Employees Drinking After Hours: A Recipe for Disaster

By John W. TympanickEmployees

For bar and restaurant owners, their business is their livelihood, their pride and joy, an enormous investment they have more than likely worked tirelessly to build and maintain.

Opening a bar or restaurant is known to be a risky undertaking. Statistics show that anywhere between 60-90% of bars and restaurants fail within 1-3 years. In an industry where failure is common, would restaurant owners want to increase that risk? Probably not.

Whether to the owner’s knowledge or not, many bar and restaurant employees engage in an activity that seems to be a common trend in the industry – drinking on premises after their shift, most commonly after hours. Whereas the owner may not always be privy to this activity by their employees, it exposes their business to potential disaster.

With the holidays around the corner, it is important to discuss the potential consequences associated with employees drinking after closing.

A risk you should not be willing to take

Numerous bartenders and restaurant employees alike see this common practice as a fringe benefit of working in the industry. Just like many of us, bar and restaurant employees like to wind down after work with a drink or two, or three, or maybe even four. This practice is far more common around the holidays when employees are working longer hours. Many bars and restaurants even throw their holiday parties on premises after hours.

It is certainly not in the best interest of the owner to allow their employees to drink on premises after their shift. Federal traffic safety data shows that the daily death toll from drunk driving during the holiday season is significantly more than the rest of the year. By the time bar/restaurant employees are done with their shift, sometimes spending 12 or more hours on their feet, they are likely to be exhausted. Combine exhaustion with the effects of alcohol and you have a recipe for disaster. Never mind the fact that some employees may not even be of the legal drinking age. Or that allowing people to drink on premises after hours may very well be a violation of the establishment’s liquor license, which is often a vital part of the operation.

Allowing this behavior can have devastating consequences. It is the type of behavior that can be too costly for the establishment to bear. It could even be deadly.

A lethal combination

In December of 2011, one of the nation’s most highly regarded restaurants saw their worst nightmare unfold. A nightmare that amounted to a million dollar settlement from a drunken driving crash.

The incident occurred at 4 a.m. when an employee of the restaurant caused a crash that killed a 32-year-old man. This employee had a blood-alcohol level of .024%, three times the legal limit. He was charged with felony driving under the influence.

The family of the man who was killed in the accident filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that the restaurant allowed their employee to drink excessively after hours and then get in his car and drive. This restaurant that was named “Best New Restaurant in America” by Bon Apetit Magazine and was also ranked one of the “101 Best Places to Eat in the World” by Newsweek.

How could this happen at such a highly regarded establishment?

The dining group that owns this restaurant and three others already had a policy in place that prohibits employees from drinking on the premises. According to the president of the dining group, no consumption of alcohol was to be allowed by any employee in the workplace. In this case, there was a clear violation of this policy and that is simply the problem. It is easy for a business to put a policy in place but enforcing it is usually the difficult part.

How can you ensure this will not happen to you? 

As with anything, there is no guarantee that something of this nature cannot and will not happen to you, but there are steps you can take to curtail the risk.

Here is what we recommend:

  1. Implement a no-tolerance policy prohibiting employees from drinking on the premises before, during and after their shift.
  2. Enforce this policy. (How, you might ask?)
  3. Train your employees – There are many courses available to educate your employees on the potential dangers of alcohol – over serving a patron, serving a minor, serving a patron who is already intoxicated, etc. Some insurance companies even offer a discount on their insurance to those establishments that have trained their staff (go towww.hmic.com/Approved-Training-Programs for details).
  4. Install surveillance cameras inside your establishment and check them regularly to ensure employees are not drinking before, during or after their shift.
  5. Do not give second chances. If you catch an employee drinking during or after their shift, terminate them immediately.

The bottom line here is this: not only could you lose a valued employee from an OUI, or even worse, a serious injury or death, but you jeopardize your business if you allow your employees to drink on premises after hours. For most of you, your business is your livelihood – is that worth risking?

John W. Tympanick is the President & CEO of Hospitality Insurance Group.

 

Please be advised that the opinions expressed are the views of the author alone and should not be attributed to any other individual or entity and shall not constitute a legal opinion.