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Can a Felon Become a Bartender?

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While it may not be a traditional trade, there are opportunities for felons looking for a job to become a bartender.

The typical question is whether or not a felon can become a bartender.

Let’s look at this issue.

In this blog post, we’ll cover the following:

  • What Is a Bartender?
  • How to Become a Bartender
  • How Much Does a Bartender Earn?
  • Background Check?
  • Does the Type of Felony Make a Difference?
  • Steps to Take


What Is a Bartender?

A bartender mixes and serves alcoholic beverages along with other drinks to customers. They typically work in a wide variety of settings, not just a bar, but also in such places as a restaurant, hotel, or a club.

Bartenders are responsible for taking drink orders and collecting money from customers.

A bartender must have a great deal of knowledge of how to mix and serve many different types of drinks. Other types of duties include maintaining a clean work environment and checking the identification of bar customers before serving them alcohol. 

More experienced bartenders might manage a bar, maintain bar equipment, and stock alcohol.

There is a lot of responsibility for a bartender in interacting with customers, providing good customer service, and dealing with potentially intoxicated customers or those who are underage.

How to Become a Bartender

There is no one route to take to become a bartender. While there are a number of bartending schools across the nation, many bartenders do not have formal training. 

Many who become a bartender often begin by working on a wait staff or assisting another bartender.

Each state has a minimum age requirement to be allowed to serve alcohol, ranging from 18 up to 21. Checking with the law in the states where you reside is important.

Only a few states require any type of certification as a bartender. 

For those looking for more formal training, there are bartending schools in most states offering formal training which could last up to 40 hours. 

As a student, you learn to mix and pour drinks, how to use bar equipment, provide good customer service, and deal with health and safety issues.

Each bartending school will have different guidelines, so it’s important to contact a bartending school in the state in which you live for specific regulations.

While you might not consider it important, you can look at bartending school as a way to demonstrate to potential employers that you 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 estimates that there are about 492,000 bartenders in the U.S. as of 2018. This number is expected to rise at an average rate of 10% with 15,000 jobs being added by 2020.

Statistics show that not many bartenders work full-time as a bartender. For a lot of them, it may be a part-time job that they combine with other types of work also.

While they may be paid on an hourly basis, most of them receive tips to supplement their hourly wage.

Background Check?

Of course you can expect to run into the usual background check. But, let’s take a look at how this will likely work for you.

In this line of work there are few hard and fast rules regarding a background check. If you decide to attend a formal bartending school or program, entry requirements, including a possible background check will be up to the school.

A few might require an application that could inquire about your criminal history. Even this may not be likely, however.

Many bartending schools require only that you sign up and pay their admission fee to enroll in their coursework. Some schools don’t even expect you to have a Social Security Number as long as you pay their fees.

Now, the most challenging part is that after your education and training as a bartender, you still have to find a job in the area.

That is where the most serious background check will take place.

Some employers may not want to give you a chance, especially after they run a background check on you. It will depend on the results of that check.Many employers conduct a background check that can extend back as long as seven years. 

So, even if you have waited the required five years wanted by some bartending schools, an employer background check may go back further and find any convictions that are as old as seven years.

Does the Type of Felony Make a Difference?

As far as bartending schools are concerned, the type of felony doesn’t seem to make a difference.

Although, being convicted of a violent felony or a sexual offense may prove to be a major hindrance to enrolling in bartending school to acquire certification or licensing.

The requirements to register at these schools typically state that if you have a felony conviction, you cannot enroll there until at least five years after you have completed all aspects of your sentence.  

There are two states that don’t allow felons to become a bartender: Indiana and Washington. This is regardless of what type of felony conviction you have on your record.

A few schools indicate that as a felon, you can enroll there for your personal education, but you can’t obtain a certificate of completion there.  

From a personal standpoint, if you have a drug or alcohol-related conviction, it could be an issue. Many who have this type of felony offense may have drug or alcohol issues that could require completion of re-entry programs designed to address substance abuse problems.

Steps to Take

There are no laws prohibiting you as a felon from becoming a bartender, except in Indiana and Washington. 

You may be able to attend a bartending school in a different state by waiting at least five years after you complete your sentence.

Some programs indicate 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 you live for specific guidelines.

As far as a background check, getting a job as a bartender could be a challenge. 

You may have your best opportunity starting off as a waiter perhaps, especially for a smaller restaurant that either doesn’t run a background check or is less strict regarding a criminal history.

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

In order to be successful in becoming a bartender, it is essential for you to be honest about your background.  

Having your felony expunged if you are eligible can give you the chance you need to begin with a clean record and succeed in becoming a bartender.

Remember that for all of the mistakes you have made in the past, you don’t have to be defined by them. You can get a fresh start and adopt the attitude that you will be defined by how you deal with your mistakes moving forward.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to become a bartender with a felony? What was that like, and what happened? Please tell us in the comments below.

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