I have spent most of my restaurant career working in corporate restaurants where the notion of a shift drink was unthinkable. In fact, my first exposure to the term was in a restaurant management training manual where it was explained that providing shift drinks was expressly prohibited. Most of the independent restaurants I worked in up until that point were not the types of places you would even find the offer of a shift drink attractive in. The staff would reconvene at the bar a few doors down for our post shift drink on our own dime. The notion of a shift drink never really crossed my mind much until I entered the consulting arena.
Many independent restaurant owners have accepted the fact that providing a shift drink is a great morale booster and reward for hard working employees who do not receive many other benefits. Other owners have been convinced that this is the industry norm and something employees should expect and be entitled to. Still other owners want to be the life of the party and providing access to free drinks provides them with a way to bond with their staff. Whatever the reasoning the owner uses to justify this decision, the staff is willing to take them up on their generosity. Even with all of these reasons in mind, I contend that offering a free shift drink to your staff is a bad policy and one that should be eliminated.
Here are five reasons that I feel providing a free shift drink to your staff is a bad idea.
It Is Exclusionary: While most people within the restaurant industry do enjoy alcohol, not all of your staff does. For those who do not drink or perhaps more importantly those concerned they might have an issue with drinking, not partaking in this shift drink excludes them from the team. Those who stay behind see this person excluding themselves from the group. This is also exclusionary for those who are not old enough to legally consume a shift drink.
Liability Issues: There are a fair number of concerns with liability when you offer a shift drink. You are responsible in most jurisdictions for those that consume alcohol at your restaurant. This applies to those who work for you as well. These liabilities increase when you are providing free shift drinks. Even beyond the legal ramifications, the moral ramifications are large if one of your staff members were to have an accident after consuming a shift drink at the end of the night.
Theft Risk: Your staff is often friends with the bartender who serves them a shift drink. The bartender’s income is at least in part contingent upon tips and tip outs from these employees in many cases. This creates a significant potential for over-pouring or offering a second free drink. This happens far too often and can be seen as a stand of solidarity against the owner or manager. The honest bartender is placed in an awkward position that is unnecessarily treacherous.
It Becomes Expected: Shift drinks usually begin with the best of intentions. A manager or owner might choose to reward the staff after a grueling shift with a free shift drink. This in turn becomes perceived as recognition of their hard work. So what happens next time they work hard and are not offered a free drink? If this becomes the reward for hard work, not offering it can be interpreted as an insult. Soon the definition of a grueling shift is lessened and a free shift drink is expected after each.
It Breeds Strife: This has been alluded to in several of the points above, but eventually your reward of a free shift drink becomes a point of contention. You are forced to offer it more often or run the risk of strife. Those who partake have the opportunity to complain about the hassles of the evening with lips loosened by liquor. This can lead to gossip, relentless complaining, and even fights. People who would normally choose not to associate outside of work are now put together immediately after a hard shift and given a drink. This can create a powder keg that can be devastating to the morale you were trying to boost with booze.
My purpose in writing this post is not to encourage you to take away benefits from your employees. I will be the first to tell you that I feel restaurant employees as a whole are compensated well below what they should be. My argument is simply that providing a free shift drink can create far more problems than would be anticipated on the surface. Once you take all of the potentially destructive factors into account, I feel that this benefit is not worth the risk. You should look for opportunities to reward your staff, but you can do so in far more effective ways than by offering a free shift drink.