The Ultimate Guide to Bartender On-Duty Drinking Rights in the US

The Ultimate Guide to Bartender On-Duty Drinking Rights in the US

From states where bartender sipping is strictly prohibited to surprising places where it's allowed, explore the regulations of bartender alcohol consumption state by state.

Ever clinked glasses with a customer after a long day? Wondered if you ever get to enjoy a sip while mixing their drink? In some states, the answer is a (surprising) "cheers!" 

Curious about what states bartenders can drink on the job? We’ve reviewed the regulations in all 50 states and compiled the following lists for bartenders.

  1. The Naughty List: States where bartender drinking is prohibited
  2. The Nice List: Surprising states where bartenders can drink
  3. The Rest: Murky middle ground on bar staff drinking

[Whether you can drink with your customers or not, there are plenty of ways to be cool behind the bar with Broken Bartender’s stylish clothing and cheeky accessories collection for bartenders who want to stand out.]

Best Gifts for Bartenders by Broken Bartender

The Naughty List: States where bartender drinking is prohibited

In most states, the rules are clear: bartenders cannot drink on the job. Laws in these states strictly prohibit alcohol consumption while on duty. Violating these rules can result in hefty fines, the suspension of liquor licenses, and even jail time for both bartenders and bar owners. These potential consequences make it crucial for bars and bartenders to prioritize responsible alcohol service. Some examples include:


Bartenders getting tipsy or drunk on-site could face criminal public drunkenness charges. The bar itself risks liquor license suspension if intoxicated employees stay on duty.


Owners can drink at their own establishments only when off-duty. Bartenders and servers cannot consume any alcohol while serving customers.


State alcohol regulations explicitly prohibit drinking by any on-duty employee at bars, restaurants, or events serving alcohol. Permit cancellations, fines, or suspensions are potential penalties.


The Illinois Liquor Control Act point blank prohibits bartenders and other employees of any state-licensed business from consuming alcohol while on duty.


By law, Indiana prohibits employees in any industry from being intoxicated or illegally using drugs while at work. The state can mandate drug testing to enforce compliance. This covers bartenders.

New Hampshire

Straight to the point—New Hampshire says no one serving alcohol on or off premises, like bartenders, can drink any themselves while actively working.

North Carolina

The Tar Heel State flatly states employees on-premises cannot drink while on duty, before shifts, or even after closing if still working.


Laws extend across all bartending license types to forbid bartenders and other alcohol-serving staff from drinking while on duty.


Workplace policies mandate that employees, including bartenders, must remain completely alcohol and drug-free while on duty or actively working.


The Texas Administrative Code clearly states that employees are prohibited from possessing or consuming alcohol in the workplace. Establishments found violating this can face warnings, fines, suspensions, or cancellation of permits/licenses.


The Tennessee Code of Conduct has strict laws banning alcohol consumption or showing up drunk before shifts, too. Therefore, employees must adhere to workplace policies related to drug-free workplaces and drug testing, if such policies exist, to avoid any legal issues.


According to the PA Liquor Code, it is entirely unlawful statewide for any employee of a licensee to consume alcohol while tending a bar or serving drinks in any capacity.


The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control prohibits bartenders from drinking at any point during their shift—before, during, or after providing alcohol service. The rules are intended to ensure bartenders can accurately monitor patrons’ intoxication levels and cut them off if needed. Violations can mean fines for the business.


The state's Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco plainly bans any employee from drinking while working at a licensed establishment that sells alcohol. No exceptions. It is also prohibited to allow an individual below the age of 21, employed by the licensee, to consume alcoholic beverages either on the licensed premises or elsewhere while performing duties within the scope of employment. 

Any individual granted a license, or their representatives, officers, agents, or staff, found in breach of this provision will be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor.

New York

New York’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Law states it is a criminal offense for bartenders, servers, or any other staff members to consume alcohol on duty at a licensed premises.


While not an outright statewide ban, some Nebraska cities like Lincoln prohibit licensees, managers, and their employees from drinking any amount while on the clock. City fines can be issued for violations.


Workplaces in Washington must prohibit intoxicated employees or those visibly under the influence of alcohol or drugs from remaining on-site. This covers bartenders and servers as well.


The state law says no one serving alcohol in Wisconsin can consume any alcoholic beverages themselves while on duty.

Best Gifts for Bartenders by Broken Bartender

The Nice List: Surprising States Where Bartenders Can Drink

Surprisingly, a few states take a less strict approach, allowing bartenders to "quality test" by sipping the same drinks they serve. This practice rests on trust in bartenders' capacity to maintain moderation while attending to customers. However, even in these states, strict limitations and regulations typically apply to ensure responsible alcohol consumption doesn't compromise job duties or customer safety. States where bartenders drinking on the job is legal include:


The Silver State has no law preventing bartenders from drinking at work. However, policies can vary by establishment depending on the type of liquor license held.


Those who want to be bartenders or serve alcohol in Michigan only need to be 17 years old. There is no word on extra training to handle drinking responsibly on the job, as current regulations do not restrict on-premises licensees or their employees from consuming alcoholic beverages during working hours.


The Potato State leaves decisions on bartender drinking up to individual employers. Bartenders can consume alcohol if the bar sets a policy allowing it.

New Mexico

The Land of Enchantment doesn't explicitly prohibit bartenders from drinking small quantities for ‘product training and evaluation purposes’ as long as they don't become visibly impaired.


Unlike most states, Louisiana uniquely allows bartenders to drink while serving customers. This exceptional allowance is linked to the state’s deep cultural ties and historical connection to the hospitality trade.


The Show Me State shows surprising flexibility on this issue. No laws expressly forbid bartenders from drinking on the job as long as they avoid becoming outwardly intoxicated.


Virginia state law has exceptions allowing bartenders to consume samples from distributors for "quality control" or participate in certain product training events involving alcohol sampling.


The Beaver State relaxed prior bans to allow both on-site and off-site alcohol-serving staff to sample taste sizes of beer, wine, or cider solely for quality assurance while working. Quantity limits apply to a maximum of one ounce per serving and a total not exceeding six ounces (equivalent to less than half a beer) for employees aged 21 and above within the time frame from 7:00 a.m. to 2:30 a.m.

Best Gifts for Bartenders by Broken Bartender

The Rest: Murky Middle Ground on Bar Staff Drinking

Beyond states taking clear stances on the issue, bartender drinking rights remain vague and open to interpretation in a murky middle ground of others. Some states lack clear statutes addressing on-duty drinking by bartenders directly. Other states have complex, uneven laws that designate authority over bartending drinking policies to counties, cities, or individual bar owners to decide. The unclear, messy rules confuse bartenders and customers about what's allowed. Some examples include:


The Constitution State has no current statewide law banning bartender drinking at work. However, individual businesses can set their own workplace policies.


With no state licensing requirements for alcohol servers, Hawaii's counties and cities regulate bartender drinking on the job separately.


The Centennial State requires alcohol seller/server training, but it is unclear whether certified staff can drink themselves while serving customers.


No explicit prohibition on bartender drinking, but criminal charges could apply if they become visibly intoxicated. Policies likely set case-by-case.


The state only bans a disorderly, intoxicated person on the premises. Consequently, the decision to permit employees to consume alcohol during work falls within the employer's discretion. Notably, employees drinking can sample products for quality control and product development purposes.


Beyond bans on intoxicated employees, Vermont gives decision-making power regarding bartender drinking to bar owners. State laws neither forbid nor endorse the practice across the board.

The laws seem to indicate that the majority of states play it safe by completely separating drinking from duties behind the bar. However, spots like Nevada and New Mexico still evidently trust their bartenders to occasionally handle a cold while working. 

[Stay sober on the job and look fly at the same time with Broken Bartender’s clothing and accessories for the modern bartender.]

People Also Ask

Can you drink while being a bartender?

The straight answer: In most states, no. Around two-thirds of states have laws and regulations prohibiting bartenders from drinking alcohol during work shifts. These rules ban drinking while serving for public safety reasons.

However, some states like Nevada, Missouri, and Louisiana allow bartenders to legally consume some drinks behind the bar. So, it all depends on the location.

What are the penalties for bartenders caught drinking on the job?

Penalties for bartenders caught drinking on the job in certain states vary greatly depending on location and specific circumstances.

  • Fines range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.
  • License suspension or revocation for both the bartender and the bar.
  • Jail time in extreme cases, especially if public safety was compromised.

Do bars have their own policies about employee alcohol consumption?

Most bars have their own policies, often stricter than state laws, prohibiting alcohol consumption during work hours. Some common reasons for this include:

  • Bartenders need clear minds to handle alcohol responsibly and ensure customer safety.
  • Bars can be held liable for damages caused by intoxicated employees.
  • Maintaining a professional atmosphere for customer satisfaction and brand image.

However, exceptions might exist for specific situations, such as:

  • Quality testing with management approval
  • Post-shift consumption, depending on local laws and policies. A single drink after closing might be tolerated.

Can bartenders take sips of the same drinks they make for customers?

Generally, it's not okay for bartenders to take sips of the same drinks they make for customers due to concerns about:

  • Mixing with serving responsibilities
  • Maintaining professional boundaries for customer trust.
  • The bar could be held responsible if a customer becomes intoxicated due to a bartender's consumption.


  • In several states, bartenders are prohibited from drinking on the job. Examples include Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, California, Florida, New York, Nebraska, Washington, and Wisconsin.
  • Some states take a less strict approach, allowing bartenders to "quality test" the drinks they serve.
  • States where bartender drinking on the job is legal include Nevada, Michigan, Idaho, New Mexico, Louisiana, Missouri, Virginia, and Oregon.
  • Some states have unclear or vague regulations regarding bartender drinking on the job. Examples include Connecticut, Hawaii, Colorado, Alaska (again), Kentucky, and Vermont.
  • Most states prioritize separating drinking from duties behind the bar for safety and compliance reasons.

Best Gifts for Bartenders by Broken Bartender

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.