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Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Comp Question: Should Bars Let Industry Colleagues Drink for Free?

Posted By on Thu, Aug 26, 2010 at 2:16 PM

click to enlarge Clock Bar recently fired a bartender for giving free drinks to colleagues and former employees. - BITTERMELON/FLICKR
  • bittermelon/Flickr
  • Clock Bar recently fired a bartender for giving free drinks to colleagues and former employees.
One of the notable things about the restaurant business is its camaraderie, even among business in direct competition with each other. It's common for folks in the trade to visit one another's establishments, and also to receive something extra from the kitchen or bar.

When SFoodie heard that a bartender was recently fired from the Clock Bar for comping ― or giving away ― drinks to former employees and colleagues working in the industry, it made us wonder what the inside rules really are. Is there such a thing as a free drink for industry folks?

The bartender in question, Roberto Gonzales, was officially fired for stealing. "We were taught to recognize VIPs and act appropriately," Gonzales says. "The mistake I supposedly made was assuming verses seeking out management's approval. They considered it theft and proceeded to pursue termination of my contract."

To get a handle on general protocol, we reached out to Aaron Gregory Smith, general manger at 15 Romolo, who explained that the way bars handle comps isn't universal. The policies range from a target percentage of the total bar sales being allocated to comp drinks, to a situation where all comp drinks are paid out of the bartender's tips. "It's important that bartenders and managers set up a policy that works for both the establishment and the customers," Smith says.

"We want to give the bartenders the flexibility to show appreciation for our loyal customers, fix mistakes, and as a tool to build our business, but it shouldn't be just about the free drinks," Smith explains.

In the end, most industry folks are there to support each other, and ― in our experience ― ready to pay for what they consume. "Most of us know what we'll owe and leave enough cash to cover the tab and tip," Gonzales says.

Smith thinks the system should be about camaraderie and showing support for each others businesses, although "should" is the operative word here. "If people are drinking at your bar only because they like free drinks, they aren't customers you really want."

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie.

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