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Sep 5, 2012 09:55 AM

Restaurants and employee drinking

While in no way am I condoning DUI, this sets a rather dramatic precedent for an industry where drinking both during the shift and especially after hours is common. Changing this attitude is not going to be easy, especially in small indy places with a close knit staff/ownership.

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  1. I agree with you, Msample. At every independent place I've become a regular and gotten to know the staff, there has been rampant drinking by the employees. In general, this would occur after the employee's shift was over, but more than a small percentage drink on the job, as well.

    For my part, there are a large number of employees at the various regular places I go - fine dining to dive bars - that I am happy to share drinks with and commisserate, whether they are on duty or off, and I very often do.

    1. I've primarily worked at chains. The indies I worked for were mostly diner/lunch type places so there wasn't even a bar. But all the restaurants I worked at, none of the servers ever drank on the job (the bartenders, occasionally) and we were STRICTLY disallowed from drinking in the restaurant after we got off work. A very long time ago at one of the first serving jobs I had, we were allowed to drink in the bar if you completely changed clothes and so couldn't be easily identified as an employee, but even that was stopped after a few months because the managers were nervous about liability.

      Now, we all just had regular watering holes that were very near work where we would all congregate afterwards, so the issue at hand in the (unfortunate and sad) lawsuit could still theoretically happen every single day across the country even if the rules were strictly enforced. The issue, to me, is overserving. And at your own establishment, I think it's even harder to argue that you didn't know you were overserving someone because you KNOW those people, you work with them all the time so it would be pretty easy to tell. At the bar next door, the onus is on them. And yes, if everyone goes there all the time, they too should be able to tell when they are overserving someone. It's not the popular choice with a group of people you are serving, who are regulars and good spenders and tippers to cut one of them off, but it's better than a huge liability lawsuit and someone ending up critically injured or killed.

      1. In 2005, a former college classmate was hit by a car while she and her guide dog waited for the bus. She was severely injured and was not able to fulfill her post-graduation job plans. Her guide dog was killed. The driver was on his way home from "work" at a local bar. Work ended at 3am or so, but he and some co-workers spent the next few hours drinking at the bar. The police found him in bed with and BAC twice the legal limit. Among other things, he was charged with drinking after hours (last call is 2am here) and spent 4 months in jail. The victim settled with the bar, manager, and another bar employee. The driver did not settle, and a jury awarded the victim $500K. It's been 7 years, I still live in the same town, and will not set foot in that bar.

        1. The problem is drinking and driving, not where the drinking occurred. The same accident would have happened had he drunk in the neighboring bar. Overserving is (possibly) not the issue either- he was a sommelier, so he could have helped himself without anyone's knowledge, so if someone at the restaurant served him a drink, they may have believed it was his first and only drink. I think a restaurant's responsibility is more along the lines of accounting for its alcohol, both for business reasons as well as safety, same way as pharmacists have to account for pills dispensed. I see nothing wrong with a restaurant allowing it's staff to drink after work, provided that alcohol is accounted for, and the usual precautions are taken with regard to transport. Certainly if the alcohol is accounted for, overserving can be avoided.

          1. I think that it's good for restaurants to keep a better eye on employees drinking on their premises, partially because if staff don't have to pay for certain drinks or aren't paying full price - then it may be difficult for everyone involved to know how much is being consumed. If someone's been drinking draft beer from a small glass all night, it may be difficult for both the employee or management to determine exactly how much that person has consumed.

            However, issues of drunk driving are never as simple as "tell people not to do it". I grew up in Cincinnati - and I literally don't know anyone from that area who has never driven drunk (unless they've never consumed alcohol). Due to the metropolitan sprawl of the area - driving drunk is incredibly common - both "above the legal limit" as well as just very drunk. Speaking from my experience, making restaurants/bars more responsible for their own employees may prevent some incidents - but unless someone takes a more comprehensive look at the transportation realities of places like Cincinnati it's mostly just going to transfer the problem from one establishment (a restaurant) to another (nearby bar). Drunk driving often is not a case of someone being deliberately wreckless, but rather making a decision based on what's easiest for their life immediately (not waiting for a bus/subway or a cab being very expensive).

            20 Replies
            1. re: cresyd

              " Drunk driving often is not a case of someone being deliberately wreckless,"

              Drunk driving is ALWAYS the case of someone being deliberately wreckless, regardless of the transportation issues of the town. I'm sorry the people you know can't be bothered to wait for a bus but would rather take the risk of killing someone while they're driving drunk. "Easiest for their lives" means everyone else's life is at risk--that's their decision.

              1. re: chowser

                "Drunk driving is ALWAYS the case of someone being deliberately wreckless . . . "


                1. re: MGZ

                  While I understand the disagreement, I don't believe that approaching drunk driving from the position of people being selfish/wreckless/dangerous isn't helpful. I think that lots of people who do drive drunk would prefer not to if there were easy alternatives.

                  If you're going to begin the conversation by talking down to people and not understanding why they're making that choice - then it becomes far more difficult to make sure that fewer people drive drunk.

                  1. re: cresyd

                    Sorry, given that my aunt and uncle were killed by a drunk driver who didn't have an "easier alternative", it's hard to have sympathy for anyone who chooses to drink and drive. How about the easier alternative that the rest of us do which is NOT drink if you have to drive? Is that easy enough?

                    How would you begin the conversation with all those you know who choose to put everyone else's life at risk? There are enough messages out there about people killed, lives messed up, etc. What would it take for them to act like responsible citizens? Death of their own?

                    1. re: chowser

                      I would begin the conversation with all of those I know who choose to put everyone else's life at risk by asking them why they drive drunk? What would make them not drive drunk? What would make not driving drunk more attractive?

                      Because what I will tell you is that these are not people who are going to stop going to bars and they're not goign to stop drinking. And so while it's easy to say "you're threatening the lives of other people, you're being wreckless, do you need someone to die in order to stop?" - the response you'll get is a defensive one. I'm not saying to be sympathetic to these people because they deserve it, I'm saying be empathetic because you won't get them to stop if you're not.

                      Thinking about things like how to organize cab sharing (a system where you can meet up with other neighbors going to the same area to share a cab going one way so it's cheaper), subsidized cab rides later at night, and encouraging better public transportation - these all need to be part of the drunk driving conversation. Because it's necessary to get people to stop.

                      If the point is to say "you're wrong for doing this and should just stop because alcohol isn't good/necessary/etc" - you've lost your audience. The founder of MADD has actually disavowed the organization because she feels it has become for a temperance society as opposed to getting people to stop driving drunk (

                      I 100% agree with everyone who wants all drunk driving to stop - but I believe that what gets people to stop is when they have good alternatives on how to get from point home to point drunk and back.

                    2. re: cresyd

                      There is a really easy alternative. Don't drink. If someone knows they cannot get home without driving themselves, they should not drink. Period.

                      1. re: mpjmph

                        And I would argue that the better choice is "don't drive".
                        But that is so so hard for so many people.
                        As a life long pedestrian and bicycle rider I am always shocked and saddened at the notion that driving a car is somehow a "right".
                        Drinking, sadly, may have the potential to kill ONE person; the drinker.
                        Driving can kill and maim so many more.

                        1. re: pedalfaster

                          "the notion that driving a car is somehow a "right"

                          and even better witnessing the drivers who get angry at bicyclists that blow a redlight. jeez, something bad happening in this equation is going to happen to the cyclist alone.

                  2. re: chowser

                    I believe cresyd's point is they (we?) often aren't in the position of making a good decision, just the easy one (however tragic that may end) yeah after 20 years of public transit and cabs, and now back in the world of driving, it is hard to say "nope can't do it"

                    1. re: hill food

                      I think that the assumption that people aren't in the position of making a good decision isn't even always the case. There are times when it is (i.e. someone works at a bar/restaurant, didn't plan on drinking at work but then someone was celebrating an engagement/new baby/etc and shots went around after mythe shift), but there are times when people plan this out ahead of time. I'm going to x sports event, I'm going to x bar/club, I'm going to x party, etc - and they plan to drive there knowing that they need to deal with their car and getting home. So it means believing that "I'll have 3 drinks, I believe I can drive just fine after that, and I'll take x route home which I believe is easier/less crowded". Those are choices made before ever consuming alcohol.

                      However, often the other options aren't ones that are well liked. "I won't drink", "I'll find a sober driver", "I'll take a cab", or "I can't go and have fun not drinking so I won't go at all". Those are the groups of people that I think are easiest to reach out to. Someone who is thinking about those things ahead of time, and still chooses to drive. If instead, you can reach them when they're sober and say "here's another option" - I think there are a lot of people who you'd be successful getting not to drive drunk.

                      1. re: cresyd

                        But why isn't following the law enough? Why isn't paying a fine enough? How many deterrents does a person need to do the right thing? Even for the individual who drives drunk and makes it home (which remains the majority) without being pulled over or causes an accident, or society really that incapable of just following the law? YES!

                        1. re: HillJ

                          Yes, society isn't capable of following the law just because it's the law. But also, not all laws are equally smart in their applications.

                          The reason why organizations like MADD originated is that the laws that applied to drunk drivers allowed for many repeat recidivists. Driver's licenses didn't get suspended after repeat offenses, and people would just pay the fine and go on. So the laws needed to be changed so that they worked to make all drivers and people near roadways more safe.

                          Right now some significant threats to road safety are driving while distracted (aka texting) or driving tired. And for someone who is the victim of a car accident where the driver was sober but texting or falling asleep - I don't imagine that the victim or family feels any better because at least the driver was sober. Ultimately all driving laws (seat belts, car seats, dui/dwi, having a license) are tied to keeping the driver and the community safe. And if the ultimate point is safety, then the laws and municiple policies should work to actually make people safe.

                          1. re: cresyd

                            At bottom, laws don't make people safe and are not capable of doing so. They are created to provide a minimum conduct requirement for actors in a society with the threat of punishment for failure to comply. Individual conduct is the only think that will make other people safe.

                            I do agree with you that there are additional measures that municipal, county, and even state governments could take to prevent drunk driving, but in the end, the decision to operate a car after one has been drinking, is that of a single actor. Just because there is a good mass transit system in place, doesn't mean all folks will abandon their American car culture mindset.

                            I live in a small town on the Jersey Shore. There is a train line running up the Coast all the way to Manhattan, stopping frequently along the way. My wife and I typically take the train if we want to have fun out in any number of towns in the area. It's easy enough, relatively convenient, and, most of all, safe (Hell, you can even drink on the train!). Many of my friends, neighbors, and relatives, on the other hand, will travel to and from the same places as us, only by car. They seem to think that our approach is laudable, even wise, but very few embrace it (then again, we walk to and from work most days, and are more than willing to go a week without using the car). For me, either being a 'hound, a citizen, or just trying to be entertained, the concept of "thoughtful consumption" is one I embrace (that also entails realizing that it's hard to be thoughtful AFTER certain types of consumption).

                            1. re: cresyd

                              I don't have an argument such as yours, cresyd because I find it all a big excuse. Frankly, focusing on employee drinking is enough topic for me before throwing non drinking related driving distractions and offenses further into this discussion.

                              We have laws. We are expected to follow them. When we do LESS trouble follows, when we don't articles like the one original posted in this OP result. We read it. We wonder...and we too often move on with our lives per usual.

                              The victims or relatives of a loved one clearly understand that losing someone to carelessness, stupidity, selfishness and just plain who gives a shit, can become someone else's nightmare.

                              I don't need anything other than the current laws to know how to behave. I believe most people act accordingly and I see nothing but excuse to the contrary argument.

                              Many things in life have grey areas, in my world, drinking & driving has no grey area.

                              1. re: HillJ

                                HillJ, I think we ultimately want the same thing. We just see different paths to get there.

                                In your world you see no grey area for drinking and driving - it's not that I see a grey area, I just want to see how to move more people from drinking and driving to not.

                                1. re: cresyd

                                  cresyd, I'm sure we do agree generally speaking. The easy solution, obey the law. And, I'd be really happy if the law was enforced more consistently; that there was enough manpower on the highway to do that. But for me, it still comes down to how we police our own behavior.

                                  Does drinking on the job or immediately after work & driving knowing you've had a few too many really make sense? Of course not. You could wind up losing everything over a single decision.

                                  I enjoy my beer, my cocktail...and I know when & where to handle the safe ride back home.

                                  It's really that important.

                                  1. re: cresyd

                                    I don't think anyone has disputed that options are good to have. The dispute is whether people have responsibility for their own actions and whether they can hold the rest of us hostage and drink and drive until we come up with an easy alternative for them that they can be bothered to follow. It brings me back to my original point here that drunk driving is ALWAYS the case of someone being deliberately wreckless. The person who killed my aunt and uncle years ago, the person who recently killed the father of close family friends and left three fatherless little girls (and repeatedly had DUIs) were deliberately wreckless. Period. We all want to move people from drinking and driving to not. Some of us just see it as an inexcusable action.

                                2. re: cresyd

                                  Editing to say, "Never mind." I can't get into a discussion that defends dunk driving because someone might be killed by a texter.

                              2. re: cresyd

                                I live in a town with plenty of options. The town is reasonably walkable. Public transportation is free, including several late night bus routes serving the bar/restaurant district and the highest density residential areas. There is a late night shuttle service serving the college campus. On top of that, there are plenty of taxi companies, including several that will transport a person and their car. Despite all these options, people still drink and drive. Not just a few either - I see at least one obviously drunk driver on the road pretty much any time I'm driving after 11pm. Fortunately, I live in a mostly quiet college town, and the police can afford to focus on drunk driving during peak times, at least half of the drunk drivers I see are already in the middle of road side sobriety tests. Unfortunately, restaurant and bar employees have easier access to alcohol after hours, and may be driving home while very drunk when the rest of the town is heading out to work/class in the morning.

                                Edited to add... I have a degree in health behavior, and spent three years doing alcohol abuse prevention work before I switched over cancer prevention. I fully understand that environmental factors play a large role in behavior change. In the case of drinking and driving, social factors are just as important, if not more important.

                                1. re: cresyd

                                  I find the thought that human beings can not ( or will not?) make good decisions to be fascinating.
                                  Need to think about and perhaps sleep on this a bit...

                                  It is kind of amazing to me that we have evolved this far along without solving this puzzle.