Well, well. Boozing staff – a huge concern of owners – second only to theft, which I’ll cover later. Look, on the job, every bartender drinks or has drunk – period. In some places I’ve worked, drinking on the job is encouraged. In others, it’s banned outright. Yet still in others, it’s somewhere in the middle – tolerated . Regardless of the owner’s policy, I assure you the bartender will at some point be drinking – guaranteed. It’s pretty much part of the job description. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a big fat liar or just plain ignorant. I’ve worked with militant management/owners that fire anyone they catch. They even apply this policy to having a shot with a big-spending regular that has requested as much. That’s the most ludicrous reaction I’ve ever witnessed! What’s the point? The bartender is there to serve and please the customer – keep him/her happy, drinking, eating, out of danger, entertained and coming back to spend more money. I don’t know where these out-of-touch managerial folks come from that believe otherwise, but where I come from, declining drink offers is an insult.
Let’s look at it the situation from another angle. Let’s say you work in a high-volume club. You have Jim, Bob, and Kelly the bartenders at your main bar. They’ve been there for years. You the owner have laid down the law – your longstanding official policy is zero drinking on the job. Jim, Bob and Kelly ring on average $3,000 each every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night year round. Taking all things into account, that’s about $7,000 hitting your gross income from alcohol alone, just at the main bar!
All three employees have never called in sick, not shown up, or been more than a couple of minutes late for a shift. All three have never been visibly drunk, incoherent, sloppy or short on their till. Yet one night, you the owner, witness Bob doing a shot with a regular and you shitcan him. As a matter of fact, you want to make a point that you’re The Man, so you bring in new hires: Phil, Leslie, and Mick to replace them all. The new dream-team isn’t familiar with the regulars, prices, your POS (point-of-sale not piece of shit although they could be one in the same) system, where things are located, your house specials, or your procedures. Your regulars are turned off. Due to this perfect storm, your weekend night gross revenue falls from $9,000 to $6,500 for a few months. Take things a step further. After 2 or 3 months of settling in:
- Mick has called out and failed to show up for 4 shifts on the weekends, leaving you scrambling to cover. He’s an actor and has last minute auditions. On the nights he works, you also discover anomalies in your nightly computer reports: numerous voids, clock-ins/clock-outs for various employees, etc. Mick has learned the ins and out of your establishment and how to game the system.
- You discover Leslie has befriended some new regulars and is doing blow in the bathroom routinely. She has become belligerent, and despite your having hired her partly because she’s really attractive, she looks progressively more like Courtney Love (at her worst) coming out of said stall every evening.
- Phil is consuming a half-liter of Scotch a night, reeks of booze, and your liquor inventory is suddenly short by a half a case of both Pinch and Chopin on a monthly basis. His register is off by $100 or so every single shift. To complicate things further, his girlfriend and her entourage have been hanging out at his bar for hours every night.
You have angina and are bleary eyed staying up until 5am nightly trying to cover and correct all kinds of problems. Can you quantify how much you’ve now lost by ousting the original threesome, who had things more or less under control and earned you money consistently? I dunno… I guess you have to weigh your options carefully, you know? IMO, it’s much better to know and be familiar with the devil beside you than not.
Ok, ok. Obviously, this is coming from a bartender’s perspective but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. I think all of this experience has prepared me well for an impending stint as a bar owner. Let’s side with management momentarily. Career bartenders in general are fucking alcoholics. The lifestyle just lends itself to incessant partying. The temptation to get out of hand is simply too much for some. In most bars, few controls are in place that are actually effective. It’s really just a matter of personality. Some folks are clearly worse than others. When you can sleep all day, work all night, have easy access to romantic interests, booze, drugs, endless amounts of food, cash money, blaa blaa blaa, it just becomes a habit for many of us. For some, that habit slowly spirals out of control. You don’t want those people working in your establishment. They will be the death of your business. Those folks are easily identified – they have recurring patterns – let’s call them “episodes.” I’ve been lucky in that my upbringing, personality, goals and other interests have kept me out of trouble and the inevitable drunk tank.
Most blogs, owners, and especially so called “bar consultant services” will wax poetic on the vices of and pitfalls of allowing your staff to drink at work. They’ll point to this study and that study, note liability and legal concerns, alcoholism/addiction, blaa blaa blaa. I’m not saying some of that is not valid. However, these folks have often spent far too many years in management and not enough time bartending or patronizing bars. Experience does not equal knowledge. Some of them are just plain too old to have their finger on the pulse of a busy bar – sorry old folks. These people’s choice of music, music volume, bar specials, staffing, etc. is just way out of touch with what’s really happening behind the bar. In other words, their views are inappropriately skewed. It may be time to hang it up. Perhaps limit your “bar management” to a nice stodgy Italian restaurant in Teaneck, New Jersey – one that seats 4 folks and does 98% of it’s business pouring wine, Rusty Nails, and Sambuca with espresso at the service bar.
You’re damned right you can be liable for a drunk employee service customers who are subsequently involved in some kind of atrocity after leaving your business – sure. Having managed bars/restaurants, having been a bartender for nearly 2 decades, and being a bar patron all of my adult life, I assure you that the key is moderation and hiring good people. Weed out the problem folks – get rid of them. Of course, in a high-volume venue with hundreds of staff, this becomes increasingly difficult.