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Can a Felon Get a Bartending License?

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Felons may think no one will hire them after serving their sentence, but there are resources available. Frequently it takes learning a new trade or starting a different career. Those who do give felons an opportunity find that they make good employees. Can a felon get a bartending license?

For those with experience in the food and beverage field, bartending is a possibility. This blog post will address the issue of whether or not a felon can get a bartending license.

  • What is a Bartender?
  • What is a Professional License?
  • Bartending License
  • How Much Does a Bartender Earn?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action


What is a Bartender?

A bartender mixes and serves alcoholic beverages along with other drinks to customers.

Bartenders typically work in:

  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Restaurants
  • Hotels
  • Resorts
  • Clubs

They are responsible for:

  • Taking drink orders
  • Collecting money
  • Making change
  • Interacting with customers

They must know how to mix and serve many different types of drinks. Bartenders are responsible for maintaining a clean work environment and checking the identification of bar customers before serving them alcohol. They manage the operation of the bar, maintain bar equipment, and stock alcohol.

There are many skills bartenders must have to be successful:

  • Communications to listen to the customer’s order, explain drink choices, make recommendations, and make them feel welcome
  • Customer service to take care of the customer to ensure return business
  • Decision making to make good decisions to deal with potentially intoxicated customers or those underage
  • Interpersonal skills to be friendly and tactful
  • Physical stamina to be on his or her feet throughout a shift and be able to lift heavy cases and bar supplies

What is a Professional License?

A license is issued by a state agency to practice a profession and is required in order to call oneself a licensed professional. Some states have a single license and some have a level system. Licenses, as well as requirements, vary from state to state and depend on the profession.

Licensing is a type of mandatory certification. Under a licensure system, states define the practice of a profession and stipulate that these tasks may be legally performed only by those who are licensed.

A certification is typically a voluntary process, although certification can be mandatory or required to practice in certain states. Certification is often provided by a private organization for the purpose of providing the public protection on those individuals who have successfully met all requirements for the credential and demonstrated their ability to perform their profession competently.

Bartending License

Most bartenders do not have formal training to be a bartender. Those who become a bartender often begin by waiting on tables or assisting an experienced bartender.

States have a minimum age requirement to serve alcohol. Some states set the age at 18 while others require you to be at least 21. Checking with the law in the state where felons reside is important.

Most states require bartenders to complete an alcohol training course, but there are a few states requiring licensing or certification as a bartender. There are also two states that don’t allow felons to become a bartender at all: Indiana and Washington.

There are bartending schools in most states offering formal training lasting up to 40 hours. Students learn:

  • Mixing and pouring drinks
  • Using bar equipment
  • Providing good customer service
  • Health and safety issues

One benefit of completing a bartending school, especially since there are no specific requirements to have a license, is to demonstrate to potential employers that they have been educated in the procedures and safety regulations of the bartending industry.

How Much Does a Bartender Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that there are about 514,000 bartenders in the United States. This number is expected to rise at an average rate of 18 % with 92,000 jobs being added by 2030.

Many bartenders only work as a bartender part-time while holding other jobs also. The hourly wages typically range from $10-15 per hour, but with tips a good bartender can easily earn $150-300 daily. Bartenders working on the East or West coast tend to have a higher income than those working elsewhere.

An Opportunity for Felons?

While there are no laws prohibiting a felon from becoming a bartender except in Indiana and Washington, they may be able to attend a bartending school by waiting at least five years after they complete their sentence.

There are also some programs indicating that felons can enroll there for their own education but can’t obtain certification there. It is important to contact a bartending school in the state in which they live for specific guidelines.

Their best chance to become a bartender would be to find a job waiting tables or in some other capacity in an establishment that serves alcohol and work into a bartending position.

It may be more challenging to find this type of job if they have been convicted of a drug or alcohol offense. If a felon has an alcohol or drug problem, it might not be in their best interest to pursue a bartending job because of the temptations that are there.

In order to be successful in their pursuit of getting a bartending license and a job as a bartender, it is essential for felons to be honest about their background. They are already working with the negative perceptions of being dishonest, untrustworthy, and unwilling or unable to follow directions from authority figures.

There are re-entry programs, such as drug treatment, and educational opportunities for felons who need them. For many felons, having their felony expunged can give them the chance they need to begin with a clean record and succeed in getting a bartending license or certification.

Having their record expunged will permit a felon to honestly state on an application that he or she has not been convicted of a felony and increase the chances of success at getting hired as a bartender.

Recommended Action

It’s a significant challenge, but it might be worth it for a felon that wants to get a bartending license.

Having support from family, friends, or previous employers can make a huge difference. A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his or her crime. We are not defined by our mistakes but by how we recover from them. He or she can begin again and live an honest life no matter how difficult it might seem.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to get a bartending license with a felony? What was that like for him or her, and how did he or she achieve success? Please tell us in the comments below.

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