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How to Get Work as a Freelance Bartender

Gigly team, Marketing at Gigly

Ever since Tom Cruise’s blockbuster movie Cocktail hit the scene, the world has a whole new view of what a bartender does including a freelance bartender.

Bartending is more than throwing some drinks together and filling customer orders.

It’s a job that takes skill, finesse, and an unparalleled ability to listen to people vent about their woes while multitasking like a boss.

It’s also an incredible way to earn a lot of money. If you’re considering adding a side hustle to your career, freelance bartending is a lucrative choice.

Unlike a traditional, full-time bartender, freelance bartenders aren’t tied to a specific location. These freelance mixologists can travel from one venue to another and find one that works for their needs.

Being freelance also means you’re essentially running your own business, though. A freelance bartender is their brand and, as such, they’re directly responsible for their marketing and obtaining clients.

So what’s a person gotta do to land a freelance bartending gig, and how much can you make doing it? Read on for all the details!


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What Skills Do I Need to Work as a Freelance Bartender?

Freelance bartenders don’t need to take any classes or have a certificate. The first step for bartending as a side gig is to partner with someone who works full time as a bartender.

That’s not to say you don’t need any skills at all. Companies hire bartenders for their soft skills rather than hard skills at private or corporate parties.

What Characteristics Make a Good Bartender?

Bartending is an extremely social job. The more you can get people to connect with you, the higher your tips, and the more they spend.

Anyone can learn how to follow instructions and mix a drink. However, not everyone has the soft skills to work as a freelance bartender.

By the time they’ve been operating for a few months, event organizers recognize the integral traits that make someone a strong candidate for the job.

So here are a few that will get you behind the bar faster:


An outgoing personality with an even, easy temperament is vital when you’re dealing with the public. And it’s extra crucial when the public is drinking lots of alcohol.

Bartenders must deal with many different situations. Drunk and obnoxious, lewd and rude, hysterically crying their eyes out; the emotions at a private bar can run the gamut.

Don’t take anything personally, and keep your behavior calm and professional.


A hefty portion of your early gigs will start as last-minute fill-ins at private events as a freelancer.

Is your schedule flexible enough that you can take on those jobs and prove your value?

Can you hang late for cleanup if a celebration runs into the wee hours?

Are you willing to jump in and offer a helping hand when needed?

If so, you’ll become the go-to bartender, and your reputation will get around with other organizers. Your calendar, and your wallet, will start filling up quickly!

Emotional Intelligence

Things can quickly get out of hand when large quantities of alcohol are present. High emotional intelligence and an ability to sense when a situation is starting to heat up before it boils over are some of the most important traits a bartender can possess.

Let’s throw out a couple of examples of frequent bartending situations you may need to diffuse:

  • A customer is intoxicated and it’s up to you to cut them off. They’re probably not going to take it too well. You’ll have to finesse your way through that and avoid an altercation.
  • Customer A, who has also had too much to drink, hits on Customer B’s significant other. Customer B must defend their companion and ego and engage with Customer A. Until Security can step in, it’s your job to try to diffuse the situation and prevent the fight without drawing too much attention.

Serious issue: It’s an uncomfortable topic, but alcohol is the number one date rape drug. As the bartender, you’re the outside observer who can catch potential perpetrators before they take a victim.

With emotional intelligence and the knowledge of how these situations occur, you could save lives. A great bartender will know how to keep an eye out for these things and how to intervene if it comes down to it.

And, Of Course, a Little Mixology Helps

How confident are you with recognizing what liquors go best together, pouring drinks, and mixing? Experience and soft skills can turn you into a coveted freelance bartender everyone wants to hire.

Become a great bartender and learn mixology by taking online or in-person lessons. You’ll find dozens of free or cheap courses to push you to the next level.

Consider bartending school if you plan on turning your skills into a career. The formal education will open you up to more consistent jobs or help you launch your own bartending business.

How Do I Become Licensed to Become a Freelance Bartender?


Working with alcohol always means you have to deal with some state and federal restrictions.

Most of these don’t apply to you since you’re the freelancer, not the event holder. However, you must know the laws that apply in your state and country. Serving minors alcohol, for example, can land you — and them — in jail.

Licenses, Certificates, and More

For the most part, anyone over 21 can get a side bartending job to make some extra money. Some local and state laws may require a permit or certificate. Overall, there isn’t a national certification or formal requirement.

Helpful Certificates

Getting certified improves your chances of finding the best gigs and getting paid better. The T.I.P.S. certification is an online course discussing alcohol safety and bartending.

You might need a T.I.P.S. or similar certification for freelance gigs at large venues, so it’s usually worth the investment.

State-Specific Requirements

Each state has its requirements for anyone providing bartending services. Some, like Florida, are lax and hardly have any mandatory guidelines. Others, such as Washington, are very strict.

You must review and meet all criteria for your state before providing any bartending services. Otherwise, your bartending career could be over before it begins!

Business Registrations

You’ll need to make your business official with the IRS when you’re ready to start bartending at events like birthdays and weddings by yourself.

Registering your business as a sole proprietorship or limited liability corporation is the next required step.

You’ll get an employer identification number (EIN), so you can officially start collecting money and paying taxes. You’ll need all this info to get the insurance policies necessary to work with customers.

Not sure how to handle this part of setting up a business? Head over to Gigly, the all-in-one resource for small business owners and freelancers. Their team of legal experts is ready to walk you through the process.

How Do I Get Freelance Bartender Gigs?

Moving into the part-time world of bartending means branching out your network.

Connect with vendors who put on private and corporate events through gig websites like Fiverr. Head to your local banquet halls and catering companies and put your resume in as a flexible fill-in to get you started.

You can also ask bars and restaurants if they need contractors to fill in on empty shifts.

These businesses have to follow strict protocols so they may not be able to hire you until you’ve received your safety certifications.

Going Out On Your Own

Eventually, you’ll have enough experience under your belt to ask for more money and better gigs. Word of mouth may also bring in jobs as your reputation grows. Then, people will call you when they need help.

Pay attention to the business side of things as you’re working for full-time bartenders.

How are they promoting? What supplies and tools do you use the most, from garnishes to glassware? What credentials and insurance do the venues regularly ask for?

When you’re ready to spread your wings and become a full-time freelance bartender these observations will prove to be invaluable for your bar management.

How Much Does It Cost to Work as a Freelance Bartender?


Freelance side hustles aren’t going to cost you anything. Once your certifications and legal aspects are paid, you’re free to work for anyone who hires you.

Running a business offering event bartending is a whole new ball game (or bar tab).

Setting up your biz requires an initial investment in tools, equipment, supplies, and alcohol stock. We all know top-shelf liquor isn’t cheap, so these upfront costs can pile up quickly.

Planning Your Expenses

Going into your bartending business with a savvy mind and eyes wide open to the expenses gets you started on a solid foundation.


Make a list of the drinks you want to provide, making sure to include the popular ones, like margaritas and mojitos.

What ingredients do you need for that list? Once you’ve got that down, figure out how many drinks you can make out of one set of those supplies, and you’ll get a better idea of how much of each item you should buy.

Provide your equipment to get more gigs. Invest in a portable bar, coolers, mixers, napkins, and other must-have bar tools.

Overhead and Expenses

There are some other overhead costs involved in addition to initial supplies and setup.

Running your own business means you have to pay self-employment taxes directly to the IRS. Tax rates vary, but this includes Social Security and Medicare requirements.

You’ll pay for your gas and transportation, and since you’re using your car, your auto insurance policy might need to be upgraded to include commercial coverage.

Advertising fees, platform fees to get jobs off of freelance sites, and any extra barware or equipment rental fees come out of your pocket.

You can recoup many of these costs through wise invoicing and excellent bartending skills (remember, the better your personality, the more tips you get).

Check the going rate in your area. Set your pricing rates based on how many years of experience you have and what other event bartenders are charging.

Keep in mind that this amount is higher in areas like San Francisco, where planning and implementing parties and galas is a regular thing.

You may have to adjust your rates to match what people are willing to pay in a smaller town.

What Resources Do Freelance Bartenders Have for Help?

The bartending community is full of friendly resources and supportive forums. Mixologist bloggers and biz owners in the field have dozens of tips for beginners. You’ll find most people are happy to answer any questions.

Head to your favorite social media platforms and join as many as you can. You won’t just learn lots of secret bartender tips; you’ll also be expanding your network.

As a gig worker, you’re also entitled to memberships at sites like Gigly. Designed to help self-employed businesses save money, Gigly is the go-to place to keep bookmarked when you need to:

  • Order from partnered suppliers to get discounts and exclusive offers just for Gigly members
  • Create legal documents and contract templates for your events using Gigly’s discounted legal services
  • Sign up for low-cost medical indemnity plans to take care of your health
  • And much more!

Your foray into the field of freelancing opens the door for you to access tons of supportive resources.


Starting as a freelancer or transitioning to self-employment can feel overwhelming, no matter what industry you choose.

While becoming a freelance bartender is a lot of fun and comes with great flexibility, getting the gigs and running your business properly still requires some planning.

Bartending forums and Gigly can support you as a freelance bartender. So reach out today and start your new journey on a much easier path!