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Should You Allow After-Shift Drinks in Your Restaurant?

Some restaurants allow an after-shift drink, after which the staff is allowed to hang around and become regular paying customers.  The issue has come up in my trainings and I have a definite opinion on it.  I prefer that employees do not sit at the bar and drink after their shift – at all.  If they want to come in on a day off, absolutely great.

I have worked with owners who feel that it is a good morale booster for the staff, but they are wary that less than desirable behavior, including language, will ensue.  Accordingly, we have usually come to a mutual decision that rules must be adhered to in order to make it palatable for staff and guests.

Staff must be clocked out and change into clothes other than their uniforms.  And their clothes must be of a business casual style.  They are allowed one free shift drink and then they must pay as if they are regular customers.  Some owners have decided to not give a shift drink, but staff is allowed to stay and drink.

I have never seen any of these policies as a benefit for the image of the restaurant.  Inevitably, someone drinks too much and talks too loudly and inappropriately.  I have seen otherwise polite and charming staff members become loud, embarrassing drunks at the bar.  Even worse behavior has occurred at the horror of owners realizing they should not have allowed alcohol to flow as freely as it did.

For whatever reason, kitchen staff isn’t usually held to the same appearance standards as the service staff.  Chefs who have long, unruly hair and scraggly beards might keep them in check while working, but they often pass through the dining area where guests can see them.  And then they might see them at the bar later, hair flowing freely and language and subject matter being discussed that most guests feel is inappropriate.  It makes them wonder what is happening in the kitchen.

This isn’t exclusive to kitchen staff.  It is merely an example to point out that just because your position might be in the kitchen, where you feel you aren’t ever seen, may give you a false sense of obscurity.  Servers have an obligation to appear clean because of their constant and close proximity to guests.  I have seen servers and kitchen staff alike abuse the privilege of sitting at the bar and drinking.

Personally, just a couple of nights ago, I went out to dinner with a friend and witnessed this behavior.  I wasn’t working; I was out for purely social and fun reasons.  I was in the position of the guest, watching the staff lounge around.  Our waiter was wearing a chef’s coat and his hair was long and in a ponytail under a turned-around baseball cap.  It looked as if all the workers were at the bar.  One young man came shuffling through with his apron tied haphazardly across his body, his hair was long and barely contained in a ponytail and his beard was scraggly and unkempt.

Shortly after, we saw him sitting at the bar.  I don’t know if he was drinking or just hanging out.  Either way, it didn’t look professional.  The only thing that changed about his appearance was the loss of the apron.  His street clothes were sloppy and dirty looking.

Let me get even more specific, in case anyone is thinking of the atmosphere argument.  All of the places I used as examples are in a price point range where this kind of behavior should not be allowed.  There are dinner plates on the menus above $20; in my mind, guests shouldn’t have to witness the staff after work, complaining about work, making fun of each other and talking about their personal lives in front of people who are essentially responsible for their paychecks.

The exception to this rule, outside of the owner saying otherwise, is the very casual bar environment.  I have worked with restaurants who are primarily bar establishments with bar food as a secondary profit.  A very casual environment like that is very different than the other establishments mentioned.  It’s ok and sometimes even expected that staff will hang around and drink with the locals.

The point is this:  what image are you projecting to your guests?  You might be ok with tattoos, long hair and piercings, and personally, what people choose to do with their bodies is their business; however, when you’re dealing with the public at large and especially the preparation of their food, you might consider asking your staff to put their long hair into a neat ponytail or bun, cover up the tattoos and take out the piercings.  Health codes dictate length of nails and specific cleanliness details of food handlers – chefs and servers alike.

Just think about how it looks.  I’m not suggesting that people change who they are; I’m a big fan of individual characters and quirky personalities.  I encourage them!  But we’re dealing with food; the perceptions of our guests should match the reality.  That means that no matter your personal style, you should also appear and be immaculate.

This is a sensitive topic and I welcome comments and feedback.  If anyone has a unique perspective and/or a successful rule about this subject, please share it!

Training and information is the key! Contact Susie at Waiter Training, either by phone or email.  The business number is 720.203.4615, and email address is Susie@waiter-training.com.  Web address is http://www.waiter-training.com.

About Susie Ross

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  1. Requiring a change of clothes for the post shift drink is a really great idea! If anything it avoids potential confusion from guests wondering why someone may not be helping them.

  2. I work for a company as an RV service manager that has a retail store, convenience store, parts dept, multiple sales lots and most recently – food offerings , beer and wine to go as well as on tap along with growler fills. The situation recently came up where I was asked not to consume a beer after my shift (that I paid for and was consuming in the licensed location) because it “looked bad”. It was a Friday after my shift, I was not in a work uniform and I was by myself sitting at a designated bar table for a period of about 5 minutes. There are no company rules in regards to this activity and my perception of the entire issue is that I’m being punished for someone else’s actions. There was a recent situation(I was told) where two employees were caught drinking after the store closed and were not paying for those drinks, so this (my consuming of a purchased beer) would “not look good”. Of course I was told this by the Service Director…not by HR , or the upper management trying to develop these new parts of the business, which appear to promote this activity with the employees. I guess my question is …what are my legal rights here? I live in the state of Oregon.

  3. If you are a paying customer you should be treated like it. Staff dining can promote your business if they bring friends or family. Any complaining or scene they could commit after a shift they can do on their day off as well. You need to know your employees and have a zero tolerance policy of they do get out of hand. My first job welcomed staff dining and drinking after their shift because ita culture was to put employees before customers because without happy employees customers won’t return. Also, as a customer so wouldn’t feel bad sitting next to a person who served me because they worked hard that day and yes they could be complaining about work but so could all of the other non-employee customers.

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