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September 12, 2018 You Asked, Experts Answer: Should Bartenders Drink on the Job?

staff drinking

Let’s play “choose your own adventure” – bartender style. A bachelorette party is living it up at your bar. The group orders shots – and buys one for your bartender. What does he do?

If he declines the shot, the customers might take offense. If he downs the shot, it could impact his performance. In some states, when bartenders drink on the job, your bar could be fined or even lose your liquor license.

We talked to professional bartenders and managers to get their take on: should bartenders drink on the job?

Along with how to handle customers who won’t leave, it’s one of the toughest challenges faced by bar managers and owners.

Question: Can Bartenders Drink on the Job Legally?

Answer: It Depends on State, Local, and House Laws

State & Local Laws

Most states don’t let bartenders drink on the job. States vary in their enforcement of these laws. But it’s better to be safe than sorry.

For example, if bartenders drink on the job in California, the bar’s liquor license could be suspended for 15 days. If the bartender gets intoxicated? That’s a 30-day suspension. Yikes.

Use the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s guide to alcohol laws by state. See if your state even lets bartenders drink on the job. You can also see if your bar (and even your staff members) are required to undergo safe serving training.

In addition, check with municipal and county laws regarding when bartenders drink on the job.

House Rules

Even if your state doesn’t regulate when bartenders drink on the job, you can set your own house rules. If you decide to go this route, incorporate your rules in the employee handbook. Clearly outline penalties in the event bartenders drink on the job. As with any employee handbook, the bartender should sign a form stating that they clearly understand your policies.

If you’re in a state the requires 3rd party responsible server training, you can ask the 3rd party company – like TIPS Certification – to incorporate your policy into the training.

Question: I Let Bartenders Drink on the Job. What Are the Risks?

Answer: The 4 L’s: License, Liability, Lost Profit, and Low Performance

License

Remember, before you let bartenders drink on the job, check with your state and local laws. Otherwise, your liquor license could be in jeopardy.

Liability

If a regular patron drinks too much and gets in an accident later, your bar may be held responsible. The same holds true if bartenders drink on the job – then get hurt or in trouble with the law later. Talk with an attorney about how to protect your business from lawsuits related to when bartenders drink on the job.

Lost Profit

When a bartender pours a drink for themselves “on the house” – you lose. Those drinks add up and could result in thousands of dollars in lost profit. Not to mention, your inventory won’t be accurate.

Low Performance

Longtime bartenders likely know their limits. But when newbie bartenders drink on the job? It can be a recipe for disaster. Do you really want bartenders handling money and serving customers when they’re not at their 100% best?

See what these 74 bar managers have to say about letting bartenders drink on the job.

Question: When Bartenders Drink on the Job, Do They Pay? Does the Customer? The Bar Itself?

Answer: It Depends, Here Are Your Options

We talked to Torrey, a wine expert and seasoned bartender for his take on the question: should bartenders drink on the job and how should it be tracked?

“Most places I’ve worked at let bartenders drink on the job. One bar required that we pay for drinks. This kept things simple and honest. The transaction was recorded just like a guest purchase,” explained Torrey.

He went on to caution that staff was always required to “go dry” for a short time, because one bartender would end up overindulging.

“This is why we can’t have nice things,” he laughed.

Torrey also talked about a comp system implemented at another bar that let bartenders drink on the job:

“I worked at a wine and whiskey bar where senior bartenders were given a $25 comp tab per shift. The comps could be used on customers, or for us to have a drink or two with them. By recording drinks, it ensured drinks sold (or in this case, comped) matched up with our beverage inventory numbers. If we didn’t record these comped drinks, it would throw the numbers off.”

Question: Why Do Bartenders Drink on the Job?

Answer: There are 3 Main Reasons Bartenders Drink on the Job

Getting in the “Spirit”

Do a shot with us. Drink with us after you’re done working! We bought you a beer, too. Come on, take a shot with us already.

Ah, the temptations bartenders face. Whether it’s a little flirting or a display of gratitude, customers regularly offer up free drinks to bartenders. But should bartenders drink on the job just to please guests?

If your bar doesn’t let bartenders drink on the job, empower them with polite ways to decline the “gift” of a free drink. For example, the bartender could say “it’s house policy, we don’t consume alcohol on the job. But I appreciate you thinking of me!”

Taste Test

Some bartenders want to taste mixed cocktails before serving them. They may pour a small shot from a large mixer for themselves. It’s all in the name of serving a superior product. But if bartenders are whipping up 40-50 cocktails a night? You do the math on how many shots that is…

A well-trained bartender shouldn’t need to taste test their concoctions. After all, if guests are unhappy with the cocktail, they’ll let the bartender know. Beware of this excuse when bartenders drink on the job.

More Serious Reasons Bartenders Drink on the Job: Alcoholism, Stress

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health released a startling report in 2011: bartenders are 2.3 times more likely to die from alcoholism compared to the rest of the population.

If you suspect one of your bartenders is struggling with alcohol addiction, you can provide resources and support. Some of the best New York City bartenders have gone sober or only drink occasionally.

Question: What About Employees Drinking at Your Bar After Work?

Answer: Managers Are Split 50/50

Buzztime recently talked to bar managers about letting bartenders drink on the job. The conversation shifted to what happens when a bartender finishes their shift. Managers were split down the middle…

One more warning related to when bartenders drink on the job – even after hours. If the bar is officially closed, some states prohibit alcohol consumption by anyone, including staff. Again, check with state and local laws to stay safe.

No, Bartenders Shouldn’t Drink at the Bar…Even After Their Shift

“There are likely 100 other bars in town. Go find one. ‘Shift drink’ policies ALWAYS get abused. I’ve never seen one that worked profitably for an operator.” – Chris Miller

“Never. You don’t need the liability, nor employees getting drunk and unprofessional for your customers to see. Even if a bartender needs a glass of water, do it on break – out of sight.” – Patrick Kenny

Yes, It’s Fine

“Yes, it’s ok but we have a strict 1-drink limit. Otherwise, bartenders could take advantage of the opportunity and make fools of themselves.” – Bob Devine

“If customers want to buy a bartender a drink, let them do it after their shift. This works well for bars that don’t let bartenders drink on the job.” -Nancy O’Neill

As a manager or owner, you call the shots (literally) on letting bartenders drink on the job or not. Get smart and study up on the state and local laws. Talk to an attorney. Then put a plan in place that protects bartenders, patrons, and the health of your business.

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16 Comments

  • Camille Devaux Oct 18, 2018 1:16 pm

    It makes sense that you would want to avoid drinking on the job. Knowing beforehand that a 1-drink rule is constantly abused and not adhered to is a great insight. A friend of mine looking to get liquor licensing would love this insight.

  • Bryan Fredericksen Jan 4, 2013 6:31 am

    its funny cuz the people that say no are managers and aren't making the money from the customers like the servers and bartenders do but then you have the owners who want the place to run correctly. but its all about having a staff that is grown up and mature enough to know the difference. its a very difficult balance to find, but its very important to have if you feel that its ok for your crew to drink.... Now the way we do it, is after last call. everyone follows that rule. and they know if not then they are gone. no questions asked or answered, DONE! you know that rules. drinking is fun, so keep it fun for the customers and keep it responsible. its not any different than being on the other side of the bar. everyone still has to drive home after the doors are locked.

  • Bryan Fredericksen Jan 4, 2013 6:31 am

    its funny cuz the people that say no are managers and aren't making the money from the customers like the servers and bartenders do but then you have the owners who want the place to run correctly. but its all about having a staff that is grown up and mature enough to know the difference. its a very difficult balance to find, but its very important to have if you feel that its ok for your crew to drink.... Now the way we do it, is after last call. everyone follows that rule. and they know if not then they are gone. no questions asked or answered, DONE! you know that rules. drinking is fun, so keep it fun for the customers and keep it responsible. its not any different than being on the other side of the bar. everyone still has to drive home after the doors are locked.

  • Bryan Fredericksen Jan 4, 2013 6:31 am

    its funny cuz the people that say no are managers and aren't making the money from the customers like the servers and bartenders do but then you have the owners who want the place to run correctly. but its all about having a staff that is grown up and mature enough to know the difference. its a very difficult balance to find, but its very important to have if you feel that its ok for your crew to drink.... Now the way we do it, is after last call. everyone follows that rule. and they know if not then they are gone. no questions asked or answered, DONE! you know that rules. drinking is fun, so keep it fun for the customers and keep it responsible. its not any different than being on the other side of the bar. everyone still has to drive home after the doors are locked.

  • Vic Parrino Jan 4, 2013 2:00 am

    Mixed bag? After hours after shift 99% of the time not a problem. Should be a form of reward for well done job not just a right.

  • Vic Parrino Jan 4, 2013 2:00 am

    Mixed bag? After hours after shift 99% of the time not a problem. Should be a form of reward for well done job not just a right.

  • Vic Parrino Jan 4, 2013 2:00 am

    Mixed bag? After hours after shift 99% of the time not a problem. Should be a form of reward for well done job not just a right.

  • Glen Fotre Jan 3, 2013 2:02 pm

    As a customer, I'd say NO! They spend too much time chatting with their co-workers who are 'on the clock' and customer service declines!

  • Glen Fotre Jan 3, 2013 2:02 pm

    As a customer, I'd say NO! They spend too much time chatting with their co-workers who are 'on the clock' and customer service declines!

  • Glen Fotre Jan 3, 2013 2:02 pm

    As a customer, I'd say NO! They spend too much time chatting with their co-workers who are 'on the clock' and customer service declines!

  • Joseph Passarelli Dec 31, 2012 8:59 pm

    Staff cannot drink at the job regardless of being on or off the clock. nothing good can come of it. if they want to unwind and have a few after their shift they have to go elsewhere, not at the same place they work. Case in point; I knew of an owner that allowed their staff to have a few while on the clock after a month or so it got to a point that one night the manager got so wasted that she involved herself in a Wedding she booked and started a fight with one of the guests and needless to say but the manager got fired, the wedding party did'nt pay the balance due and the restuarant closed that next month.need I say anymore.

  • Joseph Passarelli Dec 31, 2012 8:59 pm

    Staff cannot drink at the job regardless of being on or off the clock. nothing good can come of it. if they want to unwind and have a few after their shift they have to go elsewhere, not at the same place they work. Case in point; I knew of an owner that allowed their staff to have a few while on the clock after a month or so it got to a point that one night the manager got so wasted that she involved herself in a Wedding she booked and started a fight with one of the guests and needless to say but the manager got fired, the wedding party did'nt pay the balance due and the restuarant closed that next month.need I say anymore.

  • Joseph Passarelli Dec 31, 2012 8:59 pm

    Staff cannot drink at the job regardless of being on or off the clock. nothing good can come of it. if they want to unwind and have a few after their shift they have to go elsewhere, not at the same place they work. Case in point; I knew of an owner that allowed their staff to have a few while on the clock after a month or so it got to a point that one night the manager got so wasted that she involved herself in a Wedding she booked and started a fight with one of the guests and needless to say but the manager got fired, the wedding party did'nt pay the balance due and the restuarant closed that next month.need I say anymore.

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