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Alternatives to Shift Drinks in the Hospitality Industry

Alternatives to Shift Drinks in the Hospitality Industry by Goodwin Recruiting

The signals could not be stronger that the practice of rewarding employees with free or discounted drinks after work is coming to an end. It already has for many hotel, bar, and restaurant operators in the hospitality industry.  

This longstanding perk for bartenders and other bar and restaurant workers is called the ‘shift drink,’ which was once a term known only by industry insiders but is now widely recognized. Bon Appétit has referred to the shift drink as “one of the restaurant industry’s most hallowed traditions.”    

Traditionally, shift drinks have consisted of alcoholic beverages, but they also include non-alcoholic drinks. Depending on an employer’s policies and inventory, shift drinks can range from beer, wine, or cocktails to liquors, liqueurs, and even pre-meal apéritifs, as many cultured bar and restaurant workers eagerly anticipate their own meals after a hard day at work.  

Why are shift drinks becoming a thing of the past? Several years ago, hospitality establishments began reconsidering shift drink cultures, and for good reasons, many of which are noted below. Owners and operators are introducing alternatives to shift drinks to retain the benefits of the revered concept in safer and more responsible ways.  

What started this time-honored practice?  

The hospitality industry is known for fast-paced, high-stress, on-your-feet working conditions. Shift drinks became a way for exhausted employees to finally slow down, relax, and unwind after work. Socializing over shift drinks also became a means for employees to build camaraderie and team morale, which was good for the team, the business, and clientele.  

But perhaps the biggest stimulus that sparked the shift drink practice was that selling and serving beverages was core to the business. Bartenders and all manner of spirits were right there in overflowing abundance – the makings for instant, in-house happy hours.  

Why are employers moving away from shift drinks?  

The negative aspects associated with sponsoring shift drinks started rearing their heads years ago and by now have reached a level of intensity that cannot be ignored. Here are several reasons why restaurant and bar owners are discontinuing this practice:  

  • It’s no secret that the food, beverage, and hospitality industries rank among service industries with the highest proportion of workers who experience substance abuse and alcohol use disorders. Shift drinks can create a culture of drinking, and for some people, being a part of such a culture can exacerbate or lead down the dangerous road of alcohol dependency or addiction.  
  • Not everyone can or wants to consume alcohol. Promoting shift drinks can encourage peer pressure or cause non-drinking employees to feel excluded from fun activities with the team.  
  • Evidence is prolific in confirming that drinking alcohol on a regular basis is harmful to physical and mental health.  
  • Drinking can create an atmosphere that is ripe for harassment. Alcohol reduces inhibitions, which can lead to inappropriate behavior and transgressions that harm people and expose both employees and employers to legal liabilities.  
  • Employees who drink on the premises while they are not working are probably not covered by employer insurance policies or workers’ compensation.  
  • It’s expensive! Shift drinks cut into inventory and the bottom line, which is not ideal in these inflationary times.  

In short, there is simply too much on the line, with shift drinks risking a host of problems that would otherwise not exist. At the same time, it’s hard to ignore or abandon the helpful, community-building benefits this perk fosters among teams.  

What are the best alternatives to shift drinks?  

Rather than offering shift drinks as an incentive to show trust and generosity and build employee loyalty and team morale, here are some alternative options that hospitality industry establishments are successfully using to transition away from alcoholic drinks after work: 

  • Coffee, tea, smoothies, fresh juices, non-alcoholic seltzers, mineral waters, mocktails, and other alcohol-free beverages are being offered to employees when their shifts are over. Employees seem equally grateful for these perks in the absence of alcoholic drinks, and socializing benefits can be just as strong.  
  • A similar alternative for employers hard-pressed to discontinue shift drinks altogether is to stock up on an assortment of the new and intriguing non-alcoholic beverages that are hitting the market. (This option is also a customer pleaser!) The non-alcoholic drinks category is growing at an overwhelming pace, with new brands regularly hitting store shelves and establishments. 
  • Free meals are also a simple way to say thank you to employees for their hard day’s work, without encouraging drinking.  
  • Some organizations are finding great success by creating running clubs and other sporting activities for their employees to replace staff bar nights.  

If you’re considering altering or discontinuing shift drinks at your establishment, be open and honest with your employees about the reasons. You might share some of the above ideas to see what resonates or ask your people for input on other ways you can express appreciation for their contributions to your hotel, bar, or restaurant business. Positive consensus and change can be achieved through open, transparent communication. 

Keep morale high by hiring and retaining great people  

Goodwin Recruiting set down roots in 1999 to help hotels and restaurants find top talent. Since that time, we have expanded beyond the hospitality world into a full-service recruiting agency for executive, financial, industrial, healthcare, professional services, and of course, hospitality talent sourcing. 

Contact us when you need a leader in hotel and restaurant recruiting to help you find the right people for your business. We tend to think nobody does hospitality recruiting quite like we do, and we have the chops to prove it.