Is it Legal To Drink Behind the Bar?


See my disclaimer. But I’ll mention it briefly here again: I am not a lawyer. I make no claims in regards to the legitimacy of anything I publish in this article, or any other on my blog. I will not be responsible for your [bluntly wrong] assumption that I’m dispensing legal advice. If you choose to run with it, without appropriate validation, you’re an idiot.

Since I’ve been hammered with this question lately, I thought I’d address it directly and publicly. The answer may vary from state to state, and even municipality to municipality. I live and work in New York City so my answer will be based on local hospitality experience and  familiarity with New York State and City laws. I can’t speak for Nevada, Florida, or Timbuktu. If you need additional information, or if you’re opening your own bar, I highly recommend you hire the services of a reputable corporate attorney. Those sharks are abundant in this town – you’ll have zero trouble conjuring one up.

Now that the mumbo-jumbo is out of the way, let’s get to the crux of the matter…

New York State ABC Law, administered by The New York State Liquor Authority strictly governs the licensing of any establishment engaged in selling alcoholic beverages. Time to get your knowledge on. In particular, I suggest getting to be bedfellows with the General Provisions section relating to On Premises Retail Sales. Like many other municipalities, New York City Administrative Code (review Title 10) places additional restrictions on the state-level statutes around the who, what, where and the how of alcohol sales. To this day, I’ve yet to find anything in either sets of ordinances (as of this writing) specifically barring owners, employees, or agents of legitimately/validly licensed establishments from drinking on the job. Clear?

That said, I must stress that it is profoundly unwise to get seriously buzzed, or outright shit-faced, whilst on the job. Have I seen it happen? Yes – many a time. Do I advise a free-for-all shit show? Oh, hells no!

Should you choose to drink on the job, allow your managers, bartenders, and waitstaff to consume while on the clock; or simply turn a blind eye to it (though technically prohibited in the by-laws of the corporation), my advice to you is to ensure that the situation is under control, and promptly fire your alcoholic, drug-addict, and “situationally clueless” staff. By “under control,” I mean make sure the imbibing is limited to a couple of drinks here and there when and where appropriate. I’ve covered this topic ad nauseum in the past. If you think you can get routinely hammered with impunity while working, you’re dead wrong. If you don’t follow my advice, in order of severity, you can and will:

  1. Find yourself in a world of hurt from Shrinkage [proprietors and other principals]
  2. Piss off your fellow bartenders, where there anger will eventually force them to “cheat” you out of tips
  3. Create a shit-show of horrific service, spills, filthy environment, lost cash, lost credit cards/vouchers, and terrible service, slowly alienating your hard-earned customers and income.
  4. Get fired
  5. Be held liable for all kinds of criminal charges resulting from loss of inhibition. Think: serving to minors, theft, disorderly conduct, etc. Potential consequences are boundless.

So, in closing, while it’s perfectly legal (and frequently necessary) to knock a couple of shots back while tending bar, it is an absolutely atrocious idea to get all sauced and lose focus of the primary reason you washed up, prettied yourself up, and commuted to the bar in the first place: guest satisfaction and your resultant income and livelihood.

You’ve been warned.

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2 thoughts on “Is it Legal To Drink Behind the Bar?

  1. Great article! My understanding here in PA (and I’m not a lawyer, either) is that it’s illegal to drink behind the bar. Somehow that translates to, “it’s okay to drink while you’re working as long as you step over to the other side of the bar to slam your shot.”

  2. In MO, (again, not a lawyer either), where I first trained and worked…I looked it up, and I think it said that it was illegal there to drink behind the bar, that being said…everyone still does it. I did it while training cause the senior bartenders were like, “Newbie, shot time!” and they were insistent. Once I got off training I didn’t do it, but then I was working mostly day shifts, so it was no where near as hectic either.

    I’m going to look up IL law now, where I am now working.

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