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Bartending License vs. Certification

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Bartenders can earn two significant credentials – a bartending license and a bartending certification. Although you’ll often hear people use these two terms interchangeably, they’re not the same.

Before you add a Bartender to your team, you need to better understand the bartending license vs. certification distinction. That way, you’ll be sure you hire someone who meets all legal requirements and has the skills you’re looking for.

Luckily, grasping the difference between these two credentials isn’t difficult. In this article, we define both roles and discuss the main differences between them.

What Is a Bartending License?

A bartending license is an official document that individuals in some states need to legally serve alcohol. It proves that they’ve successfully completed training in responsible alcohol service.

In states that don’t require this document, anyone can work as a Bartender, as long as they’re old enough and meet other criteria. This is the case in both New York and Florida.

Bartenders have to renew their bartending license on a regular basis to continue working in the role. The amount of years a Bartender license is valid depends on the state they work in.

What Is a Bartending Certification?

A bartending certification serves as proof that an individual has completed training in a bartending school. However, this isn’t a legal document and only serves to show that they’ve passed a bartending course.

There are different types of schools that offer bartending certification. Some of them offer classroom training and cover drink-making, the use of bar tools and other aspects of working behind the bar. Others typically take the form of online courses and focus only on responsible alcohol service.

Also, some bartending schools offer mixology training but the roles of a Bartender and a Mixologist aren’t the same. There are courses designed specifically for those who want to become a Mixologist.

Differences between License vs. Certification

So, what’s the main difference between a bartending license and a bartending certification? The former is a legal requirement to serve alcohol in some areas while the latter is a voluntary credential they can earn.

Programs that offer a Bartender license focus solely on responsible alcohol service. They teach candidates how to spot minors trying to order liquor, deal with intoxicated customers and de-escalate conflicts.

Programs that offer a Bartender certification may but don’t always touch on this subject. Those that offer practical training usually focus more on mixing alcoholic beverages and other necessary skills for working behind the bar.

Some schools, however, offer both comprehensive training for Bartenders and teach responsible alcohol service.

To further understand the bartending license vs. certification distinction, consult the table below:

FeatureBartending LicenseBartending Certification
Legal requirementYes, in some statesNone
PurposeEnsure compliance with local laws regarding the service of alcoholEnhance bartending skills and learn about alcoholic beverages
Program contentAlcohol laws, practices for serving alcohol responsiblyDrink-making, bar management, customer service

It’s also important to mention that an individual can earn a bartending license by becoming a certified Bartender. This is because some courses that offer certification also comply with licensing laws.

For example, TIPS certification courses are accepted nationwide. If an individual earns a TIPS certification for their state, they also receive a valid bartending license.

Keep in mind that this isn’t the case with all certification courses. Free Bartending courses can help improve skills of working behind the bar but they don’t grant a bartending license.

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