jr. continues. “However, when it came to the classic cocktails that were taught to us, I had to almost completely throw away that information and replace it with more refined ways of cocktail creating.”
Ultimately, mastering those basic skills is indispensable regardless of what else you immediately pick up, and those skills can provide you with a foundation for your whole career. “The most useful thing I’ve kept to this day was the ability to free pour pretty darn accurately,” Ellenwood says. She tabs those free pouring and speed skills as invaluable when she made the top eight at Speed Rack Tristate competition in 2018.
“I think bartending schools get a bad rap. There is a huge difference between bar-tending & being a bar-tender. One can be taught the other you’re born with. School teaches you the basics, but you need to practice yourself.” – Courtney Miller
It’s also important to set proper expectations. “I think bartending schools get a bad rap,” says Courtney Miller, who runs Slingadrink Party Services in Portland, Oregon. She enrolled in a two-week program at National Bartenders School in Valhalla, New York in the early 1990s.
“There is a huge difference between bar-tending & being a bar-tender,” Miller says. “One can be taught the other you’re born with. School teaches you the basics, but you need to practice yourself.”
At the end of the day, what you make of bartending school is entirely up to you. Will it instantly transform you into an award-winning craft cocktail mixologist? Probably not. But from basic skills to increasing confidence and getting your foot in the door, there are numerous benefits to consider.
Barcademy was founded by a team that is passionate about the trade. With many bartending schools being revealed as little more than cash-grabs, there was a need in the trade for something better. Barcademy created a powerful training curriculum, designed by master mixologist Paul Martin, to help hospitality professionals new to the trade develop the skills necessary to succeed behind the stick.
Barcademy accomplishes this in three ways:
- Our World-Class Bartender Training Program
- Job Placement Assistance
- Bartender News
For all of this, we charge bartenders little to no money. Instead, we rely on the top beverage alcohol brands in the industry to provide scholarships. We call it pouring it forward.