Bartender glass drinking

Can a bartender drink while working?

By Timo Torner / Last updated on March 19, 2022 
Does a bartender drink during his shift? Most of us wouldn't even think about drinking during our working shifts. There are a few exceptions, though, and being a barkeeper is one of them. Not always, though...

It is not always up to the barkeeper her- or himself if drinking during the job is okay. Sometimes the management of a bar strictly prohibits drinking on the job. That situation is pretty much straightforward. But in some places, bar managers encourage their staff to drink with guests to lift their mood. Guests then are more likely to drink more and subsequently spend more money in the bar.

And apart from personal reservations one might have, you should know that drinking during the job is illegal in certain countries or states if you're responsible for serving (drinks) to guests. So when working in a bar where this is common to have a drink during your shift, you want to make sure you know the law.

Do bartenders drink on the job?

Some do, some don't. I know many bartenders who do drink shots with guests or the bar crew - Generally, this is more common than you might think. However, for obvious reasons, it is less common in high-end bars as guests there are usually expecting the staff to act professionally.
As a rule of thumb, it is safe to say: the more laid-back the location (country, state & bar), the more often you'll see bartenders drinking during their shifts.

Let's take a closer look at the legal part. It isn't possible to cover every country and every state's laws. But don't worry, there are more countries where it's perfectly fine for barkeepers to drink while working than those where it is not. In saying that, always keep in mind that you also should be of legal age to drink. You may be allowed to serve drinks at 19 years but are still not allowed to drink alcohol until you're 21. That should be common sense, but for the sake of completeness, I had to mention it 😉

Unsurprisingly, it is perfectly alright. In the United Kingdom, it is absolutely legitimate for a bartender to have a drink when working behind the bar. It might not even be a problem (legally) to be drunk during your working hours. But guys, keep in mind that it's not only a question of the law. Your bar manager might not like it very much if his bar staff is out of order due to "team shots".

In Germany, it's quite common to have a drink with your barkeeper. If you're having a good time with your barkeeper, she or he may offer you a drink on the house, and sometimes he drinks one too.
However, many bartenders refuse to drink during their shift. Not because it's illegal but because it's more professional to not drink during shifts.

Yes, it's legal. In France, it's even legal to drink wine, beer, and cider at your office job. Not everywhere these days, but there is still a large number of places allowing this. There even was a law that people have the right to drink during working hours, for instance, having wine during their lunch break. So it's no surprise that barkeepers are allowed to have a drink or two while working.

To sum it up, in Europe there is absolutely nothing to worry about. 😉

If you like drinking during working times, Australia might be your thing. I don't know any other country where it's this common to have plenty of drinks while working. I would not say this is an advantage for everyone, but it's fine legally. Bar managers often encourage their staff, in some cases even expect them to drink to keep the crowd motivated.
Here's a short and sweet article about the first-hand experience of a bartender thereabouts.

The situation here is very different from Europe and Downunder. And because most of my readers come from the United States, I'd like to take a closer look at US laws. Here's an overview of the different state laws.
I couldn't find anything like this online and had to put a lot of time and effort into research. Reading hundreds of law documents and contacted authorities to clear up this question as much as possible. The results are listed below. For states with a clear yes or no, I am confident I got it right, but nothing's perfect. So if you should find anything that doesn't sound right to you, please let me know.

There are three different options: Legal, illegal, and "Legal?". The first two should be clear. They are states where there is a written paragraph stating that it's either totally okay or illegal. For all states having the "Legal?" option, I could not find any law prohibiting bartenders from drinking alcohol on the job. So I assume it's legal, but I am still trying to get a statement from an authority in this matter. I'll update the information constantly, so you can check again later if your state doesn't have a clear answer yet. Also, if you have knowledge of these laws in any of the states marked "legal?", please let me know. I appreciate any feedback and will be more than happy to update the information.
And now, let's see what I found out.

StateLegal or IllegalNotes
Didn't find a law against that but look at the note. I wouldn't risk it.
"A server may be found guilty of negligence if, under the same circumstances, a reasonable person would have acted differently."
AlaskaLegal"Sellers/servers may drink while on duty, but no intoxicated person may remain on the premises, so an impaired server could be arrested."
ArkansasLegal Please check it for yourself here.
ColoradoLegal, but...
Can't find any law against it but you can be held responsible if something happens to one of your customers. 
You may be found guilty if a „reasonable“ person would have acted differently.
District of ColumbiaIllegal
GeorgiaLegal, but...
Didn't find a law against that but look at the note. I wouldn't risk it.
It’s possible that you may be found guilty in case a reasonable person would have acted in a different way.
HawaiiLegalPlease check for yourself here.
IdahoLegalSee here.
IndianaLegal, but...
Didn't find a law against that but look at the note. I wouldn't risk it.
As a server you may be found guilty of negligence in case, under the exact same circumstances, another person would have acted differently.
IowaLegal, but...
Didn't find a law against that but look at the note. I wouldn't risk it.
"Laws governing an intoxicated person also apply to licenses. Intoxication impairs judgement and interferes with sound business decisions. For this reason, licensees may find it a good business practice not todrink while working." (Iowa’s Alcoholic Beverage Laws and You)
Can't find anything for Kansas. Also nor law against it but would not recommend drinking on the job because of possible Dram Shop Liabilities.
KentuckyLegalSee here.
Can't find a law against it.
Despite Maine having some pretty special liquor laws, I could not find any law against drinking while working behind the bar.
Can't find a law against it.
I could not find any law that prevents barkeepers from drinking.
See here.
But it's illegal to be intoxicated, so there's a fine line.
Check: Michigan Liquor Laws & Rules
There's no state law preventing it but cities could overrule state laws. 
Nothing to be found.
Couldn't find any law prohibiting it.
No Law found that's prohibiting it. 
I could not find any law that prevents barkeepers from drinking, so it looks like it's fine.
New HampshireIllegalCheck here.
New JerseyLegal
I could only find somehting that indirectly explains that drinkin on the job is fine for bartenders - But only during opening hours.
"Even employees are not permitted to consume alcoholic beverages before or after the closing hour", source
New MexicoLegal?
Can't find a law.
New YorkIllegal
North CarolinaLegal?
Although there are many laws regarding selling & serving alcohol there seems to be no law prohibiting barkeepers to drink during working time.
North DakotaLegal?
But only a little bit of Beer, Wine or Cider
See here.
PennsylvaniaIllegalCheck here
Rhode IslandLegal?
Could not find anything that prohibits this.
South CarolinaLegal?
South DakotaLegal?
Couldn't find any law prohibiting it.
West VirginiaLegal?
I couldn't find a law prohibiting bartenders to drink during shifts.
WisconsinLegalPlease check here.
Puerto RicoLegal
Is it legal for a barkeeper to drink on the job?

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