Servers Drinking on the Job

Dear Helena,
An online review of the restaurant where I work complained about "smelling alcohol on the server's breath." The review mentioned a distinctive feature of mine (my neck tattoo), so I knew that server was myself. I feel really insulted. Yes, I did have a couple of drinks, but it was near the end of my shift. It was not affecting my performance. If anything, it was helping me deal with annoying and overly demanding customers. I am not an alcoholic. Please explain to restaurant diners that it is perfectly OK for servers to drink, in moderation of course, while they are working.
—Forgot My Breath Mints

Dear Breath Mints,
You're certainly not alone in the practice of taking the edge off during service. Geoff*, a server in Chicago with seven years of experience, recalls that when he worked at Buca di Beppo in San Francisco: "We served giant three-liter jugs of Chianti. People would leave half of it, and we would often take them back to the server station and mix them with Sprite." Sarah*, a former server, says that when she worked at a very high-end restaurant in San Francisco, servers kept bottles of wine and glasses stashed in various secret nooks: "There was a bottle of white Burgundy underneath the computer in our back room."

Some Chowhounds argue that servers deserve a drink to relieve the extreme stress of their job. At the risk of tarnishing my reputation as a party girl, I have to disagree. Like getting high, swigging a rum and Coke during your shift is just going to make the job more challenging, not less. Waiting tables is a physically demanding job. Just as you wouldn't have a glass of wine before a five-mile run (however yoga might be the exception), you probably shouldn't be drinking to sustain a fast-paced, on-your-feet-for-six-plus-hours job.

That said, there are some exceptions to the rule when you get into the topic of wine at higher-end restaurants.

Michael Jones-Morales, a former server with 24 years of experience, says: "Generally speaking, wine education will take place in a preshift meeting, and every server needs to have tasted and be familiar with every wine that is served by the glass."

Other restaurants do the same with cocktail specials. After all, how can you recommend the goods if you haven't tried them?

And there are other upsides to fine dining for the server.

Jones-Morales says: "If the server has a good rapport with the table, a lot of times the table will leave the heel of a 20-year-old Burgundy or Bordeaux." In this case, it's only fair that the server share the wealth with his coworkers. Above a certain price, it should be considered wine education, not drinking on the job.

*These servers did not wish their last names to be used.

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