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Should bartenders ever be sent home during quiet shifts?

Nothing thrills the best bartenders more than the sight of a busy bar, but what about when things get quiet? We ask whether sending staff home early is right?

With the help of a few industry members, we roundup the top 10 bartender pet peeves
Standing around: Should idle bartenders be sent home or put to other duties during quiet shifts?

As a bar owner it makes good business sense to only rota on the minimum number of staff needed for the shift, but as any bartender can attest, footfall and custom tend to unpredictably fluctuate at times.

During quiet periods, setting staff to work on prep and cleaning is an efficient use of their valuable time, but when the chores run out and the punters just aren’t biting, what’s the best decision to make? Do you send unnecessary staff home to save on wages, or consider that bartenders need to make a living too and absorb the cost?

Debating the issue are Adam Day, bar manager of The Violet Hour in Manchester, UK, who claims the conundrum occurs more frequently than people think, and Russel Downie, bartender at Tonic in Edinburgh, Scotland, who says there is no reason why staff shouldn’t be present for their whole shift.

What do you think? Follow the debate and leave your comment below.

Adam Day, bar manager, The Violet Hour, Manchester, UK


It’s a regrettable situation to be in, but sometimes there just isn’t enough work to go around and someone has to cut their shift short. I have found myself in that situation before when the venue just isn’t as busy as it should be.

It’s something that happens in lots of bars more frequently than you might think. By and large, though, I would say the decision depends upon the type of person in question. If someone hasn’t really got that up-and-go drive when they come into work, I might send them home even if it wasn’t completely quiet. Each individual has to pull their weight and if they’re not, then there’s no room for them.

However, if the venue quietens down but staff members make themselves indispensable and find things to do then I would never dream of sending them home early.

Each member of the team needs to be able to hold their own and rally together to generate more business during quiet periods. We find our own ways of promoting the bar, from thinking up special events to drawing customers in or having bartenders venture outside encouraging passers by to come and see what we’re about.

It can be tough; finding the right balance between having enough staff members to cater for busy spells but not so many that you have employees with nothing do when the bar dies down is a really tricky balance to achieve. Over a period of time you get to know how your bar runs and what times are busiest – but you can never predict what’s going to happen.

September and October are quite quiet months for us, but we are still less than a year old so getting staffing levels correct and estimating how busy we will be is still challenging.

I don’t think adopting a policy of ‘x’ number of staff per ‘x’ number of customers is ever going to work. Every bar team is different; it’s about utilising the talents you have when things get hectic and making a judgement call about how to manage staffing levels should business be slow.

Russel Downie, bartender, Tonic, Edinburgh, UK


I don’t agree with people being sent home when the bar gets quiet; I think it’s avoidable.

If you have the right team behind the bar, you can keep staffing numbers low. It also means you can avoid finding yourself in a situation with too many bartenders, not enough customers and contemplating cutting someone’s shift short. That isn’t really fair.

Bartenders come into this industry knowing the hours are long and the work is hard, but with that comes the added bonus of knowing that the longer you work, the more money you earn.

Nobody wants to sign up to work 40 hours a week and end up working 30 because someone hasn’t got the numbers right – it’s disheartening. Personally, I would much rather be doing 50 or 60-hour weeks compared to missing out on those 10.

That being said though, I can appreciate the difficulty that comes with finding the right balance between bartenders and customers. A bar I used to work in really struggled to get the number of bartenders right. For six months, the venue would be wildly overstaffed, but once they realised, it went in the complete polar opposite direction and became hugely understaffed.

That’s why I find it’s best to have enough staff to keep things ticking over – enough hands on deck to keep up with a busy night, but not so many that people start twiddling their thumbs when the madness subsides. It means nobody is disappointed when they’re asked to go home, and what’s more, it creates consistency. It creates consistency with the atmosphere of the bar and the quality of drinks being produced. Customers might come one night, enjoy the bar and decide to come back again.

Although, the chances are that if you have a large roster of bar staff, it will be someone completely different behind the bar the second time round.

Bar managers need to learn about their venue, learn about their clientele and learn the strengths and weaknesses of each member of their team. If each person has a role, I see no reason for them to not be there for their whole shift.

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