The Culture of Long Shifts; Why Bartenders Do It and Why Bars Allow It

Why Bartenders Do It and Why Bars Allow It

Ok everyone, let’s talk about long shifts. Doubles, 20-hour marathon sessions during ‘music weeks’, and the dreaded “clopen”. Why do we do this to ourselves? And why do bars and restaurants encourage it?

culture long bartender shifts

A Culture of Work

It can’t be denied, the hospitality industry is a work-to-the-bone, never say no, go ‘til you drop world. We pride ourselves on being able to make it through incredibly long shifts because the payoff is cash. In the bar environment, we’re often encouraged to work ourselves to the point of exhaustion. This mentality is simply accepted as ‘the way it is’ and rarely questioned. However, there’s often no place for us to turn when we get sick, injured, or forced to work shifts that border on inhumane. It’s important to ask the question, “Are we truly signing up for this willingly or are we being forced by a philosophy that mainly benefits our bosses?”

Why Is It Like This?

Bartending is becoming more and more respected. As time goes on, it has earned appreciation for the art that it is. However, we are still shackled by a history of mistreatment. In many states, tipped employees are exempt from minimum wage. This means that employers can get away with paying us a fraction of what others receive. A lot of times this is fine because we make bank in tips. However, it subtly classifies us as less-than and makes us a largely disposable workforce. Restaurant employees almost never have health insurance or an HR department to turn to when we need help. There’s no 401K savings plan to help us prepare for the future and any overtime pay is negligible. Because of all this, the opportunity to put a grand in the bank after one shift is too tempting to pass up, regardless of the consequences.

Don’t get me wrong, hospitality employees can make great money. But we’re missing the support that the majority of the modern workforce receives. All of these reasons combine to create a culture that encourages and rewards behavior that is sometimes dangerous.

The Consequences

While you may be totally willing and able to work for 20 hours straight, that doesn’t make it good for you. Many bartenders experience joint problems from standing and shaking cocktails, exhaustion from lack of sleep, and long term issues that we rarely address because we don’t have insurance. Not to mention, it’s hard to plan your life when you may not know when and for how long you’ll be working.

How to Mitigate the Consequences

Since we all know you’re going to work that crazy shift anyways, here are some tips for staying happy and healthy.

Know Your Rights

Look up the local labor laws in your area. Chances are, you’re entitled to some sort of break. If you are denied what is your legal right, report it to your state’s Department of Labor.

Stay Hydrated and Eat Healthy

If you really can’t take a break, make sure you stay hydrated and eat. Bring snacks from home or scarf something down in the kitchen but don’t go without food.

Sleep as Much as You Can

Try to get us much sleep as possible the night before and go right home after your shift. We know it’s tempting to hit the bars but the more rest you get, the less likely you are to burn out and literally collapse from exhaustion.

 Ask for What You Need

Don’t be afraid to ask for the support you need. If you need to use the restroom, don’t hold it and risk a bladder infection. If you’re hungry, ask the manager to get you some food. Again, if you’re being mistreated, REPORT IT.

We want to hear about your experience with long shifts. Why do you do them and what tips do you have to make them bearable?

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