Sober Bartenders Share Their Experiences At Work

By David Konow 10/30/18

"People can see sobriety as a referendum on their own drinking. I’ll tell someone that I’m sober, and their response will be, ‘Well, I don’t have a drinking problem.’”

happy bartender presenting cocktails

When you get sober, it’s highly recommended you stay away from old environments and friends that could trigger a relapse.

So while it may seem intuitive to stay away from bartending if you’re in recovery, Mic spoke to a number of bartenders who are doing the opposite.

One bartender in Los Angeles, Billy Ray, said, “I couldn’t imagine a life without alcohol, yet I wanted to stop. I tried everything from Sober January to limiting myself to just beer and wine.”

Ray’s identity was so wrapped up in his work “that I had the thought run through my head I should kill myself. I thought it was the only way out.”

After Ray got sober, he explains, “Now and then I get called boring or a guest is offended that I will not take a shot with them.”

At the same time, he can talk with customers about what they’re going through with their own drinking. “I am able to share with them what I have walked through and help in any way I can.”

Joanna Carpenter, a bartender who works in New York says, “Bartending sober is, in a word, hard.”

A lot of customers find it odd that Carpenter stays away from drinking. “I can never tell if they’re expecting me to crumble out of desperation for a drink or if they’re waiting for me to wax poetic as to the reasons I don’t imbibe," she says. "The people pleaser in me always feels like I have to walk around with a stash of explanations.”

Bartending can also be a challenge when you're trying to emphasize self-care in sobriety. Carpenter adds, “Believe it or not, self-care is one of the last things that is prioritized in hospitality, so to actively make the choice to cut out the lubricant that gets us all going feels like a scary upstream swim.”

A lot of sober bartenders also don’t speak openly about their recovery in an industry that needs a steady stream of drinkers to make money.

As another explained, “I don’t tend to tell guests about it unless I’m backed into a corner… People can see sobriety as a referendum on their own drinking. I’ll tell someone that I’m sober, and their response will be, ‘Well, I don’t have a drinking problem.’”

The bartender explains, “Hospitality is about making people comfortable, and because of that, I’m not inclined to do things that run counter to that.”

Yet contrary to how many would think, one bartender explains, “There’s a misconception that bartenders somehow need to drink in order to enjoy their job, which is so wrong!”

While it can definitely be challenging to work in an environment where you’re surrounded by temptation, this bartender has a good team of co-workers “that are completely respectful of my sobriety. That makes it easy to come to work and be my sober self.”

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.