Can Bartenders Give Free Drinks?

can bartenders give free drinks
Joe | Last Updated: October 4, 2023
I'm Joe, a veteran bartender with over a decade in the industry and a burning passion for mixing drinks.

Working as a bartender is becoming increasingly popular for those looking to earn extra cash, travel to new cities, and as a side hustle while studying.

It’s a fun, rewarding role that is perfect for those looking to meet new people and enhance their social skills. Not only that but who doesn’t want to learn how to pull a pint and make the perfect Margarita?

However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Working as a bartender can be very demanding at times, especially on holidays or weekends when footfall increase significantly.

Friends, distant friends, and mere acquaintances may catch wind of your new role and decide to pop into the bar for a drink, hoping for a free alcoholic beverage from their “bestest buddy that they’ve known for decades”. Yeah right!

This brings up an interesting question that we’re going to discuss more today and finally put a stop to. “Can bartenders give free drinks?”

NO, bartenders are unable to give free drinks. In fact, in a lot of bars, they are liable for the alcohol they use and may be questioned when stock take comes around and lots of alcohol is missing.

Let’s take a closer look…

Do Bartenders Give Out Free Drinks?

Whilst it’s generally NOT allowed for bartenders to give out free drinks, many still do. Giving out the odd free drink here and there can drastically increase the tips that bartenders receive as well as establish better connections, but it’s risky.

If a bartender is caught giving out free drinks they will likely be questioned and could potentially face disciplinary action for doing so.

Free drinks at the bar from a bartender are much the same as a free burger from Mcdonald’s, if the employer knew it was happening there would likely be some awkward conversations.

Why Do Bartenders Give Out Free Drinks?

There are some circumstances where giving a free drink isn’t an issue, but these are generally few and far between and don’t happen often.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons why bartenders may give out free drinks:

Friends and Family

As bartenders, we love it when our friends and family come into the bar for a drink. It’s great to see a friendly face at work and to catch up, it makes the shift go much faster.

However, some friends may expect to be given a free drink on arrival, which puts the bartender in an uncomfortable position to which they may end up doing so.

This can ultimately cost them their job if they are caught, but it’s incredibly common for bartenders to give free drinks to friends or family out of guilt.

Image: Michael Shihan via Flickr

If you do have a bartender friend, make sure to BUY your drinks. I’ve experienced this a lot where old, distant friends have expected multiple free drinks from me and I’ve had to turn them down.

Good friends will not expect you to risk your job for the sake of a $5 drink.

More tips

Earning tips is a big part of a bartender’s role, therefore, giving away a free drink here and there to the “big tippers” may be worthwhile for them to secure a big tip.

Good bartenders that establish relationships with punters can double or even triple their salary in tips, so when given the chance to make a customer likely to tip more they may give away a free drink.

Buy Back

Sometimes when a customer has spent a lot of money in the bar, they may earn themselves a “buy back”.

This typically occurs when you tip really well on the first few rounds of drinks and the bartenders or management deem it worthy to give you a free drink because of this.

Tipping big comes with a lot of benefits, including preferential treatment, better customer service, and even an occasional free drink.

To Pull

Bartenders may also give free drinks if they’re trying to pull or get laid. I’ve seen this many times throughout my years bartending, staff will give multiple shots to a cute guy or girl they see in the bar, in hopes of taking them home.

This can work well for some, but horrifically for others, and if management catches wind of what this then you’ll probably be pulled into the office for a chat.

Settle a dispute

Disputes happen often whilst working in bars, largely due to lots of alcohol being consumed which can lead to arguments and behavior that wouldn’t usually happen if no alcohol was involved.

A great way to settle a dispute between bar staff and customers is to offer a free drink. It’s usually more than enough to de-escalate the situation and is a great tool for calming things down quickly.

As an apology

Accidents happen all of the time in bartending. Spilling a drink on a customer, smashing glasses or trip hazards can all lead to injury or upset customers.

Giving free drinks is a great way to make up for small accidents that may occur in the bar.

What Does It Mean When Someone Gives You A Free Drink?

Receiving a free drink whilst in a bar can happen for a lot of different reasons. Maybe someone in the bar wants to buy a drink for you in the hopes to catch your eye.

Offering to buy someone a drink is generally a token gesture to try and open up a conversation. It works well as a networking tool and is a great way to meet new people, especially in bars.

Image by The Pingus via Flickr

Alternatively, you may have struck lucky and walked into the bar during happy hour, in which you receive a drink or multiple drinks for the price of one.

Another common reason for being given a free drink is if you’re a good tipper. Tipping well is highly appreciated in bartending and if you do so, the chances of being given a free drink increase.

>> Read more: Why do bartenders drink Fernet?

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you now have a clear answer to “can bartenders give free drinks” and have a better understanding of why some bartenders may do so.

Generally, bartenders can NOT give out free drinks, however, many bartenders still do for a multitude of reasons. Free drinks can be used as a tool to de-escalate situations, as an apology, and as a way to open up conversations with strangers.

Running a bar is very much a business, therefore, if management or the bar owner catches bartenders giving out free drinks they will likely not be happy.

This can lead to disciplinary action or even being suspended from work, so it’s definitely not worth the risk to give friends or a family member a cheeky free drink.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post and I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Catch you in the next one.