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The Ultimate Guide to Getting a Bartending License

Congrats! You’re on your first day at your new job, you’re there getting started, and you landed this position with a highly recommended employer. They barely had any turnover during the Great Resignation, and the place has an excellent reputation. Two of your new co-workers are talking about a bartending license and bartender test they had to take over the weekend. The panic sets in as you try to remember if you were supposed to do something before today.

Nah! You did all of the onboarding paperwork, but the questions start gathering like clouds inside your head:

How much does a
bartender license cost?

Why do I have
to have one?

What exactly is
a bartender’s license?

How long does it take
to get a bartender license?

How long does a
bartender certification last?

What do I need to
know about bartending?

What You Will Learn

Welcome to the Ultimate Guide to Getting a Bartending License!  We’ve heard these same stories (give or take a few details) from our customers since starting this business in 2006.  Before their first day, many new bartenders don’t know what is a bartender license, training, certificate, or test. That’s why we created this guide! To help you find what you’re looking for, along with a handy breakout by the state at the end.  We'll answer:

Earning a bartender license is the first step in launching a fun and rewarding professional bartending career. A bartending course will teach what you need to know to serve alcohol under your state’s rules and regulations responsibly. On top of that, you will gain fundamental knowledge to help you land a job and start earning.

You can get a bartending license online or in person. Anyone who wants to start learning or brush up on their bartending knowledge can do so with ease and at their own pace.


What Is a Bartender’s License?

If you're searching for a bartender's license, you are probably looking for something to prove you can sell or serve alcohol. A bartender or bartending license is a blanket term that refers to a document. This document is given to an individual upon completing a state-certified program. In this case, a program that explains the rules and regulations surrounding the sale and service of alcohol. Think of it as a driver's license or wallet-sized card for simplicity's sake.

License Types

There are three main types of licenses; delivery, on-premise, and off-premise. Delivery lets you transport and deliver alcohol to a person. On-Premise refers to those who sell AND serve alcohol, such as a bartender, server, or manager in a restaurant, bar, tavern, or nightclub. Off-Premise refers to those who only sell the alcohol and don't serve, such as in a liquor store, grocery store, convenience store, party store, or gas station. So the job you hold may determine which type of license you need. The state you are training for may offer the training as an all in one option (like Montana), only make one type of license mandatory (in Georgia delivery is mandatory while on and off-premise is not), or separate out the training depending on if your work on or off-premise (like Illinoiss Basset).

bartender license wallet card

Bartender Licensing Programs

A state may use a more official term to refer to its licensing program or document received after completion or both. Specific states have different terms and requirements, so make sure you select the right option. For example, you take Pennsylvania Responsible Alcohol Management Program (RAMP) or RAMP Seller/Server Training to get a RAMP certification and you take Illinois Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training (BASSET) to receive a BASSET Card.

These certifications are not transferable from one state to another. A certification in Pennsylvania RAMP doesn't mean you can pour or serve drinks in Wisconsin. Unlike driver's licenses, they do not carry across state borders, and that's an important consideration as some states mandate you be licensed. Keep in mind: the license applies to the state you work in, not the state you live in, so get the appropriate bartender license in the state where you work.

What is the Alcohol Certification called?
Bartending License, Permit, Certificate, Certification, and Training: What's the Difference?

The semantics of using a license in place of a permit, certificate, certification, and training may not seem obvious. All you need to know is that a bartending license is the correct generic term. However, we'll provide a deeper explanation if you'd like to read more.

Bartending License/Mixology License

From the definition given before, a bartending, bartender, or mixology license is a blanket term that refers to a document. This document is given to an individual upon completing either a state-certified program or a program. In this case, a state-certified liquor-serving government agency, commission, or other names for the group. Two words make a world of difference: regulated and government. The word "license" is presumed to include the process of regulation by government agencies. So, in all states where alcohol serving training is regulated by a government agency (i.e., the Wisconsin Department of Revenue), you receive a license.

Bartending Permit/Certificate

A "permit" (noun form) is the written warrant (legal document) given through authority. A permit is typically a broad term but usually means you are given permission to do something safety-related. Yes, selling and serving alcohol is safety-related. So technically you're receiving a bartending permit. However, since the federal government regulates the sale of alcohol, United States Congress (21st Amendment ratified 12/05/1933), the correct word still circles back to a license.

A "certificate" is a document of evidence given to an individual upon completion. However, only non-regulated and non-government agencies use them. For example, Serving Alcohol can issue you a certificate.

Bartending Certification and Bartender Training

Finally, "certification" and "training" are the acts of becoming certified, resulting in certification. So bartending certification and bartender training would only apply to the act of taking one of our Serving Alcohol courses.

What Certifications do I need to be a Bartender?

Depending on your state, an alcohol certification or license may or may not be required. We have a list of what states require a certification or license. The difference between the two can be found here. Illinois and California require a bartending "license" due to their state mandated alcohol training regulations. In the state of Illinois, it's called Illinois BASSET Certification and in the state of California, it's called California RBS Training Certification. Whereas a certification in Florida would not be considered a license because it is voluntary training. Additional alcohol certifications such as a mixologist can be acquired through one of our Master Bartender classes.

Liquor License

The term "liquor license" comes up from time to time when discussing a bartender's license. It's the license issued by the state or local authority for the business to sell or serve alcohol. For example, your local liquor store or grocery store is given a liquor license which gives them the ability to sell liquor to customers. However, this doesn't limit the business to only just selling liquor (varies by state). Sometimes it's used to describe all alcoholic beverages like liquor, beer, and wine (or a combination). Other times a state may require you to apply for a beer license, wine license, and liquor license to sell each one.

Why Do You Need a Bartending License?

You need to know and understand the business. The licensing process is more about educating you on selling or serving alcohol (more specifically when not to) than mixing drinks. (Check out our Master Bartender course for that).

female bartender Whether or not you work in a state that mandates training for alcohol serving or selling, you should always have a current alcohol seller-server license. The simple reason is that it reduces the likelihood of being involved in a lawsuit. And it goes beyond being involved in a lawsuit. There is jail time associated with making the wrong decisions selling or serving alcohol, depending on the violation and the circumstances. Many employers insist you have it. Why? Because it lessens their liability exposure and their insurance cost.

Our courses intend to bring awareness of when you should not sell, serve or continue to serve alcohol and how to maintain a safe environment. Selling alcohol is not the same as having a lemonade stand at twelve years old. Substance Abuse (alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs) is the nation's second-highest threat to Americans. Your responsibility is to make sure alcohol doesn't get into the wrong hands or contribute to a tragic situation that is avoidable.

Below are the critical reasons for completing the certification.

  • Ignorance of the law is no excuse; it may lessen your chances of getting sued.
  • In states with non-mandatory licensing, your employer will be more interested in candidates with a seller server license, as it can lessen their liability insurance costs.
  • Seller server courses cover the 'Do's and Don'ts' when selling and serving alcohol and will give you best practices in reducing conflict and handling individuals under the influence.
  • Training will teach about the effects of alcohol, rate of intoxication, and signs of intoxication, all vital elements of understanding the impact of alcohol and your customer.
  • To give you a better understanding of administrative versus civil versus criminal laws and penalties for violating alcohol laws in your state.
  • Learn when not to serve, avoiding sales to minors and others where the sale violates the law.


Is Having a Bartender's License Mandatory?

We will always, always strongly recommend you have a bartender license.

Bartending License Mandatory - State/Local

A bartending license becomes mandatory in a state when that state’s legislature passes a law requiring alcohol seller-server licensing. The same may be true at the county or city level as well when a local government passes an alcohol seller-server ordinance. These laws are passed in order to protect citizens and the community by reducing the number of drunk drivers and minor adults gaining access to alcohol. For more information on liability, we recommend that you read our Dramshop series or visit Dram Shop Laws and Social Host Liability in Each State (NOLO). There are a few exceptions to this rule (shown in parentheses below, which we'll discuss in more detail later in the article):


Bartending License Required - Business/Insurance

In many cases, when a bartender's license is not required by the state, it will be by the business or insurance carrier. There are clear benefits to having a license like knowing the rules, regulations, and best practices of selling and serving alcoholic beverages. This will greatly help you protect yourself from liability by teaching you how to safely sell and serve alcoholic beverages to avoid any incidents that could lead to a harmful result.

We offer training for every type of alcohol seller and server licensing. Stop by, and find your state and the applicable seller server license. We also offer a Responsible Alcohol Manager's course, which is not mandated everywhere but gives you best management practices when running an establishment that sells or serves alcohol.

Who Should Get Their Bartenders' License?

All staff who sell, serve and deliver alcohol should receive training. It's good for business, it helps mitigate risk, and insurance policy providers recommend alcohol seller-server training.

Are you trying to get more than one person licensed? We have a Business Account that lets you start now and pay later.

What Topics Are Discussed in Bartending License Training?

State certifications on the sale and service of beer, wine, and liquor are not designed to test or increase your proficiency in mixology. Instead, they focus on:

  • Explaining the effects of alcohol on the body.
  • Introducing policy and procedure standards.
  • Preparing you to check IDs and spot a fake.
  • Teaching you how to intervene when you need to refuse a sale.

In addition to these requirements Serving Alcohol focuses on:

  • Protecting you and the establishment from liability.
  • How to recognize a minor or someone who is intoxicated.
  • How to prevent customers from being overly intoxicated (and what to do if it happens).

(And we like to think it's interactive and fun!)

How Long Does It Take To Get a Bartending License?

You should expect to block at least four hours out of your day. While some states leave the training length up to the training provider. Other states require training to be at minimum 2-4 hours, for example:

How Much Is a Bartending License?

How To Get A Bartending License?

You should get your license through a reputable provider. With over 35 years of experience teaching alcohol certification principles, our recommended Alcohol Certification Training course offers in-depth knowledge that is easy to follow and understand. Serving Alcohol Inc. goes beyond the basics of alcohol awareness and carding techniques to deliver everything you need to know as an alcohol seller-server in your state.

We offer:

  • Online interactive and self-paced training
  • 100% Pass Guarantee or get your money back
  • 24/7 Customer Support


How state rules and regulations can affect you

The material provided below is a collection of information from various official state and federal agencies and is subject to frequent change. Because laws and regulations shift quite frequently, we have tried to include links to relevant data for you to review. A good jumping off point is from the US Department of Treasury, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau.

Pick your state


Age To Serve Alcohol
State By State

Below is a list of every state in the US and the general legal age to serve alcohol.

State Age
Alabama (AL) 21
Alaska (AK) 21
Arizona (AZ) 19
Arkansas (AR) 18
California (CA) 21
Colorado (CO) 18
Connecticut (CT) 18
Delaware (DE) 21
Florida (FL) 18
Georgia (GA) 18
Hawaii (HI) 18
Idaho (ID) 19
Illinois (IL) 21
Indiana (IN) 21
Iowa (IA) 18
Kansas (KS) 21
Kentucky (KY) 20
Louisiana (LA) 18
Maine (ME) 18
Maryland (MD) 18
Massachusetts (MA) 18
Michigan (MI) 18
Minnesota (MN) 18
Mississippi (MS) 21
Missouri (MO) 18
Montana (MT) 18
Nebraska (NE) 19
Nevada (NV) 21
New Hampshire (NH) 18
New Jersey (NJ) 18
New Mexico (NM) 18
New York (NY) 18
North Carolina (NC) 21
North Dakota (ND) 19
Ohio (OH) 21
Oklahoma (OK) 21
Oregon (OR) 18
Pennsylvania (PA) 18
Rhode Island (RI) 18
South Carolina (SC) 18
South Dakota (SD) 21
Tennessee (TN) 18
Texas (TX) 18
Utah (UT) 21
Vermont (VT) 18
Virginia (VI) 21
Washington (WA) 21
West Virginia (WV) 18
Wisconsin (WI) 18
Wyoming (WY) 21


How to Manage a Group of Licensed Bartenders at Once?

A knowledgeable, certified staff is the essential element to protecting your business. Besides those required by your state and liability insurance carrier, responsible alcohol business practices will enhance your business and profits. Our alcohol certification courses keep you, your employees, and your community safer. Our Business Account is only available to alcohol selling or serving businesses.

Get 15% off now!


Bartending License Testimonials

Don't take our word for it!

"Loved this course, felt like I was given all the information I needed and it answered a lot of questions I didn't even know I had!"

"Wonderful Course. Wish I had known about this site when I was consulting at bars."

"Course was easy to navigate and complete in an ideal amount of time. I would recommend it."

"This was a very good, detailed, training course. I feel much more confident!"

"Thank you so much for this program! It was honestly the most helpful and easy program!"


Bartending License Conclusion

A bartending license or bartender license is a blanket term that refers to a document. This document is given to an individual upon completing either a state-certified program or a program. In this case, a program that fulfills an explanation of the rules and regulations surrounding the sale and service of alcohol. You should get a bartender license to become knowledgeable and protect yourself and the business.

Some states and insurance providers make it a requirement before selling and serving alcohol. However, all staff who sell, serve, and deliver alcohol receive training should attend training regardless. It typically takes 2-4 hours and costs $10-20.

Serving Alcohol's training explains rules and regulations surrounding the sale and service of alcohol, illustrates the effects of alcohol on the body, introduces policy and procedure standards, prepares you to check IDs and spot a fake, and teaches you how to intervene when you need to refuse a sale. You can enroll online now by finding your state. If you want to manage multiple licensed bartenders at once you can use our Business Accounts to help!

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