« Sarah McLachlan to play DAR Constitution Hall in January | Main | Hanson: We're not Justin Bieber »

November 11, 2010

Maryland Bartending Academy on the most common mistakes of first-time bartenders

PX00194_9.JPGEarlier this week, I sat in on a class at the Maryland Bartending Academy, the 20-year-old Glen Burnie school that offers a $540 two-week bartending course.

I'll tell that story tomorrow, but for now, I asked Rose Kaspar, one of the instructors there, to itemize the most common mistakes of first-time bartenders and how to avoid them.

Most home bartenders are used to learning drinks from watching "Mad Men" or from hearing more experienced drinkers order fancy cocktails at bars.

"Most people don't know what's in the drink they're drinking," she said. But, the bartender also doesn't need to know that much.

His or her goals are simple: Make nice tasting cocktails to entertain, or better yet, impress. This is how to do it.

For starters, forget tasting every drink on the bar. “You don’t have to know what all of these are,” Kaspar said, pointing to the dozens of bottles behind her bar. “You just have to know the ratios.”

Mistake 1: Remembering ingredients. While hi-balls are relatively easy to make, when you get into manhattans and things called “millennium martinis,” the ingredients pile up.

How to avoid: Kaspar recommends making flashcards, just as if you were trying to remember Spanish verb conjugations.

Mistake 2: Serving too much alcohol.

How to avoid: use a double-sided measurer, or count one “Mississippi” for each half ounce as you pour.

Mistake 3: Finding the ingredients How to avoid: Bars have dozens of bottles, but most of the set-ups are similar: Whiskeys are often on the left-hand corner, liqueurs are in the middle, and vodkas are to the right. House are rail brands are usually on the speed rack below the bar.

Kaspar said other common mistakes include leaving a bottle on the bar (customers will take it), and not filling the glass with ice (if you know which of the 20-some different glasses to use).

“It’s all practice,” Kaspar said. “The more drinks you make, the easier it’ll get.”

Photo: Tamarkia Little, a 30-year-old student, pouring beer at the school.

Follow Midnight Sun on Facebook and Twitter @midnightsunblog
Posted by Erik Maza at 4:02 PM | | Comments (60)
Categories: Bar stories


The most common mistakes of first-time bartenders is going to bartender school. If I ask for a drink a certain way and you are dumbfounded because the Maryland school of "this is how Winston Churchill said a martini is to be made" taught you otherwise and you INSIST on making it the way you were taught in school annoys the hell out of me. I'd rather you just screw it up on your own than do it the only way you were taught how. If I had a free drink for everytime I was handed a mojito and the bartender says "Mojito-no lime" with a whole heap of muttled limes in it- just because you say there are no limes (albeit politely) didn't mean your robotic butt didn't put them in there. Or "martini- no vermouth" I saw you put it in and swivel it around! Big-Big pet peeve.

hahahahaha tif. so true. people that go to bartending school are the worst bartenders. first off, they learn bulls**t and i have to retrain them which is too much work. so i reject anybody with bs bartending course. bartending is 90% personality & character. I'll teach you lickety split & you don't need to waste your time and money. anybody can open a beer, but not everyone can connect with people and make money for my business

Tif, you confuse me. You resent barkeeps making martinis as Churchill did, and then you state that you prefer no vermouth in your martini. When Churchill was asked about the subject of vermouth in martinis, he famously replied that he preferred to nod in the general direction of France.
Churchill drank a modern very dry martini well before it became the fashion.

@frank agreed 100%

Mencken it's like 8 stories of what Churchill said about vermouth and a martini and half of them have been attributed to Teddy Roosevelt and the like- it was an example in the sscientific aspect of it morseo than a vermouth/no vermouth peeve. I wonder if they teach in bartender school why the hell they ever used vermouth in the first place which gives more reason why it should be obsolete in a martini today.

Bartending school can be helpful and you make that money back in one week. I would rather hire somebody out of bartending school than somebody who has worked out 12 different bars.

The reason being, the person out of bartending school lacks bad habits. I would rather pay for somebody who has a personality to go to bartending school just to learn the basics.

There is probably a reason that somebody has worked at 12 different places and they already know how to work the system and they have high expectations as far as money is concerned.

Bartending school is an absolute waste of money. Let's face it, bartending isn't rocket science. In fact, it's incredibly easy and sometimes very lucrative which is why bartending jobs can be difficult to get. Truly, you need to know how to make about ten things that don't actually have the ingredients in the name of the drink. Not hard at all. When I hear of people who have gone to bartending school all I can think of is "A fool and his money are soon parted".

I own a couple of bars and I will tell you the first thing I look at on a Resume is to see if someone wasted $$ @ a Bartending school.. Start Bar-backing or become a waitress and you have a better chance of moving behind the bar. Total waste of money and time

Hi! I can’t believe it. Is it really that fun? I mean, I have never thought that bartending could be so much fun. I must say, your information has changed the motivations of my life. Thanks for your help bye. bartending schools

I think barbacking or waiting tables is a great way to get behind the bar, but at the same time it is still beneficial to take the classes. A barback or a server will know the basics but the bartending classes will teach them proper ways to make drinks and give them manuals that will help them better their career.

I can tell you another error bartenders can make: pouring a beer like the young lady in the picture. Holding the handle at the top causes the tap to open too slowly and creates too much initial head - which then gets poured down the drain anyway, it also puts a lot of pressure on the base of the handle connects to the tap causing it to break off. Happens all the time.

Bartending school students also don't know how to substitute "I'm sorry I can't make that we have no Chambord" or "we have no simple syrup" use sugar dammit.

& that guy from last night was right his post was removed lol

"Count One Mississippi" for every half ounce. Can somebody explain how that is accurate? That is one of the most common mistakes. Liquours have different viscosities and therefor pour out of a bottle at different rates. Don't believe me, pour out vodka for a 6 count and then pour something viscous, like sambuca for the same count. You will end up with different amounts. If the bottles have different pourers that also affects the rate of the pour. I can go on and on with bad habits taught at these so-called schools. Give me somebody with a good personality and people skills and I can make them into a great bartender. Those schools are a joke. Start barbacking and/or serving and learn the front of the house. That pic is funny because as LGood stated she will be wasting a lot of beer over time contributing to higher loss for the owner

I disagree, BIG TIME --

First off, it's impossible to get a bartending job with NO experience. Quoting the article: "It's all practice.. the more drinks you make, the easier it'll get" ...

Well I know that at Maryland Bartending Academy, that's most of what they do .. put you behind a bar and have you practice MAKING DRINKS.. how is that a waste of money?

Not to mention, going to bartending school gives you access to their job database.

There is no substitute for real life experience behind the bar, but both of my friends who attended the bartending school in Baltimore said that it helped them jump start their knowledge of the beartending industry, gave them confidence to go apply for jobs, and they both have jobs and are happy.. total success stories.

I disagree, BIG TIME --

First off, it's impossible to get a bartending job with NO experience. Quoting the article: "It's all practice.. the more drinks you make, the easier it'll get" ...

Well I know that at Maryland Bartending Academy, that's most of what they do .. put you behind a bar and have you practice MAKING DRINKS.. how is that a waste of money?

Not to mention, going to bartending school gives you access to their job database.

There is no substitute for real life experience behind the bar, but both of my friends who attended the bartending school in Baltimore said that it helped them jump start their knowledge of the beartending industry, gave them confidence to go apply for jobs, and they both have jobs and are happy.. total success stories.

Many students from bartending schools do just fine and make great money as bartenders. The "self proclaimed" bartender is usually the one to judge a student...THEY SHOULD'NT

Many (barbacks and servers) hired from within have to work 10 times as hard to learn the ropes. I am a previous student and current bar manager. I hire only from Maryland Bartending Academny and have had great fact I make it a requirement.

I frequent a very popular Rest/Bar in Baltimore that has 2 tiki bars outside in the summer....On every visit this season I have had to tell the (hired from within barback or waitress) how to make a simple shot that I ordered for me and my freinds. It seems to me this establishment may have a manager that is a self proclaimed bartender himself...

I was always taught that the customer is right and no student from MBA would say I cant make your martini that way....NEVER

I made my 540 back in two shifts after graduating in 2002 and getting a job through the academy. I have put my son through private school and paid for a car.....all on part-time bartending.

Thank you Maryland Bartending Academy!!!!

I went to the Maryland Bartending Academy and found it to be a pretty good value. It was pretty cheap and I was able to get (and keep) a lucrative job at the Cheesecake Factory right after I graduated.

I literally earned the $550 tuition back in a few shifts. Compare that to several thousand bucks that I spent on tuition at various colleges (that I have nothing to show for) and it was one of the best investments ever.

The restaurant did provide additional training, but it was mostly regarding things specific to them. The higher-ups seemed happy w/ my bartending skills & knowledge. Plus, I didn't have to wait in line behind all the long-tenured servers that wanted the position. I sorta leap frogged my way to the front, which was kinda cool.

Maryland Bartending rocks IMO :)


This school got me the sickest bartending job I've ever had. Not only did they teach me what I needed to know, but the owner personally introduced me to my current boss of over 2 and a half years now. This is far from your ordinary bartending school. All the best.

Wow! This article throws me back 8 years. Since I graduated from the Maryland Bartending Academy (8 years ago), I've had nothing but success. I moved here from Ohio and I needed a job - I couldn't find anything. Since I was a student during the day, I needed to work during nights. A colleague of mine mentioned that he attended the Academy and they set him up with a job directly after graduating. I signed up the next day.

My experience there was great. I had fun and I was learning a lot. I made the $540 in less than a week. Thank you Maryland Bartending School.

Graduates! can you name the bars you're working at now?

Hey Tif, Frank, josh and all the other negative commenters. You obviously don't have a clue. How do you know the bad experience you had with bartending school bartenders are from this particular school? How do you know, their computer didn't teach them how to bartend by completing an on-line bartending course or from one of the many area bartending schools, who didn't care about quality of training, who have now fortunately gone out of business. Stereo typing bartending schools, proves to me, you guys are extremely narrow minded! Unless you guys have had experience with the BARTENDERS from this particular school, no one cares about your comments. The bartending school in Glen Burnie has been teaching and placing their students for over 30 years. How do you explain that? All I can say "they must be doing something right"

If you make drinks the way you shill then I might be wrong about the bartending academy.

Went there 3 years ago, nothing came out of it. I want my $540 refunded.

When one of "your" instructors states to count half ounce pours by Mississippi, I do have issue with your school. As a graduate of the BAR Masters program, I have spoken to a couple of graduates from your school and lets just say there is a world of difference between the two programs. I was trained in different shaking techniques (i.e. the hard shake). Your graduates didn't know what I was even talking about.

See grasshopper sugar would be a bad idea if simple syrup weren't available. That's why sweet & low or Splenda would be the much better choice and not hard at all-- or is that the 400 level course. I may be a jerk but I'm not a know it all- I learn every day. But just as I tell a bartender who says "I've been bartending for 10 tears!"-- well I've been drinking for 20- so that does give me more experience.

Second rule of bartending school is even if your customer is a know-it-all jerk-- you might want to keep it to yourself.

With that attitude I have a website for you currently enrolled "" bookmark it

And how do I know if any of the bartenders went to that particular school? of the 50 or so bartenders I personally know none of them have or will admit to going to any school let alone that one. It's just as in my profession i don't care what school you went to if I see all those certs next to your name and all the industry language you're either not getting an interview or if somehow HR sneaks you to me you're not getting the job without established experience. The harbor is a good place for "schooled" bartenders and I think you guys should get kudos for that. A bar needs a real bartender.

@currently enrolled. I think Tif is trying to say it's so easy to make you should never be out of it. It's easy to make simple syrup. Use hot water (from the coffee pot or sink in a pinch) and sugar. A 2:1 ratio if you want a rich simple syrup. Takes minutes.

I went to NYC for my BAR classes. My class was headed by Dale DeGroff among others. I then worked at Milk& Honey and Angel's Share under Sascha.

I don't believe the ones you are referring to are associated with BAR. I will find out from Dale this weekend. I bet your instructor would love for me to plunk down $540 to take a test. I could even carve him an ice sphere if he prefers to sip an aged whiskey

Milk& Honey and Angel's Share

These are seriously legit places.

Wow... what pretentious spammers.

I learned to work a bar by--wait for it!--working at a bar! I started in the kitchen, waited tables and then ended up running the place. Don't think you're going to start working at Charleston. Start at a dive and pay your dues. It's also the best experience you'll ever earn.

Knowing facts about drinks is completely different than working at a bar. You can't teach personality.

By the way, if I'm EVER at a bar and you, the bartender, tell me you attended this "school" I'm likely to laugh right in your face.

Yes they are Josh. I had to shadow for over a month before I was allowed to be behind the stick alone and that was with 10yrs cocktail/fine dining experience. Sasha is known as a perfectionist in the cocktail community and I can attest to that. I was able spend a summer at Milk&Honey UK and it was a great experience.

If we're talking about the same folks ed from Sassha's is one of my favorite bartenders.

Question: do you guys thinks that chicks that take pole dancing classes can "swing" with the chicks from the block? That's tuition reimbursement in an hour if that.

I too learned to bartend by ...bartending. To get a bartending job with no experience, go to a very busy bar, find the manager and say "hey, do you need any help?" If it doesn't work, leave that bar and go to the next one.

Good luck to the bartending students. Unlike my husband, I think that if you feel you need a class, you should go. If you're a creative improviser (with a drink database app on your phone), you can probably get away with it.

Don't be afraid to ask a customer what's in the drink. They'd rather you do that than come back with some BS crap in a glass.

Just remember, "the customer is always right" does not just apply to retail. If you don't agree, then you shouldn't work at a job for tips.

Yes and Yes.

There are many that can get into the bartending industry, after grueling time spent shadowing and learning what you can to become a bartender.

But it is easier to go into a position having confidence....and at MBA that is exaclty what I received.

I would almost guarantee most cannot do this. The critics are self taught and to be honest, they too could learn a thing or two ...even if they think not.

All I am saying is that for 540.00, MBA was a great investment for me and I have made my money back over....and over...and over...etc....

I have worked at Broken Heart Blues Cafe (which was in sykesville MD) Now closed....And guess what?????

Everything I learned at MBA transferred to this Martini bar...and they were impressed with my skill set.

Brass Rail Pub in Pasadena was another bar I worked in.

Hawleys Pub and Caton Tavern in Baltimore.

I am not saying that one cannot learn a skill set without schooling...they can. (just harder way to go)
I am saying that the 540.00 I invested over 8 years ago has made me 10's of thousands of dollars...each year.

Again Thanks MBA.

I also think an MBA is a great investment. I suggest Wharton though.

so day 1 of the course is how to type a blatant shill?

other than that, i could care less if you learned via hard knocks or paid for classes. all i want is my drink in a timely manner, made the way i ordered it and with very little (or no) attitude.

If they also taught bartenders how to pay attention to customers trying to order a drink I'd have a favorable opinion. Too many bars in Baltimore have bartenders that appear to be blind.

@Josh It's rumored that the term "wet your whistle" came from European bars that stayed open all night and you blew a whistle attached to your beer mug to awake the barkeep. I suggest they implement this in many Baltimore bars especially those longer than 10 feet because after the first drink you may not see the bartender until last call. To combat this I get up and leave for a smoke. I'll bet you'll come running me down after I exit the door buddy.

This statement makes me sad:

"Most people don't know what's in the drink they're drinking," she said. But, the bartender also doesn't need to know that much.

If you're going to take up a craft or trade you should respect it and learn it's history. There's is always more you can learn.

@Tif I wasn't talking about Sasha's. I was talking about Sasha Petraske. He is often given credit for bringing the pre-prohibition style of bartending to the mainstream (although others were doing it before him). He was and is a great mentor.

Some of the best bartenders that I know of in NYC either started as barbacks or had no formal training before working at these lounges. Many of the mixologists there (Jim Meehan, Dale DeGroff, Audrey Saunders) have told me that they prefer somebody with great personality and no experience vs. experience and average personality.

Those types of bars focus on perfectly balanced drinks and the interaction between staff and patrons. They aren't as concerned with high volume drink sales, not that there is anything wrong with that. Just different strokes for differnt folks.

Sorry for the name dropping but just wanted to provide the sources of my information. Personally, the best bartender that I ever trained, was a graduate from CIA who had no bar experience. Her knowledge of flavor profiles, her well trained pallete, her culinary skills and personality made for quick learner, who was developing original cocktails within 2 months.

@currently enrolled
Just spoke with Dale. His B.A.R. is not affiliated with Bar Masters. There are two different programs/sessions. There is the 5 day intermediate certificate program. Please tell your instructor to check it out. I took over 90 pages of notes, during the 12 hr days. The last day is all testing.

In 2009 they started the BAR Masters program which was for those who finished the intermediate program in the top of the class. I was part of the original class of 15 candidates for the program. I know of 2 others that have completed it, although it could be more. I was lucky enough to have my former employer pay for the trainings (thery are costly).

If you decide to pursue a career in the industry after you graduate, I highly recommend the program.

@m I figured as much after reading the context. Also while reading your post in the back of my mind I hear sound effects from kung fu movies or wu tang albums. "I've studied under..." *swoosh of a sword

That's funny, but very true. In high end cocktail bars in Japan, it is common for bartenders to have apprenticed/barbacked for years before bartending. The process amd presentation is similar to a traditional tea ceremony.

I stumbled upon this article and thought I would throw my two sense in...I am a former student from Maryland Bartending Academy and I have had huge success since graduation over 5 years ago.

I made my money back in just two shifts from my first bartending gig. You definetely have a better chance at getting a bar job having some knowledge of making drinks...and you cant get that if you are the average joe off the street.

Go to the school,,,,,there are enough places that will hire you...get experience then move up the ladder.
Thats what I did...

Best investment I have ever made and I have since sent both my son and daughter to the school.



I made my money back in just two shifts from my first bartending gig.

No. You. Did. Not.

madbartender and not a shill

I will not debate with an idiot , you are only brought to their level.

I will however say that my post-----I made my money back in two shifts is true and again I have been very successful .I owe that to Maryland Bartending.

Yes. I. Did.

Rum and coke that's funny...I knew what that was when I used to suck them down at 18. I did however learn many other drinks...

I will say that I have to question your intentions on this posting site.

Prospective students should inquire themselves. Talk to students attending.. or graduates.....PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING is what my granny used to say.


@anonymous, it might help your case if you and the other graduates say where you work now.

@Maza -Walgreen's

I want to hear more about the beartending.

Why hasn't this been turned into a bar tending olympics already?????
People going back and forth about who knows how to be a better bartender? Sounds like a competition waiting to happen to me. Someone with a bar give us a date and let's make it schoolies vs. non-schoolies.

What would the events be, Dave?

@Dave- I'm got a location, I am going to pick the schoolies, especially if they work corporate, i.e. Friday's or Cheesecake Factory.

Events could be speed, accuracy and personality???

Set it up Maza!

Jason, you serious? I think this sounds like a great idea. I can call Mark Russell up this week and see if he's got three grads ready for a face off.

Can i judge?

I got the venue, just let me know when, preferably Monday thru Thursday.

@kateebee - "I want to hear more about the beartending." -- that made me laugh out loud! Thanks!

See, I told you it was waiting to happen :)

I think an even better contest would be to have the "know it all" reporter that wrote this article shadow a bartender for two weeks. Learn all that he can with no school....then let a schoolie (lol) ...from MBA faceoff against him after just graduating the course...We could call it "Maza Sucks" now that would be entertainment and (apples to apples)

I've hired hundreds of bartenders during my career and I'll have to agree that personality makes up for everything else. If you are personable, out-going and upbeat, you only need one more thing - training. And I'll gladly give that to anyone possessing the first three.

However, I've also interviewed a ton of people who had experience but couldn't even list the ingredients to some of the most basic drinks.

So with a bartender's license or not, if you don't have personality, you're likely not going to get the job.

That being said, you'd better know the basics before applying for the postion.


Reese Richards

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Please enter the letter "q" in the field below:
About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

Most Recent Comments
Recent tweets
Sign up for FREE nightlife alerts*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Photo galleries
Stay connected