So, you’re trying to get your first job as a bartender. And you smoke. Is this a negative factor when trying to land your first bartending job? The short answer is, “It can be.”

So, should bartenders think twice about smoking? This may be a bit controversial, but make no mistake – bar managers, as well as customers, have very strong feelings about people smoking these days. Especially if you’re handling their food and drinks

First, let’s get something out of the way here: I am not the smoking police. I’m a strong believer in individual rights. If you desire to smoke – go ahead and puff your brains out. This post is not about quitting smoking. Nor is it a lecture about how offensive or unhealthy it is. It’s all about the consequences and the impact that it may have on the hiring process. Let me explain.

The bartender interview is, obviously, the most important part of landing that bartending job. In fact, it’s so important that I have written a series on how to respond to the most common questions, Start with, ‘The Bartender Interview: Tell Me a Little About Yourself.’ Read this and additional posts about landing your first bartending job and I guarantee that you’ll have an unfair advantage over your fellow applicants.

It’s interview day. You showered, put on some nice fresh clothes and drove to your interview. In the car on your way to the interview – you light up. I don’t know about you, but I can smell cigarette smoke a mile away. The person conducting the interview probably can too.

Once you arrive on property, your interview has already started – read more on that in an article I wrote about Interviewing For a Bartending Job – The Fist steps. For you smokers out there, you can argue all day long about how you’re being discriminated against. Fine. But what about in the workplace? In particular, a restaurant and bar?

Do fellow employees find the habit disgusting? How about your customers? And, most importantly, how does the bar manager – the person interviewing you – feel about smoking? You may say, “He doesn’t know I smoke.” Really? Then what’s that smell you reek of?

Or, “It’s none of his business whether I smoke or not.” You are correct – he probably doesn’t care in the least what you do in your own time. But what about when you’re at work? Bar managers are very well aware of the consequences of their employees smoking. Bartenders are no exception.

In fact, I’d be willing to bet that there are bar owners and managers out there that will not hire anyone who smokes. Think that’s illegal? It probably is, but then you better check out this article: Smoking and the Workplace.

This post is not about the legalities of smoking in the workplace. It’s all about the effect that your smoking habit may have on your getting hired. Let’s take a look at how your smoking may have a negative impact on your future employment, and, most importantly, getting your first bartending job.

Bartender Interview Problems

You landed that bartender job interview. You’ve done everything perfectly: Neat appearance, you know the classic cocktails, and you have the basic bartending skills – as well as customer service skills – to nail that interview. You’re ready to get it on.

Should Bartenders Think Twice About Smoking?
young handsome blonde italian violinist smoking cigarette

First things first. You need to be very well aware of something extremely important: You do not know the interviewer! Yes, I know that there may be those rare cases where you have landed an interview because you know people already employed at the bar, possibly even the owner, but, in most cases, you have no idea of who is interviewing you.

What if he’s an adamant non-smoker? And you smell like tobacco smoke? God forbid you hit the bong on the way over. What if company policy is to avoid, at all costs, hiring new employees that smoke? Yes, probably illegal – but it happens.

You simply don’t know what you’re up against here, so why blow the interview by smelling like smoke? Let me be very clear here: Interviews are hard to come by. For brand-new bartenders, you cannot afford any missteps!

Side Note: If you’ve taken my previous suggestions in other articles I’ve written about applying for bartending jobs, and have been pounding the pavement for a week applying at, say, thirty bars and restaurants, and get three call-backs – you’re doing great.

You must understand that you need to do everything you possibly can to pull off a successful interview – and get offered a job.

Let’s say your interview is progressing nicely, but near the end, the bar manager sniffs the air and says something like, “I smell cigarette smoke.” Subtle, and he may be trying to get you to say something about smoking. Yes, interviewers can be sneaky.

First of all, there are laws that prevent employers from asking this question. Nolo has some great advice on what they can and cannot ask you. I’m not a lawyer and am certainly not going to advise you of what action you should take if asked this question.

Just know that laws are changing – but it doesn’t change the fact that some bar managers simply don’t care and will ask the question anyway – or phrase it in a way that may be legal. Oh-oh.

Why is he asking this? Maybe it’s in his “Interview Training Manual.” Maybe he smelled smoke on you. Maybe he’s had some irritating problems with his current and past employees and their smoking habits. Maybe he hires ONLY smokers. Too funny. You just don’t know.

Asking this question means that he’s definitely thinking about the additional costs and hassles involved with those that smoke. As I mentioned before, can he legally ask me if I smoke? To be honest, I’m not completely sure of the laws. What do you do?

For you non-smokers (who probably aren’t even reading this post), you have no worries. But what about you – the smoker? Do you lie and say you don’t smoke? Are you wondering if he smells smoke on you? Can you blame the smell on your roommate or a family member? You’re scrambling here.

All of your hard work up to this point seems to be swirling down the drain. You just might be screwed. Eliminate the problem by not smelling like smoke!

Here’s a good one: You live in a state that still allows smoking inside the establishment in a designated area. The bar manager has you follow him to this area for the interview. You take a seat and the interviewer says something like, “Relax, go ahead and smoke if you’d like.” What do you do?

If you’re a non-smoker it’s a no-brainer. Make it VERY CLEAR that you do not smoke.  If you’re a smoker, don’t fall for it. It’s a trap! The interviewer is subtly trying to get you to reveal whether or not you smoke. Even if you do smoke, politely decline and move on.

Please, at the very least – don’t smell like smoke! I’m not the smoking police here, so I’m not going to suggest any answers to the interview questions about smoking. You have to decide. The whole point of this article is to simply inform you that there can be consequences to your smoking in the bartender interview process.

The bar manager most likely has plenty of experience dealing with employees who smoke. Below are some of the things that all effective, and smart, bar owners think about when hiring new employees – and this includes smokers. Let’s take a closer look.

Customer Service Problems

Bartenders these days serve a lot of food. And, you will many times come out from behind your bar to serve that food. So, you check back with your customers a few minutes after serving their food (after your quick 3-hit smoke time-out in the beer cooler), and they get hit with a nice, appealing whiff of smoke. Ouch.

Maybe your customers don’t care. After all, they could be smokers. But I bet they do. Will your tip reflect it? Maybe. Will it affect their customer experience? Yep. Will it affect their decision on whether or not they return for a visit? It’s certainly possible.

This is just one example of what the bar manager is thinking about during the interview process. Again, do whatever you can to, at the very least, to give the perception that you do not smoke. Let your conscience be the guide, to quote a tired old saying.

Job Performance/Productivity Problems

I need a smoke break and it’s not my break time. Yes, I know that in the bar business ‘break time’ doesn’t really exist. Bartenders are always on the job. I guess I’ll ask the bar manager to cover for me for a few minutes.

Six Unlit Cigarettes

Or, it’s a little slow right now – I’ll sneak out back and get a few puffs. Bar managers hate this. They’re not there to give you smoke breaks. And, who’s taking care of the customers?

No matter how hard you try not to disrupt the flow of good customer service –  something always happens where you should have been at your station.

Smokers take more sick days. That’s a fact, and bar managers know this. Productivity goes down.  There are all kinds of statistics out there that will verify this. Business Insider wrote an article talking about just this issue – and it’s not pretty.

Smokers, in any industry, cost their employers money – so why wouldn’t the bar manager be concerned as to whether or not you smoke? Smokers cost their employers higher than average health costs and have higher absenteeism rates. Yep – another fact. The CDC compiles statistics on things like this, and it’s another eye-opener. Bar managers know this.

Employee Teamwork Problems

How about fellow employees covering for you – just for a few minutes? Not good. Why are you getting a short break and I’m not? Why should I cover you so you can indulge in your filthy habit?

It creates animosity in the workplace that bar managers can do without. I read an article from a few years ago about how a group of non-smoking employees wanted to sue for more vacation days or allowed ‘time off’ because smokers were taking more sick days, then them – and getting paid for it. I don’t blame them.

At the very least, situations like the above create problems and resentments in the workplace. You make not think that it’s a big deal to have fellow employees ‘help you out’ while you take a mini-break – but think again.

Final Thoughts on Bartenders Smoking

If you smoke, expect some consequences. If you’re out there doing everything you can to get a bartender job interview – why jeopardize it in any way?

Saying “it shouldn’t matter,” or, “It’s illegal to discriminate against me because I smoke,” just doesn’t cut it. Legal or not, there are some bar managers and entire companies out there that will discriminate against smokers.

As I have mentioned throughout this article, why would you jeopardize your chance at a great job by smelling like smoke? Maybe, just maybe, this might motivate you into quitting.

Related Topics

Will a bar owner ask me about drug use? Highly unlikely. At least, I never did.  Let me be very clear here: I am not an Attorney and will not pretend to be one. Seek competent representation concerning issues like this if needed.

There are so many laws these days regulating what a potential employer can ask in a job interview that’s it’s impossible for me to go into it. That being said, there are laws that state an employer can conduct drug tests on their employees if they suspect drug use. Don’t use illegal drugs!

What if the interviewer asks me point blank if I smoke? As I mentioned above, I am not an Attorney. The interviewer may be in violation of state and federal law. A simple Google search will most likely provide you with a more specific answer. Wikipedia appears to have continuously updated information on the subject. Quit smoking and make all of this a non-issue!

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