Restaurant Industry Fights On-the-Job Boozing

By Chrisanne Grise 09/05/12

Service industry workers are at a "much higher risk" of alcoholism, and shift drinking is forcing many establishments to crack down.

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A culture of post-shift drinking. Photo via

Bar and restaurant employees have a significantly higher risk of alcoholism than the general population, according to a new study from Sweden. The research study, which appeared in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, surveyed 1,000 Swedish people between ages 18 to 59 and found that a startling 63% of the 600 bar and restaurant workers participating had hazardous drinking habits. The numbers were even higher for young women between 18 and 29, with 82% of them drinking dangerously, compared to 72% for men in the same age range. The researchers say they were not surprised by the findings, offering two explanations: either the service industry attracts people who already have problem drinking habits, or the stressful environment along with the easy access to booze is conducive to heavy consumption of alcohol. This is not the first study to examine the prevalence of substance abuse in the service industry, with SAMSHA ranking food preparation and service as the number one most addiction-prone career. "It started with the post-shift drink, but it didn't take long before I was drinking throughout my shift as well. The bartenders kept us supplied, and there was tons of coke as well. We all enabled each other," Marguerite, a recovering alcoholic who used to work at a well-known restaurant in the West Village, tells The Fix. "I'd say half the staff, at least, were full-blown alcoholics or addicts."

Some bar and restaurant owners are working hard to change this. Recently, the owners of Husk restaurant in Charleston, SC, installed surveillance cameras after an employee drank on the premises after work and was then killed in a car accident. "It's not just Husk. [Substance abuse] is rampant in the restaurant industry, from what I understand. It is a culture of post-shift drinking, and in some restaurants, drinking during the shift," said Charleston attorney Carl Pierce, who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the restaurant. For many establishments, it's a question of adhering to policies that are already in place. "The places that don't have no-tolerance policies, sometimes there's a free-for-all," says Karalee Nielsen, a partner in Revolutionary Eating Ventures which owns seven restaurants in Charleston, all of which enforce strict policies to prevent employees from drinking at work. “People told me we were crazy to do it... But why would you let somebody [drink on the job] at your business? You wouldn't be OK with somebody doing it at a bank. Or in retail. Why would we think our industry would be an exception?"

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Chrisanne Grise is a multimedia journalist specializing in health/fitness, lifestyle, travel, bridal, and music. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Parents, FitnessMagazine, Fisher Price, Bridal Guide, Scholastic's Choices, AbsolutePunk.net, Chorus.fm, and more. She is the Senior Editor at The New York Times Upfront. Follow her on Linkedin and Twitter.

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