What Certifications You Need to Work in Bars in Canada
So you’ve decided bartending is the way to go as a career change. You’ve put in the forty classroom hours and got your bartending school certification. You’ve memorised dozens of cocktail recipes and can change a beer keg in thirty seconds flat. You’ve got a job interview lined up in the hottest bar in town. You’re ready to go to work. “And do you have Smart Serve?” the manager asks during your face to face. You shake your head. You don’t even know what Smart Serve is. She shakes hers and bids you farewell.
The simple fact is to get your foot in the door of the hospitality industry today often needs more than a weekend bartender course and a gift for dealing with drunken customers. You can have all the interpersonal skills in the world married with a flair for speed pouring shots, and while these are sought-after abilities, nowadays they may not be enough.
Canada’s various provinces are rapidly introducing mandatory legal requirements for anybody wishing to work with or around alcohol, including servers, management and even bar owners or their licensees. The course title and format often differ from province to province, but the core training is the same: they get you certified, legal, and licensed to work. These ‘licensing permits’ are now seen as proof that you have the necessary knowledge to fulfil your social responsibilities, that you understand liquor legislation, and that you are capable of promoting a safe, enjoyable environment for patrons and colleagues/staff.
Many of the country’s bartending schools offer this training as a module on their larger ‘bartending packages’, but for people who do not wish to commit to a five-week intensive course which costs several hundred dollars, there is another option. The various forms of ‘liquor service training’ are available via private companies or state departments (frequently the department of tourism), either online or as seminars, and typically for minimal amounts – for example Alberta’s online training comes in at just $25. A couple even offers to assist management to develop and cascade a full training curriculum for their staff. Of ten Canadian provinces – from British Columbia in the west to Newfoundland and Labrador in the east – half of them require legal certification before you can even begin to think about working with alcohol, while the rest strongly recommend you obtain a permit, particularly for those all-important insurance purposes.
So what do you need and where?
The province’s ‘Responsible Beverage Service Program’ of choice is Serving It Right (SIR), a self-study program run by the British Columbia’s tourism industry human resource association. This is a mandatory requirement for anybody – licensees, managers, sales staff and servers – working in or owning a licensed establishment, or those serving liquor under a ‘special occasion’ license (e.g. for a private party). Certification can be obtained through online ($35) or print ($40) versions of the curriculum which include all coursework and a final examination. There is no minimum age requirement to obtain a SIR certificate in the province.
The Wild Rose Country’s Gaming and Liquor Commission created ProServe to ensure the safe and lawful sale and service of alcohol by anyone and everyone involved in the province’s hospitality trade. ProServe is mandatory and its sweep is broad: whether full- or part-time, at a licensed restaurant or private get-together, you must have certification to work. The training package is comprehensive and can be taken online, via seminars, or as self-directed study involving DVDs, manuals and a final exam monitored by a proctor. You must be of legal age – i.e. eighteen years old – to obtain ProServe certification. Courses cost $25 for the online version, $50 for the seminar or $50 for the self-directed study option.
SIRS – or ServeIt Right Saskatchewan – is the way to go in this province. At present, the accreditation is advisory only, but the Government of Saskatchewan is phasing in mandatory server intervention training over a three-year cycle – by June 30th 2018 all people working with, selling or serving alcohol must have Serve It Right certification. The Liquor and Gaming Authority program can be taken online ($30) or in-person via seminars ($50) and both have a final multiple-choice exam where a mark of 70% must be achieved in order to pass. The online course must be completed within 45 days of purchase. Certification is valid for five years.
The Land of 100,000 Lakes organizes training through its Tourism Education Council – their Serving It Safe Responsible Service and Safety Program is the mandatory qualification required for bartenders, servers, security staff and managers in the hospitality trade. The in-depth program covers all aspects of working with alcohol, and applicants must be 18 years of age. Costs for the course – which comprises a manual and straightforward online test – are $40.
The Ontario province has a mandatory certification program in Smart Serve for individuals and organizations, with online or in-class training. The course can be taken at any age, but you must be 18 years of age or older to work with or sell liquor in the region. Training and taking the test is done online and costs $39.49 (including HST). It takes approximately 4 hours to complete the entire training, along with the final exam that can be proctored, and which has a passing grade requirement of 80%. Ontario Smart Serve certificates have no expiry date.
There is no mandatory requirement in Quebec, however the province’s Éduc’alcool and Institut du tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec (ITHQ) run Service in Action certification for people working in the trade who wish to expand their knowledge of licensing laws and responsibilities. Online and in-person – via certified instructors – four hour courses are available, starting at $89.
The Tourism Industry Association of New Brunswick offers It's Good Business: Responsible Beverage Service. The program ($46 for online) comes in two options, for servers or management, and is designed to ensure staff and patrons enjoy a safe, responsible time while drinking. As with Quebec, the training program is not mandatory at present but is recommended for anybody currently working – or planning to work – with alcohol.
As with New Brunswick, the ‘Ocean Playground’ province runs the It’s Good Business program (also referred to as Serve Right). Administered by the Nova Scotia Tourism Human Resource Council (NSTHRC), $55 gets you the full online course while seminars are available for managers and servers; managers complete a five hour ‘responsible beverage service’ program which encourages them to prep policies and procedures for their establishment, while servers and staff take a shorter three hour package. This training is not mandatory, but the provincial government recommends it for those working in the alcohol service industry.
Prince Edward Island
The island requires anyone working with alcohol to obtain compulsory certification, typically within thirty days of being hired. The Liquor Control Commission uses a ‘responsible beverage service program’ called It’s Our Business to ensure standards of professionalism and care are maintained – all licensees and their staff over the age of 19 must take the course, which has to be renewed every five years. Cost for the online program or in-person seminar and exam package is $35.
Newfoundland and Labrador
As with some other Canadian provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador offer voluntary – though recommended – alcohol server training via the It’s Good Business package offered by Hospitality NL. The program is designed for servers and managers (with slight variations for both) and run as a clutch of online self-study modules and a final test, which costs $46. The general consensus is that attitudes to and consumption of alcohol are changing rapidly, and the hospitality industry needs to ensure its employees are legally compliant and capable of dealing with any situation while at work. Although only fifty per cent of Canada’s provinces currently demand certification, that percentage is likely to increase as more and more decide that compulsory training is a legal requirement. Now might be the time to think about taking that course.