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How to change alcohol culture within hospitality teams

Updated: Apr 8

by Shell Righini - We Recover Loudly


We have all been there – a long shift, the team have really pushed themselves, guests have been challenging, perhaps no breaks have been given due to business levels, everyone is tired, but we STILL have the close to do. What do we do as managers? More often than not, we reach for some alcoholic drinks for ourselves and the team. This scenario is one played out daily in most hospitality businesses. Having a shift drink is so ingrained into our culture that it would feel strange to NOT have one.


Image of a back bar with lots of spirit bottles in the background and foreground

We use alcohol to celebrate a fantastic shift, to console if the shift has been very stressful, to relax and bond as a team, as a way to mentally 'sign off.' And what's the harm? If people don't want a drink, they can just opt out, right?


Well, it's not quite that easy. The fact is we do use alcohol to excessive levels in the industry, and this can have an impact on our team's overall mental and physical health, both short and long-term. You do not need to have alcohol misuse disorder to feel the negative effects of daily drinking, including poor sleep, reduced dopamine levels, liver and cardiovascular damage, weakened immune system, cognitive impairment and increased risk of mood disorders. There is also the potential negative impact that drinking has on our behaviours, the things we might say or do that we wouldn't when sober… doing this in the company of work colleagues can sometimes result in a rather awkward morning-after.


It's important to bring a balance to how our teams use alcohol, safeguarding them against potential future issues. If we want to do this, it is vital that we change the current culture and attitude around alcohol use. Below are a few tips that will help make those changes and have a positive impact.


GET THE MANAGERS INVOLVED!

It starts from the top. Get your managers in the business on board with any changes and have them set an example around responsible drinking. Instead of sitting and cashing up with a glass of wine while your team watch on and invariably copy you, grab a decaf tea and start that process of unwinding in a nourishing and supported way.

 

Make sure you develop and communicate clear policies regarding alcohol use in the workplace so there is no ambiguity, and enforce consequences at all levels. No more managers 'say one thing but do another', which takes away authority. 


KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!

While most of your team can drink and have little to no adverse long-term effects from their alcohol use, we do have very high incidents of addiction in the industry, which means it's important the team are aware of the impact of alcohol misuse. Make it less of a tick-box exercise, and really ensure your team understands how damaging excessive use is on mental and physical health.

 

Encourage open discussions about addiction and create an environment where team members feel safe to discuss issues relating to alcohol and drug use without fear of judgement or repercussions. Quiz the team on recommended units in briefings, and ensure your alcohol policy is one that everyone is very clear on.

 

If there are guests who are intoxicated, make sure that the language used around that is one of compassion and care and not ridicule – "God, did you see the state of table 4?!" This language supports a culture that says excessive alcohol use is something to be joked about rather than something that should raise concern.

 

PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH

One of the reasons people turn to substances is due to stress brought on by overworking. You must ensure your team has a healthy work-life balance with their rotas and lead by example by not working unsustainable hours as managers and leaders. Check in with the team, make sure their rotas are manageable, and be flexible when they are not. 

 

Make training for stress management part of your induction with new team members, and regularly revisit this as part of a well-being package that you have in place for all departments. The Burnt Chef Project are fantastic at creating bespoke services in this regard. Check them out for guidance. 

 

We are all unique and the way that this is embraced by the industry is one of the best parts about working in it. This means we also need to support team members that way, so get to know them and ensure you support them in a way that allows them to succeed.


LOOK OUT FOR THE SIGNS

Signs that people are struggling with drinking are very similar to other mental health challenges. You may notice that the team member is more tired, gets frustrated easily, is less conscientious, arrives late, stops taking care of personal hygiene, becomes introverted, etc. They may say, "I cannot wait for a drink after work," and be the first to pour the pints. While this alone does not indicate alcohol misuse disorder, it is something to be aware of and a sign to check in with that person.

 

BE OPENLY SUPPORTIVE

Don't hide the support on offer to your team – have it easily accessible in staff rooms, notice boards, community apps, training portals, etc. Normalise the conversation.

 

Look into providing EAP programs such as counselling for team members who are dealing with addiction issues. Ensure team members who are in treatment/therapy/recovery programs for their addictions are given that necessary time off work – it is vital that they commit to these programs, so support with positivity.

 

GET EXCITED ABOUT THE ALTERNATIVES

Get the team excited about low/no products through education and have a great range of drink menu options to encourage a positive relationship with these drinks for your guests. This inclusive attitude will filter backwards into the team and influence the way they think about their own drinking choices.

 

 Ensure that team members serving alcohol are trained in serving alcohol responsibly and can identify signs of overconsumption. Make sure they know how to handle these situations and offer guests low/no alternatives to encourage balanced drinking behaviours.

 

Limit the amount of after-work drinks and have lots of NA options.    

 

By implementing these changes and being both consistent and flexible in your approach, you will be creating a new workplace culture that is balanced, inclusive and sustainable.




Shell Righini, host of We Recover Loudly

Shell Righini is the host of the We Recover Loudly Podcast. She works hand-in-hand with the Burnt Chef Project to fervently support those working in the hospitality industry facing the turmoil of drink and drug misuse.


 

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