The Beauty (And Risk) Associated With Shift Drink

If you’ve ever worked in the hospitality industry you’re familiar with the term “shift drink.” After a grueling 6–12 hours on your feet, decompressing with a beer or drink on the house is a time honored tradition that rewards employees, and can help foster a healthy work culture. However, owners certainly take on a certain amount of risk when giving away alcohol for “free.”

In all the hundreds of shift beers I’ve enjoyed in the company of my fellow service industry colleagues, I’ve personally never seen any lawsuit-worthy situations arise. However, I have certainly seen that “one” complimentary shift drink abused. I’ve been guilty a time or two.

While paying my way through college at Michigan State University from ’98-’02, I worked at a Mongolian grill-style restaurant in Okemos, MI. We were allowed one shift drink. It wasn’t free. It cost us a buck. It was also the era I experienced my first local, Michigan-made craft beer, Bell’s Oberon.

More nights than I can count, I’d throw my $1 on the bar, sometimes after grilling over a 600° F flattop grill from 11a-11p during an “open-to-close double.” While whoever the manager was that night was in the office wrapping up their paperwork, everyone who closed that night hunched over the bar in entertaining conversation, often to vent about customers, and thoroughly enjoyed a pint for that hard earned dollar. I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had over those shift beers. But still, we definitely pushed the limit of a very generous perk by often having more than one for our dollar.

After reading Craft Brewing Business’ Shift beer? First, some liability considerations for breweries with free beer policies for employees, it made me think about all the times it could’ve gone south. I’d love to hear from establishment owners, their service staff, or heart-of-house workhorses. Do you have a free (or deeply discounted) shift drink policy? How much does it play into your job satisfaction? And, conversely, what issues or nuances have you experienced from someone taking advantage of it?

To all of you who rock odd hours serving up memorable hospitality, here’s to you!