What's the difference between a bartender and a mixologist?

By Toronto Bar School, 3/28/2023

All industries have their controversies and the hospitality sector is no different.

One of the biggest is the seemingly never ending discussion on just what the difference is between a bartender and a mixologist?

Some experts say there’s a clear distinction, others say it’s just a matter of experience. We’d agree with the first part of that statement.

A bartender can make the basic drinks very well, be great at prep and keep the bar well stocked, but that doesn’t mean they have the knowledge to craft rare cocktails or invent their own.

A mixologist has a great understanding of the history of cocktails, probably knows how to make any of the ones you’ve heard of along with many you haven’t and they can even come up with new tasty variations of their own.

That doesn’t mean they can manage a bar like the best bartenders can.

It’s one of the main things we explore at Toronto Bar School. Our graduates are great mixologists and they have excellent bartending skills. They have real all around expertise.

That’s because we believe you need to be well rounded to make the most tips and after all, that’s what it’s all about!

That’s because we train in a hand-on environment. You can’t learn to dance by watching a couple of YouTube videos right? You have to get up and dance – get out on the floor and practice.

If you want to make real money with bartending as your side hustle, you have to know more than just the basics. 

You get there by learning in the real world.

 But before you can start choosing your own flexible hours making money at events on weekends as a bartender (we’ll get you there!), it’s a good idea to have some understanding of concepts such as what the difference between a bartender and a mixologist is.

Let’s take a closer look.

is bartending also called a mixologist?

In the hospitality industry the terms bartender and mixologist are often used interchangeably, but they shouldn’t be. As we briefly touched on earlier there’s more to it than that.

Just because you’re a good bartender it doesn’t mean you’re a mixologist.

An experienced bartender can easily mix a few common cocktails, make a quick mixed drink and they know many of the most popular wines and spirits by heart.

What happens when someone asks them for a rare cocktail most people have never heard of? Chances are they’ll have to reach for their phone and search for it online.

That’s not likely to fill the customer with confidence that they’re going to get the drink they’re looking for. You’ve already lost them and there’s a good chance you’re not going to get the tip you were expecting.

Even if a bartender communicates well with guests, runs an organized bar and can serve drinks in a fast paced environment while making it look easy it doesn’t make them a mixologist.


what is higher than a bartender?

This question isn’t as easy to answer as it seems. you might think it makes sense to say that a mixologist is higher than a bartender, but the distinction isn’t always sp obvious in the real world.

When a guest at an event orders a cocktail, they’re probably not too concerned about whether or not you’re a mixologist. They just want you to make them the best Dirty Shirley they’ve ever tasted. If you can do that you’re going to get a better tip whether you’re a bartender or a mixologist.

Professional hospitality workers on the other hand would normally rank you as a mixologist above a bartender. They know that you likely have mad cocktail mixing skills and you’re cool under pressure.

In most cases the best ones start as a bartender and as their knowledge grows and they start to explore the world of cocktails they graduate to the level of mixologist. 

You’ll often find the two working together as well behind the bar. In many establishments the mixologist doubles as the head bartender, but again the distinction isn’t always made in the weeds.

Confused yet?

Loosely speaking though, the mixologist will be considered higher up in the hierarchy than a bartender.

 When you consider that as much as 54% of a bartender’s wage comes from tips, it only makes sense to strive to be recognized as a bartender and a mixologist. Being good at what you do and having a higher skill set will lead to higher tips.

Can I cann myself a mixologist?

At this point you might be wondering if you’ll be able to call yourself a mixologist after training at Toronto Bar School and the answer is a resounding yes.

When you succeed we succeed. That’s our difference.

We’re not training you and then sending you our in the world to find your own work.

We’re looking for reliable expert that can join us and work at events we run throughout the GTA. If you succeed with us, it will be because you are a standout bartender and mixologist.

Comparing mixologists to bartenders

You might still be a little foggy on just what the difference between a mixologist and a bartender is. That’s not surprising because many in the hospitality industry don’t really get the distinction themselves. 

Let’s break it down a bit further.


a mixologists role

a mixologist really has one main role – to craft fantastic cocktails! They’ve combed through volume after volume learning everything they can about different cocktails and all their variations. They understand how different ingredients work together to produces different tastes and they’re not afraid to experiment with ingredients to invent their own signature cocktails.

They’re kind of the mad scientists of the bartending worls – in a good way of course!

A bartenders role

A bartender is trained to make the most common cocktails well.

They’re also up on all the trending craft beers, popular wines and the best selling coolers. Most leave the experimentation to others though.

If they don’t know how to make a cocktail they’ll either look it up or suggest something else. Their goals is to move drinks quickly, run an organized bar and keep the patron happy with polite conversation. 

They’re a little more like a plumber than a mad scientist. They do an essential job and they do it well, it’s just not all that exciting.

Still, there is plenty of crossover between roles.

Both mixologists and bartenders need to be comfortable working in a busy environment and handling intoxicated guests discreetly.

They also need to keep the bar well stocked with the drinks and ingredients needed for the evening and be aware of any changing trends in the hospitality industry.

Do you need to be certified?

While a formal education isn’t required to make good money as either a mixologist or a bartender, a training program like the one we offer at Toronto Bar School can give you a real competitive edge.

Forget about those online training programs – there’s no substitute for learning in “the wild” or on the job.

Classroom training isn’t much better.

The best way to learn to be both a great bartender and top notch mixologist is through a training program like ours that lets you practice and improve your skills at real events.

After working through Toronto Bar School you won’t be stumped by any cocktail order and a busy night at the bar won’t scare you at all. You won’t need to worry about the difference between a bartender and a mixologist because you’ll be both!

Click below to start your journey today.