The Bartender’s Dilemma

Only too often, the bartending community is riddled with the dilemma of refusing a drink at work. Peer pressure, unfair expectations, and internal stress are all factors that contribute to the inability to refuse a drink when behind the stick.

Ivar DeLange tackles the issue and offers some advice on how to navigate a tricky situation if you’re a bartender who just doesn’t want to have that drink on shift.

(This article originally appeared on




Drinking behind the bar. It will always be a difficult topic. Especially when it comes to drinking shots. In the Netherlands, there is no legislation on alcohol consumption behind the bar. It is not forbidden. Yet if something happens in your bar or to the people in your bar, the bar is responsible. If it turns out the one responsible that evening is drunk, there will be legal issues. A lot of other countries have comparable rules.

Bartending is a very old profession. Recent years have seen a fast development in this beautiful trade. I have started bartending 21 years ago, and I have seen the scene develop. We have grown, we have matured and bartending is more and more seen as a respectable job. Parallel to that maturation I have seen traditions and habits develop. Cocktail competitions, guest shifts, trade shows, boomerangs and taking shots. It is a natural development when a group or movement grows, they develop habits and traditions and they develop a ‘language’. Something to give the group an identity. A word or a sign that is typical for that group, certain behavior or a dress code for instance.


One tradition that has grown as a ‘bartender’s signal’ is doing shots. Lots of shots. On bartender events, industry nights but also during shifts. Friends or other bartenders come in the bar and offer shots that are gladly accepted. A shot is given in return and the night continues. Up to the point where the bartender at service is doing his or her shift tipsy or just plain drunk.

And this is where it becomes dangerous. Dangerous for the safety of the guest, dangerous for the bartenders’ health and very dangerous for our profession. It is always your own responsibility to drink or better, not to drink during work.


Often colleagues, guests or friends push you. ‘Come on, don’t be a pussy, take a shot’. ‘What kind of bartender are you if you don’t do shots?’. Or the rudest I have heard during a guest shift: ‘if you work here, you have to do shots’.
Next to peer pressure there is the toughness of the job. We make long days with hard physical work and the guest expects you to be the happy, funny bartender you always are. There is no room for letting personal feelings influence your work. Often alcohol might cheer you up and put on your ‘bartenders mask’. (want to know more on why alcohol cheers you up? Click here)


Let’s first look at peer pressure. Peer pressure is the direct influence on people by peers, or the effect that peers have on an individual to change their values or behavior. Related to peer pressure is peer conformity. Peer conformity is the extent to which someone is sensitive for peer pressure. This is partly genetically determined and partly determined by education. If you learn the right coping skills as a kid, you will have more tools to handle peer pressure.

The social comparison theory by Festinger (1954) plays an important role when we talk about peer pressure. Social comparison is the process in which we compare ourselves to others and adjust our behavior and opinion accordingly. This is often done to fit in, when people want to belong to a group. When you are new to a group and copy the behaviour of the ‘older’ group members.

With competitions, guestshifts and social media attention we have created ‘startenders’ and world known bars and bartenders. If you are new to the trade and you see older, well known bartenders taking shots, you do the same to fit in.

Here lies a responsibility and opportunity for the older or more experienced generation, the well-known bartenders and the well-respected bartenders. They can give a signal to the younger generations and to their staff or bartender friends by not taking shots. Maybe in seminars they can make clear that taking lots of shots and being drunk is not part of our job. And not cool.


Handling peer pressure is all about coping. Coping can be a natural or a learned way of handling emotions and situations. There are effective and ineffective ways of coping, or better; adaptive and maladaptive coping strategies. An effective way of coping the stress and physical strain of the work, is doing sports or learning how to handle stress by putting it in perspective for instance. An ineffective coping with stress is taking shots, especially in the long term.

So, what can we do to say no to the pressure of our peers or colleagues to drink? Develop a set of adaptive coping mechanisms. Arm yourself against the influence and pressure of others. Below I am giving some more concrete examples of adaptive or constructive coping styles that could work for you.


– Be repetitive and consistent: tell other bartenders you don’t want to drink and be consistent in that. Maybe you have a rule you take one shot at 1 am? Always do that and don’t change that

– Practice saying no: It might sound stupid, but it works. If you know what and how you want to say it, you will sound more convincing and self-secure.

– Get away from the pressure zone: if you have difficulties handling the peer pressure, go away. If shots are being poured, go outside or to the toilet. This way you will avoid having to do a shot. Obviously, this is not the best way, but if you haven’t developed the right coping skills yet, this can work.

– Recognize stress: If you recognize your internal stress, you can decide how you handle it in a constructive way. If you know your craving for alcohol comes from stress, you can try to reduce stress internally.

– Use the buddy system. Do you have colleagues that might not want to drink, or do you have friends that don’t do shots? Stick to them. Together you have a stronger voice and you can help each other resisting the pressure.

– Confront the leader of the pack: At work, tell the one deciding to do shots you don’t want to do that. If you feel pressure, confront this person with the pressure. Maybe the person is not aware of pressuring you.

– Look for positive role models: When at bars or industry nights, there will be bartenders not doing shots. Respectable names that have been around for a while and know that they don’t want to be that drunken bartender at an event. Use this positive role model to reassure you that it is ok not to do a shot.

– Speak out. Be verbal about it: Tell people that you don’t want a shot and why not.

– Don’t pressure others: This doesn’t only go for shots. If you pressure colleagues to do something, they will pressure you as well. If you pressure them to go out after work, they will pressure you to do shots.


Shots have become a part of the bartending scene and I am not against it. Taking a shot with your colleagues after a very busy night, can have a function. It can work as camaraderie, bonding and as a tradition. The problem in my opinion starts when it becomes more than this one shot, and when there is pressure to drink. I hope that we as a scene can change some of our behavior and grow even more as a profession.


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