Do I Need a License to Bartend and Serve Alcohol?

Grace Lee-Weitz
Post by Grace Lee-Weitz
August 9, 2022
Do I Need a License to Bartend and Serve Alcohol?

Whether you’re a high-end cocktail emporium, one of the best watering holes around the country, or a neighborhood bar, chances are your bartenders and servers are part of the beating heart of your team. Accordingly, you need to make sure that they have all the proper licenses or certificates required to legally serve alcoholic beverages. Does a bartender or server need a license to serve or sell alcohol?

The question might be a little bit more complicated than you think because the answer varies from state to state and sometimes even county to county or city to city.

So we dug into the details to help you understand what your bartenders and servers legally need in order to serve or sell alcohol across the country.

What Is a Bartending License?

Image of patrons sitting at a will lit bar
Photography courtesy of Natasha T | Unsplash

There are two types of bartending licenses.

First, those who complete bartending school will receive a bartender license. This type of bartending license shows that a bartender has taken courses on topics such as how to make drinks, how to perform bartending duties, etc.

But second and separate from the above definition, a bartending license is an official state- or municipal-issued document that shows a bartender has passed courses on responsible alcohol serving and awareness. This type of bartending license proves that a bartender or server has taken a state-approved course and understands the laws around selling and serving alcohol in their respective state.

Rather than focusing on how to mix drinks, these bartending licenses involve training on best practices from how to avoid overserving, preventing sales of alcohol to minors or intoxicated people, learning how alcohol affects the body, and practicing general alcohol awareness.

As a business owner, the latter definition is the most important here because this type of bartending license is the legal document needed to actually tend or serve alcohol based on local laws.

Now, here’s where it gets a little tricky. Each state (and sometimes county or city) has its own laws requiring bartenders or anyone serving alcohol to obtain certain licenses.

For example, in California as of July 1st, 2022, a bartender, server, waiter, or manager who serves alcohol is required to take and pass the California Responsible Beverage Service (RBS) Training Certification.

Receiving this bartending license will allow one to legally serve alcoholic beverages in the state of California.

These are mandatory, legal requirements that vary state by state, county to county, or sometimes even city to city.

Accordingly, you need to check with your local Alcohol Beverage Authority for the most up-to-date laws and consult with your lawyer to make sure that you are in compliance in your specific area.

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Do Bartenders Need a License to Bartend?

The short answer: It depends where your bar is located.

While no national, formally recognized certification to bartend or serve alcohol exists in the United States, certain states do require your bartenders to pass courses concerning topics such as alcohol overconsumption and how to deal with inebriated customers or understand the basic laws regulating alcohol in your area.

Up close image of cocktail glass with various bottles on bar
Photography courtesy of Daniel Herron | Unsplash

As we mentioned, these legal requirements can vary by state, county, or even city.

For example, in Hawaii, serving alcohol is maintained by different counties. In other words, Honolulu has its own liquor commission and therefore its own requirements. All those serving alcohol in that city/county must take and pass a Server Training to obtain a “Liquor Card.”

And the state of California now requires all bartenders, servers, waiters, or managers who serve alcohol to take and pass the California RBS Training Certification.

On the other hand, in Florida, no legal requirement exists to obtain a bartending license.

You can see how the complexities of the system can get muddled pretty quickly.

Below, we’ve done our best to show you the requirements by state.*

What Are the Legal Requirements for a Bartender License in Each State?

Below, we’ve done our best to show you the requirements by state.* Simply click on the individual state's name to what the legal requirements are to serve alcohol.

* Please check your local Alcohol Beverage Authority for the most up-to-date laws in your area.

Where Can You Find More Information on Bartending Licenses?

Up close shot of bartender serving a mixed cocktail with a lime garnish
Photography courtesy of Daniel Herron | Unsplash

We understand that this topic can seem a bit overwhelming. And we’ve done our best to provide you with the requirements in each state. But these can change (as we see in California) and vary depending on where you are in your own state.

No matter where you are, we strongly recommend that you require all of your bartenders to take the local alcohol training and awareness certification. Even if your state does not legally require your bartenders to obtain a bartending license, it can only help your business to have your staff fully trained on best practices.

And please make sure that you check your local Alcohol Beverage Authority for the most up-to-date laws in your area.

With all this in mind, here are a few additional resources you can use to fully educate yourself on the topic of bartending licenses and what type of training your managers, servers, and bartenders need to be legally compliant in your state, country, or city.

Alcohol Beverage Authorities in United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico

TIPS, the global leader in alcohol server and seller - Scroll down the “State Laws & Regulations” section where you’ll find an interactive map. You can click on your state of choice to learn the laws and regulations in your area. Alternatively, you can go down to the bottom where you’ll see each state listed. Clicking on each state will provide incredibly helpful information including what is required in each state, approved programs, and the age to pour.

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Grace Lee-Weitz
Post by Grace Lee-Weitz
August 9, 2022
Grace is the Managing Editor for Hop Culture and Untappd. She also organizes and produces the largest weeklong women in craft beer festival in the country, Beers With(out) Beards and the first-ever festival celebrating the colorful, vibrant voices in the queer community in craft beer, Queer Beer. An avid craft beer nerd Grace always found a way to work with beer. After graduating with a journalism degree from Northwestern University, she attended culinary school before working in restaurant management. She moonlighted as a brand ambassador at 3 Sheeps Brewing Co on the weekends before moving into the beer industry full time as an account coordinator at 5 Rabbit Cerveceria. Grace holds her Masters degree in the Food Studies program at NYU.