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How Old Do You Have To Be To Work at a Bar in The US? (The Truth)

Working at a bar is an excellent way to make money as a student as you earn a basic hourly wage in addition to tips. How old you must be to work in a bar depends on your location, but how old is that? 

In the United States you must be between 18 and 21 years old to work at a bar, while in the UK, Canada, and Europe, you need to be 18. The legal US drinking age is 21, and many bars will not employ younger staff due to the risk, even if they are legally eligible to work in the bar.  

This article will discuss the minimum legal age for bar work and whether or not you can serve alcohol if you’re younger than 18. Let’s get started, shall we?

What Is the Minimum Legal Age for To Be a Bartender?

The minimum age for a bartender varies from state to state and from country to country. Legally, in most US states, you need to be at least 18 to 21 to be a bartender. In the UK and Europe, the minimum legal age for bar work is 18, while in Canada, it’s either 18 or 19, depending on the province. 

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In some states, such as Ohio and West Virginia, the minimum legal age for a bartender is 21. However, state law in Ohio allows 19-year-olds to serve alcohol as long as it’s consumed on the premises. 

In West Virginia, 18 to 20-year-olds may serve alcohol, but an adult must supervise them. 

Most bars in the US will only employ workers who are at least 21. This is because if you’re underage and are caught drinking alcohol on the premises, the bar can get into serious legal trouble, and most don’t want to take the risk.

Since bar work involves being continuously exposed to alcohol, owners know it can be tempting to drink, especially when a customer buys you a drink. 

But what locations allow workers this young to serve alcohol? Let’s take a look at that question right now.

Minimum Legal Age for Serving Alcohol by Location

Some establishments will only serve alcohol to customers over the age of 25 to prevent irresponsible and disorderly behavior on their premises. Many of these bars or restaurants typically only employ bar staff who are also older than 25. 

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Many states also require alcohol awareness training for employees who serve alcohol. In Maine, teenagers 17 and older may serve alcohol. 

States with a legal minimum age of 18 for serving alcohol are as follows: 

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

In Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Ohio, the minimum legal age to serve alcohol is 19. Kentucky requires people to be 20 years or older to serve alcohol, while in Alaska, Nevada, and Utah, you need to be 21. 

In some states, the legal age to serve alcohol is lower than the age to work as a bartender. 

These are the states where you must be 21 or older to work as a bartender: 

  • Alabama 
  • Alaska 
  • Arkansas 
  • California
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia 
  • Indiana 
  • Kansas
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota 
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

In all remaining states, the legal age to serve alcohol is the same legal age for working in a bar.

Can I Work in a Bar if I Look Older Than 21?

If you’re younger than the minimum legal age for a bartender in your area but look older than 21, you might wonder if you can get a job in a bar. 

You cannot work in a bar just by looking older than 21. A reputable bar will check a potential employee’s identity before hiring them. If you’re below the minimum legal age for serving alcohol, they’ll likely not hire you. 

With bars and establishments that are a little laxer on the rules, looking older than the legal age may get you hired, but the business would be breaking the law and are taking a substantial legal risk. 

It’s never a good sign when a bar hires underage staff to serve alcohol. If they’re breaking the law in this way, chances are they’re not following minimum wage and health and safety regulations, either. 

These establishments are best to be avoided. 

Bar Work Alternatives if You Are Below the Minimum Legal Age

An excellent alternative for serving alcohol is to become a server at a restaurant that doesn’t sell alcohol.

Alternatively, if you want to work in a bar and are below the minimum legal age for a bartender, you might want to consider working as a server first. Once you reach the legal age, you’ll have experience in a restaurant that can apply to working in a bar later on. 

The ability to show work experience as a server when applying for a barkeep position is very positive, making it more likely to be hired when the time comes

Find out what a bar manager looks for when hiring a bartender.

Fast food restaurants and establishments that serve mainly breakfast foods routinely hire teenagers. In these positions, you learn how to serve food and drink correctly and interact professionally with customers. 

Working in a food truck, farmer’s market or hot dog stand can also look great on your resume when you apply for a bartending position. Alternatively, working in a supermarket or liquor store could give you valuable experience for becoming a bartender later on as well. 

Depending on where you live, however, a supervisor may need to authorize all alcohol sales.

Conclusion

The minimum legal age for working in a bar varies according to your location. In some US states, you need to be 21 to serve alcohol, while in many countries and US states, you can serve alcohol and work in a bar when you’re as young as 18. 

If you’re younger than 21, you may need to be supervised by an adult, and many bars won’t employ you if you are younger than 21 as the legal risk is too significant. 

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