Testing and Certifications Put the Bartender on a Path to Professionalism

By Livio Lauro

The move toward greater professionalism in bartending is everywhere today — it’s discussed on numerous blogs, written about in several new books and industry publications like this, and supported by countless training programs. Bartending skills are even judged and celebrated on reality TV shows. But what makes a bartender a professional?

Professionalism is derived from training, education and skills development, married with a commitment to excellence in execution and the ongoing expansion of knowledge among those involved in the discipline. What really establishes a profession, however, is the creation of standards and implementation of testing to assure that individuals meet the standards.

Without such standards and testing, the self-proclaimed bar-related titles commonly used today have little meaning, and bartenders will not achieve parity with their culinary counterparts in the eyes of the guest and the hospitality industry. Given the push toward quality on the part of hospitality companies, the demand for quality from guests and the key role that bar and beverage service plays in the hospitality industry, bartenders should be recognized as professionals, the way chefs are.

To provide bartenders the opportunity to achieve knowledge, skills and professional status, the United States Bartenders’ Guild has created the Master Accreditation Program. Strictly a testing system – candidates must conduct their own course of study (see www.usbg.org for recommended programs) – the Master Accreditation Program has three tiers of achievement and they must be completed in order:

1. USBG Spirits Professional. Successfully passing this test will qualify the candidate as a USBG Spirits Professional. This accreditation will assure employers and colleagues that the individual is knowledgeable and well versed in all spirit categories from every corner of the world as well as sake, beer, wine, service, history of cocktails, mixology and much more.

2. USBG Advanced Bartender. Successfully passing both of the advanced tests, the written and the practical, will ensure that the candidate has a working knowledge of the craft of bartending, an advanced level of product knowledge on all spirit categories as well as sake, beer, wine and cigars, and that he/she has a strong understanding of the beverage industry overall. The individual also has a clear understanding of important aspects of management and running a successful bar program. The candidate must pass a rigorous practical evaluation testing professionalism behind the bar and proving a working knowledge of cocktails and mixology. The candidate may add the acronym AB after their name signifying that he/she is a USBG Advanced Bartender and will be pinned as such.

3. USBG Master Mixologist. A candidate will submit a thesis to the MA Board on a relevant beverage industry related topic of his/her choice for review and approval. The candidate also must successfully pass a panel interview regarding the thesis after the Board has researched, reviewed and checked all references on the thesis. Once approved, the thesis will then be added to the USBG Master Mixologist Journal for reference and record. The candidate may add the acronym MM after his/her name to signify that he/she is a USBG Master Mixologist and will be pinned as such.

These are not easy exams by any means, but therein lays the value. Working with recognized field experts, including Tony Abou-Ganim, Francesco Lafranconi, Dale DeGroff, Steve Beal and Ed Korry of Johnson & Wales University to name a few, the USBG has created a testing program that, for the first time, sets a standard of knowledge, skill and professionalism the entire industry can recognize and embrace. For employers, this accreditation means a candidate for working behind or managing your bar possesses the necessary tools to do the job well. For the bartender, achieving the USBG Spirits Professional, Advanced Bartender or USBG Master Mixologist certification levels assures everyone from the prospective employer to the guest to the colleague that you take your craft seriously and are committed to it.

Numerous programs exist today offering training and certifications. These are all steps in the right direction, and we urge bartenders to constantly educate themselves, expand their skills and explore new ways to ply their craft and serve their guests. What we’re advocating is an industrywide certification that sets a new high standard, and in doing so, raises the bartender up as a recognized professional.

Livio Lauro is national president of the United States Bartenders’ Guild and resort district manager for Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada. He started his career more than 15 years ago in Southern Italy as a bartender in several establishments, including the famous Club Valentino. In 2002, he passed the final exam in the Italian Bartenders Association (AIBES) series, earning the title of Capo Barman, the most prestigious title recognized by AIBES.

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