flickr photo by no prawns shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

It’s no secret that bartenders and industry folks work long, odd hours – often including weekends and holidays. But this time of year it seems that much harder to swallow – as you’re struggling to keep up with the holiday craziness while receiving texts and voicemails from your family about “What do you mean you are working Christmas night?”

You try to explain – you negotiated to get Thanksgiving off this year – that means you’re working Christmas and New Years. They reply, “Wait, you’re working New Years’ as well?”

Public Service Announcement:

If you are the family member of someone who has to work a holiday, please don’t get mad at them for it! They reallydon’t want to be working that day, and your frustration probably makes them feel even worse!

Unfortunately, working holidays just isn’t going to go away. So I thought we’d put together a quick list of ideas for making the best of it!

Making the Best of a Bartender’s Christmas

Make Your Own Plans (well in advance!)

You’re likely to know well in advance which holidays you’re working. Set expectations with your family early, and if possible, make plans right away for when you can celebrate. I remember many Christmases that we celebrated on the 24th or 26th – and sometimes well into the following week.

If you make plans in advance, it’ll be much easier for your family (and you) to get through a “real” Christmas while behind the stick.

Bring the Festivities to the Bar

So you’re going to be working on Christmas – and let’s be honest, probably most of the prior three months as well. Why not make it festive? Consider adding Christmas stockings on your backbar for your bar staff, or even for key regulars.Decorate around the bar, put a wreath on the door. Have some fun with it.

A side benefit is that your customers may just enjoy it too – and you might get more business during the holiday season if your bar is seen as a “festive” place to go!

Enjoy the Peace and Quiet

So it’s 7pm on Christmas day and the bar is dead. “Jingle Bell Rock” is playing in the background and the small handful of folks in your bar are all already served.

On the one hand: yeah, it totally stinks that you’re stuck here. But think positively: after the craziness of the last three months, I bet it’s kind of nice to get some peace for a change. It can be a bit meditative to finally get a chance to clean up and put the bar back together (you know, the way it was back in October?)

So lean back, take a deep breath and enjoy dusting off some bottles for a change. (You deserve the break!)

Host the After Party

Not a big fan of the “peace and quiet” approach?  Why not host the after-party? This approach is especially great for neighborhood bars in small towns where you’re likely to run into friends and family anyway.

Say you’re hosting the after-party for folks to come and celebrate after their family festivities are over. Guests who may be tired of Aunt Sally will have a great excuse to leave, and you’ll have a full bar to help you stay in the Christmas spirit.

Have Your Own Holiday

Corny office holiday games don’t have to be limited to corporate folks – why not set up a staff Secret Santa gift exchange at your bar? This is a great opportunity to not only increase the holiday spirit at your bar, but it also gives everyone an excuse to get to know each other a bit better.

Suggestion: If you do this, I don’t recommend leaving your gifts out under a Christmas tree in plain view at your bar. Unfortunately your guests  might feel inclined to help themselves to your gifts after a few too many Egg Nogs (if ya know what I mean!)

Plan a Holiday Party

Around here, it’s very common for bars and restaurants to have a staff holiday party… but it’s never (ever) in December. Instead, the party will be planned for mid-January, once the craziness of the holidays has gone away and the place can afford to close down for a few hours.

If you’re a manager, consider setting up a holiday party for your staff in the new year. It’s a relatively low cost way to let folks know you are grateful for their help – and another good opportunity for your staff to get to know each other a bit better.

Thank you!

To all of the bartenders out there – whether you’re working Christmas Day or not:

Thank you for all of the work you do! You are a big part of the reason the rest of us get to enjoy such a warm and wonderful holiday season. From both Chris and myself, thank you for working your socks off through the holidays so we can enjoy ourselves. May your tips be generous and your shoes durable.


Julia Tunstall

Julia Tunstall is the co-founder of A Bar Above and Chief Cocktail Taster. She's in charge of keeping things running smoothly around here, but you'll also find her stopping by on the Mixology Talk Podcast or hanging around the Craft Cocktail Club.