Closing Time: The Dark Side of The Job for Bar Staff

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“How about a drink after work?”

If serving the drinks is your job, and works ends at 4am, how do you unwind after a shift?

For many in the service industry, in either bars or restaurants, having a job that puts you out of sync with the rest of the working world means becoming part of a subculture that lives its off hours in mirror opposite of everyone else.

Tim Corbett began his career in the bar and restaurant industry at 18 years old – before he was even old enough to drink. After 15 years in the industry, working at a list of establishments that includes Raymonds, Greensleeves, The Keg, The Martini Bar and, most recently, five years as the manager of Chinched, he has left the industry behind.

The camaraderie of the work is something he describes as like family, but it can also be a very closed world. When work ends at 4am, the people to who make up your social circle can shrink to only those who work in the industry. Much of that group camaraderie revolves around drugs and alcohol.

“When I worked on George Street, my day ended between 4 and 5am … You exist to provide service to other people on their weekends,” says Corbett. “My weekend would start on Sunday. Sunday was the equivalent in the industry of everybody else’s Saturday. So everybody would go absolutely bananas downtown on Sundays.”

The occupational hazards of being constantly surrounded by alcohol are something Corbett has seen as taking a toll on staff.

“I’m eight years out of the George Street side of things: I know people, close friends, bartenders, two or three off the top of my head, openly and admittedly, they have addictions issues, and now they’re totally sober.”

Having left the industry, the people that Corbett cites went through formal rehab in order to come to terms with their addictions. Working in a bar, the opportunities to have a drink are literally thrust upon you on every shift.

“On average, I did eight shots per shift with people that would just come up to the bar and want to buy a shot for themselves or a shot for their friends and they’d buy the bartender a shot as well,” says Corbett. “At the time, it didn’t strike me as alarming. Looking back on it now, it’s incredible I’m alive.”

Corbett says he knows of several people with existing addictions issues who came into the industry and left again because the constant opportunities to drink are unavoidable. One example is the standard practice of every restaurant to give one free drink to every staff member at the end of a shift.

“You just cannot exist in that environment without being within arms’ reach of alcohol at all times,” says Corbett.

To Corbett’s knowledge, no resources exist within the restaurant or bar industry for those struggling with addiction.

Despite the potential for substance abuse that might hang over the industry, Corbett’s memories of his time in bars and restaurants are overwhelming positive – primarily in the experience of working with a tight-knit group of co-workers.

“You work all day to produce something, and at the end of the day, you’re sitting down with this group of people who are good friends. And you drink the night away with them. And you get up the next day and repeat.”

About Author

David Keating

David lives in St. John’s, NL. On twitter, he is @writteninhaste.

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