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How Should Bartenders Be Spending Their Break Time?

Believe it or not, bartenders do get a break during their shift. Most of the time, it’s a quick 5 minutes here or there. Maybe 10 minutes to wolf down a burger. Is that fair? Is the bar owner complying with labor laws?

So, How Should Bartenders Be Spending Their Break Time? The bar owners house policy will determine what you can and cannot do during your break. It’s probably a good thing to know these policies – and comply. Your job may depend upon it.

There are additional things to consider. What should a bartender be doing (and not doing), during their breaks? Where should I take my break? Can I drink? Can I leave the premises? I’ll address all of these questions in the following article.

Although this article is about what bartenders should and should not do on their breaks, it’s probably a good idea to explain, briefly, what the law has to say about employee breaks.

Bartender Breaks and the Law

There are laws that the bar must adhere to – and the vast majority of bar owners do comply with these laws. If you work in a Union House, there will be even more policies and procedures that come into play. Laws vary, and I am not an Attorney, so I will speak in general terms here.

The Food and Beverage Industry is no different than any other type of business. Generally speaking, Federal and State law dictates that all employees are entitled to two 10-minute rest breaks during an 8-hour shift and at least a half-hour for lunch.

The law also provides for compensation if you are unable to take these breaks. Usually an extra hour of pay, per 8-hour shift, if you received no meal or 10-minute breaks. The laws vary.

Whether you get paid for these breaks is another issue. You will most likely have to sign out for your lunch break – but not for the “rest periods.” Restroom breaks are not considered “breaks” or “rest” periods.

There may be nursing facilities, and there are a whole lot of factors that would determine if these are actual breaks. The point is – your employer should be aware of the State Laws and be in full compliance.

This is all fairly straightforward; however, for those of you who have worked in a restaurant or bar, currently or in the past, you know that it really doesn’t work out perfectly. You are busy. The bar is busy. Customers are thirsty. Where is that bar manager when it’s time for my break?

I’m certainly not going to advocate that you simply ignore the law, and your rights as an employee, but it’s generally understood that in the Food and Beverage Industry the rules are “bent” just a bit.

Go with the flow, and take your breaks when business dictates. If things get out of hand – bring it to someone’s attention. Only you can decide if you’re being taken advantage of.

For more information on work-place laws, you can check out the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

So, When Exactly Do Bartenders Get breaks?

In the Food and Beverage Industry, business pretty much dictates when bartenders, as well as all bar and restaurant employees, get a break. I’ll give you a couple of examples here.

When I worked as a banquet bartender, the staff would usually get everything set up and then take a meal break. Sometimes 10 minutes. Sometimes 30 minutes. Of course, if you are short staffed (which happens a lot), then there may be no break.

Doesn’t sound like the house is complying with the law, does it? On the flip side, these functions are usually much less than 8 hours. Many times, it’s a simple lunch function, and you’re in and out in 4 hours. Again, State laws will vary on this.

A busy bar is a much different situation. Many times, the bar manager or even a server may relieve you for 5 or 10 minutes. A 30 minute lunch break does happen – but don’t count on it.

If you need a simple restroom break – have an employee keep an eye out so customers do not slip behind the bar while you are absent. Simple. I have never heard of a bar manager denying an employee a restroom break.

Do Bartenders Get Smoke Breaks?

Smoke breaks are a different story. For you smokers and vapers out there – ouch. If you’re interested, I wrote another article on whether or not bartenders should think twice about smoking altogether which might open your eyes a bit.

Briefly, if you think that the person interviewing you for that bartending job isn’t aware of the problems and issues that smokers bring to the table – think again. I won’t go into details here – just know that being a smoker may have a negative impact on you landing that coveted bartending job.

Gone are the days of smoking behind the bar. Legally, that is. Not good for all of you smokers out there, and the only way you can sneak a couple of drags is by heading out the back door for a minute or two. Or in the walk-in beer cooler. Did I just say that? Please – don’t do that.

smoking fumes in a designated smoking area

Yes, I know that there are laws governing discrimination and smokers – but you will run across biased bar owners. Count on it.

For all of you smokers out there (including vapers), you are being watched. Again, I know that employers cannot discriminate against you for smoking. But, do they?

One of the most common complaints from bar managers is that their bartenders are constantly asking for a smoke break. Or, worse yet, simply heading off to the back dock for a few minutes and multiple puffs.

Do they get tired of you asking for that 5-minute smoke break numerous times during your shift? They should. I know that I did. Why are you getting multiple breaks while other employees struggle to get even one?

Who’s taking care of the customers? Please, don’t do that! All it takes is one customer, or employee, asking the bar manager where the bartender is. Oops.

Listen, I’m not the smoking police, but the bottom line is, if you’re a smoker, either refrain from smoking outside of authorized breaks – or quit smoking altogether.

What Should Bartenders Not Do During Their Breaks?

But there are additional issues. What are you doing on your break? I have witnessed many bartenders lose their jobs over “break” behavior that falls out of favor with the boss or the law. Questionable, stupid behavior.

When it comes to break-time misbehavior, in my experience, the two top things that will get you fired are drinking or using drugs on your break and extending your break to a ridiculous amount of time. Repeatedly. Let’s take a look at both of these situations.

Don’t Drink or Use Drugs On Your Break!

I have discussed drinking and using drugs during your bartending shift in other articles and lessons elsewhere on this site. Don’t do it! Unfortunately, many bartenders, and other employees, believe that the laws and house policies do not apply when they are on break. Big mistake.

There are many reasons why a state may forbid bartenders from drinking on the job. Valid reasons. I won’t go into any detail here as this article is about “break time,” but the main reason is that you need to be sober in order to determine if your customers are sober enough to be served another drink. There’s a reason why states may require all bartenders (and servers) to attend an “Alcohol Awareness Training” program.

And don’t even get me started on the safety issues likely to arise when a bartender is inebriated. Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed drunken behavior behind the bar that led to some pretty serious injuries.

Yes, I know that there is a lot of controversy over this, but after many years of working as a bartender I tend to agree with a no drinking policy during the entire shift – breaks included.

And don’t even get me started on how you may be setting yourself, and the bar, up for a massive lawsuit. For a good example of how different states deal with this issue, check out Texas and some of their bar liability laws.

You may be working as a bartender in a state that forbids drinking behind the bar. OK, you get that. You don’t drink behind the bar.

But what about while you’re on break? Can I head across the street and slam a couple shots along with a draft beer? Sure – you could. But, should you? The short answer is “No!”

But, you say, I’m not actually behind the bar when I’m drinking on my break. Sure, use that as an excuse when (ABC) Alcohol Beverage Control comes in, gets up close and personal with you, and asks why you reek of alcohol. Ouch.

What about drinking before your shift? I have written many articles about drinking behind the bar. One of the most well-received was this one about drinking behind the bar.

My advice has always been to refrain from drinking or using any type of drug while you are working. Period. No matter what type of job you have or what industry you’re working in. And this includes your break time.

There is no excuse for bartenders as they often see firsthand many of their customers during the day shift come in and power down multiple drinks in a short period of time during their lunch break.

Yes, the 2-martini lunch is still alive and well, my friends. The same happens with those that work the night shift. No discrimination here!

And these customers are going back to their jobs. Who knows? They may be operating machinery, writing code, or in a management position making high-level decisions.

How Should Bartenders Be Spending Their Break Time?

That’s none of your business, of course, but when you see someone a little tipsy after drinking his or her lunch – what makes them any different from you? Alcohol affects you in the same way that it affects everyone else.

But what if my bar manager doesn’t care if I go next door on my lunch break and have a few beers? Fine. If it’s a state where drinking behind the bar and smelling of alcohol is legal – knock yourself out. It’s none of my business whether you drink or not in this situation.

If you are drinking or using drugs during your break time – and it’s against the law or bar policy – it’s only a matter of time before you get caught. Are you prepared to deal with the consequences?

Keep Your Break Within the Allotted Time

As you know, things happen fast in a bar. A mysteriously missing bartender does the house no favors – and the customer service suffers. Bad news. Stay within the allotted time of your break.

5 minutes means five minutes. 30 minutes means thirty minutes. There is absolutely no excuse for abusing your allotted break-period time.

Customers suffer, fellow employees suffer, and your bar manager, (or whomever is giving you the break), will develop a severe resentment towards you. No one likes a bartender that over-extends his break period.

This is pretty simple, folks. Stay within your allotted break period time and your bar manager won’t be putting an ad in the paper for a new bartender any time soon.

What You Might Consider Doing on Your Break

So, what do you do during your “rest periods” and your lunch break? Here’s a list of Do’s and Don’ts:

DO take your breaks on premises in employee designated areas

DO take a walk if allowed off premises

DO take advantage of the time to relax and refresh

DO get something to eat

Do catch up with your email, texts, and Instagram!

DO exercise or meditate

DO NOT drink alcoholic beverages

DO NOT ingest any illegal drunks

DO NOT head out to your vehicle and smoke weed! Yes, I know that in many states it is now legal, but it’s probably against house policy.

DO NOT spend the time soliciting employees or customers for your new business venture.

DO NOT spend your time in the bar (unless it’s the designated break area)

DO NOT over-extend your break time. 10 minutes means 10 minutes!

Here’s an interesting graphic, below, on a survey that Intuit’s QuickBooks performed asking current employees what they would do with a longer lunchbreak:

How Should Bartenders Be Spending Their Break Time?

The point is – make your break time productive. Enjoy yourself, and try to disassociate yourself with everything involving work. Break time means just that – take a BREAK from working!

Conclusion – It’s All About Common Sense

Drinking alcoholic beverages on your break (or behind the bar, for that matter), always comes down to a personal decision. Do I drink or not?

Forget about laws and house policy for a moment. Do YOU feel that it’s necessary to drink behind the bar or on your break? Only you can answer that question.

I am certainly not the drinking police. Nor the smoking or drug use police. It is none of my business whether or not you “partake.” Just know that your behavior on break may have a severe impact on your continued employment.

Stay within the allotted time for your break. Failure to do so will only increase resentment towards you and force the bar manager to consider replacing you with someone who follows the rules.

Related Bartender Topics

What if I observe fellow employees drinking or using drugs during their breaks? Good question. Remember that you are not the bar’s “drinking police.” Nor are you some sort of undercover stooge for management.

Employees struggle all the time about whether or not to tell management about inappropriate behavior on the part of fellow employees – and there is no easy answer.

It’s a fine line here. There’s never a “pat” answer to this question. After years of working in this business, one of the statements that I always offered to a fellow employee was this: “ Hey, you do what you want, but I’ll be honest with you here. If the bar manager asks me about this behavior of yours – I won’t lie to him.”

What if my bar does not provide employees with a break area? This is actually quite common. Most bars and restaurants will have an area in the bar or dining room, probably in a back corner, where you can sit down, relax, and do what you want. Discreetly and quietly, of course.

Another option, if it’s allowed, is to take a walk around the block – or browse a nearby store or something. Or, head to a fast-food place, or whatever, and get yourself some refreshments.

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