None for the Road


It happens more than you think: In the walk-in, behind the bar, in the restroom, in the parking lot, and even in the manager’s office. Unfortunately, nobody sees it, nobody talks about it, and nobody wants to believe it’s happening. A recent study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows the reality, though. A reported 16.9 percent of employees in food service and hospitality have an alcohol or drug abuse problem and the food service industry has the highest rate of illegal drug use of all industries.

It’s time to recognize that alcohol and drug abuse problems could be affecting your restaurant, too, and you simply can’t afford to ignore them. Employees under the influence of drugs and alcohol are, at best, unable to do their jobs effectively. At worst, they’re accidents waiting to happen. Would you want an impaired server taking care of your guests? Worse – would you want them operating the slicer?

For the most part, what your employees do in their off-hours is their business. However, if they show up for work under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it becomes your business and you must be prepared to deal with it.

Your Restaurant’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Policy

Start now. Before you’re even aware of a problem, create a written alcohol and drug abuse policy. If you wait until someone comes into work impaired before you implement the policy, you’ll probably encounter resistance when you have to act on a suspicion. If you have a set policy from the beginning, employees will understand what you expect.

What you choose to include in your policy is up to you and the legal mandates of your state. Many companies still rely on random drug testing as a deterrent to alcohol and drug abuse on the job. Other companies believe confronting the suspected abuser in an open, non-threatening way leads to more desirable results. When you detect a staff member with an alcohol or drug abuse problem, take action swiftly but compassionately.

Your alcohol and drug abuse policy should specify actions to take, and you should apply them consistently. If it’s the first offense, consider offering a leave or flexibility for treatment, and if necessary and possible, refer the employee to local resources. After the first offense, though, you may have to cut your losses and let the person go. The risks to your business are just too great. You simply can’t afford to let someone who is likely to be impaired work in an environment where you hold the public trust. It’s not good for you, your customers, or the rest of your restaurant team.

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