How to Combine Your Professional Bar and Social Lives

By Ray Foley, Heather Dismore

The bar business is fun. Let’s face it — that’s why most people are drawn to it in the first place. When you hire your employees, you’ll probably hire people you’re drawn to. You won’t hire people who repel you, anyway.

If they’re quality bar employees, they likely are drawn toward the lively atmosphere offered by the bar and may even enjoy a drink now and then. Because you already have personalities and interests in common, you will, on occasion, have a drink with the people you work with and those who work for you. It’s inevitable.

You have just blended your professional life with your social life. To successfully navigate this potential minefield, you have to drink in moderation and keep your wits about you at all times.

Two common pitfalls await bar owners who hang out and party with people who work with or for them: overindulgence in alcohol and inappropriate personal relationships.

Overindulging in alcohol can lead to embarrassing behavior, such as inappropriate sexual advances, drunken tirades, passing out, slurring your words, and so on. As the manager or owner of the bar, you need to maintain your credibility with your staff at all times.

An occasional slip in your demeanor while under the influence may be forgiven, but a pattern of overindulging will lead to morale problems, blurring the line between manager and employee.

If you don’t know when to say “when,” you should probably find another career.

Having personal relationships with your employees can lead to very close relationships — too close, in fact, if the relationships become romantic or sexual. It’s not unheard of for people to meet while working in a bar, then marry, and lead happy lives together. But if the relationship doesn’t end well (and most don’t), it becomes a strain on everyone in the bar, not just the two people in the relationship.

Be very careful in getting too close or too friendly with your employees. If you’re known for dating employees, you may be opening yourself up to accusations of sexual harassment. It is recommended you date and fraternize with people other than your employees.

It’s also inevitable that at some point your friends will come into your place, and you’ll sit down and have a drink with them toward the end of the night. But remember, sit down only at the end of the night; everyone will ask you to sit down and have a drink.

A simple answer is: “Not right now, maybe later, but thank you.” You can sit down for a moment, but you can’t drink with everyone because you must stay sober and keep your wits about you. Remember, you have money to count, employees to manage, patrons to supervise. It’s much tougher to cut others off when they see you drinking yourself.

For safety reasons, it is recommended that you require the closing manager to refrain from drinking. In the bar business, you have significant amounts of cash to count and account for. Math can be tough after a few beers, and impaired people are easier to rob than sober ones. No one should drink when he works!