Skip to main content
salaries series

Job: Bartender

The role: The role of a bartender is less about pouring drinks, and more about managing people.

"You could call it a guest-tender," said Gavin MacMillan, founder and chief executive officer of the Bartender One Group of Cos., a Toronto-based company that offers bartending classes and workshops. "The bartending part of it is really taken care of when you set the bar up; after that, you're tending to the guests."

According to Mr. MacMillan, a good bartender ensures that his or her station is organized before the start of the shift, minimizing preparation time on the job. That includes making sure there is enough change in the till, preparing and slicing lemons, limes and other garnishes in advance, as well as having a fully stocked station with ice, juices, syrups and alcohols.

Bartenders are also required to remain at the establishment for up to two hours following closing time to help clean up, he adds.

The salary: A bartender's salary ranges widely, depending on the venue, the shifts worked and the location. Each province has its own minimum wage for servers, from $8.90 an hour in Quebec to $9.55 in Ontario, but a large portion of a bartender's wages tends to come from tips, which can range from a few dollars to over $1,000 a shift.

"The people that are making $60 to $100 in tips are working at a bar or a pub where they've got a lot of regulars, and they'll work that shift five nights a week," Mr. MacMillan said. "The guys and girls that are making bigger money – $500 to $1,000 a night – are typically working a nightclub format, where they only work four hours, 10 p.m. until 2 a.m., and usually only on Fridays and Saturdays."

Education: Some provinces – including Saskatchewan, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – have no legally mandated licensing requirements for dispensing alcohol, although usually servers must be a minimum age, which varies from province to province. Others, however, require that bartenders be certified or licensed to serve alcohol. Various programs, such as Smart Serve Ontario, the Alberta Server Intervention Program, and British Columbia's Serving it Right program, can typically be completed over the Internet for a small fee. Such licensing programs, however, only address the legal liabilities associated with serving alcohol, and provide little training for the job.

"You can understand the legal ramifications of overservice, but if you don't know how to physically manufacture a drink from the ground up, you're still at a bit of a loss," Mr. MacMillan said.

Training programs like Bartender One are not required by law. However, 90 per cent of students who voluntarily filled out the school's online survey said they found a bartending job within 90 days of completing one of their programs., Mr . MacMillan said.

Job prospects: With a high turnover rate, bartending positions are readily available in most markets across the country. Mr. MacMillan said that's because many people use bartending to support themselves while they build their longer-term careers and often leave the industry when they find success.

"There's a lot of actors and dancers and singers that like to take evening bar jobs because it frees them up for daytime auditions for what they really want to do," he said. "If an actor gets hired, his or her bartending job goes out the window, because it's less important than their acting career."

As the owner of College Street Bar in Toronto, Mr. MacMillan adds that he's hired and replaced his entire staff of 20 three times in the past two years.

By the numbers: According to a 2012 report by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, the City of Toronto alone had almost 4,500 establishments licensed to serve alcohol, employing over 55,000 bartenders and service staff, 60 per cent of whom are replaced annually.

Challenges: For many people, the thought of standing on your feet all night and working evenings and weekends does not sound like much fun, but Mr. MacMillan says most bartenders don't have a problem with it.

"Once you make your entrance into the hospitality industry, those become trivial points," he said. "It's just when you make your money."

Mr. MacMillan adds that one of the greater challenges for bartenders today is helping management to attract guests. He said that as a result of social media, bartenders are now expected to help promote the establishment and bring in new customers.

"When I first started bartending, there was never any onus put on a bartender or a server to help promote the business," he said. "If promotion is something that you're not focused on as a bartender, that will quickly knock you down the rungs of the ladder, because it is quickly becoming a significant part of the job."

Misconceptions: Mr. MacMillan says that one of the biggest misconceptions about bartenders is that they're permitted to drink on the job, which is not only discouraged but also illegal in most provinces.

"It's completely against the law, because the establishment is licensed for consumption, but if you look at the floor plan of the bar, behind the bar is not licensed for the consumption of alcohol," he said. "If you don't have the ability to see that your guest is intoxicated because you're intoxicated, then you open yourself up to a whole world of liability."

Give us the scoop: Are you a bartender? Write a note in the comments area of this story or e-mail your comment to and let us know what you would tell others who are interested in the profession.

Want to read more stories from our Salaries Series? Find more here.