Can I let my bartenders take shots with customers?

So a customer buys a bartender a shot. Maybe you shouldn't allow it. | Photo: Shutterstock.


Dear Advice Guy,

We have a pretty strict policy regarding shift drinks (one, and only after shifts), but recently my bartenders have started taking shots with customers that some regulars buy them. I am OK with this in terms of revenue and morale (both customer and employee), but is it allowed?

– Owner, bar and grill, Philadelphia


As a long-time Restaurant Business advice columnist, I sometimes feel my title should be Killjoy rather than Advice Guy. While drinking along with guests may be a common practice, especially in casual and fun environments, in most states, including yours, it is illegal for bartenders to drink on the job. Section 493(28) of the Pennsylvania Liquor Code states, “it is unlawful for any licensee, his servants, agents or employees, to consume liquor or malt or brewed beverages while tending bar or otherwise serving alcohol.” Violations can result in fines or the loss of your liquor license.

Beyond the legality, it would be wise to squash this practice. Drinking clouds judgment, as we all know. This may result in overpours or over-comps, favoring the guests who keep the shots flowing and neglecting others, or other unprofessional behavior that might come from how one acts a few drinks in, putting your operation at risk. My advice is that if a guest offers to buy a staff member a drink, you do this via a gift card credit. That allows the guest to show their generosity, the operation to capture the revenue, and the staff member to be properly rewarded with money to spend on food and beverage—just not while on the clock.

As always, this column is not legal advice. Check with your attorney, state liquor authority, and restaurant association to be sure your practices are compliant.

More on drinking on the job here.

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