Attitudes About Alcohol Shift in Hospitality Industry

Bars and restaurants have become less tolerant of drinking on the job, but people in recovery from alcoholism still struggle with employment in the hospitality industry, the New York Times reported June 24.

Bartenders and other bar and restaurant workers still drink plenty: food-service workers have the third-highest rate of heavy alcohol use and the highest rate of illicit-drug use, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. However, more employers are frowning on drinking on the job, and fewer are willing to pay for workers’ drinks at the end of shifts.

For industry workers in recovery, challenges include being exposed to alcohol on a nightly basis and, for some, job duties that include tasting drinks. Del Pedro, for example, is a bartender at the Pegu Club in New York and an expert at mixing drinks. Fifteen years sober, his job requires him to taste new alcoholic concoctions before they are served.

Pedro’s solution: he tastes, then spits. In the eyes of fellow Alcoholics Anonymous members he may not be technically sober, but Pedro does no recreational drinking and says that if tasting leads to imbibing, he’ll quit.

Some employers in the industry, like the Lettuce Entertain You group, train managers to assist workers who may be struggling with addiction. The Culinary Institute of America is grappling with the issue of how to accommodate students in recovery, and has sponsored lectures about recovery and cooking without alcohol.

Addiction “is one of the downfalls of our business,” said Gale Gand, a partner at Tru restaurant in Chicago. Gand said that there are more sober workers in restaurants than ever — a reflection of the growing size and professionalism of the industry — and that non-drinking employees are welcomed in most jobs.

“Service is so much about reading other people and verbal skills and eye-hand coordination,” Gand said. “We have waiters who are allergic to chocolate and they can still serve chocolate desserts. And certainly, when Beethoven went deaf he could still write music.”

Still, many bartenders and restaurant workers who are in recovery hesitate to publicly identify themselves out of fear that it might cost them their jobs.

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