Behind the Bar To Your Health

How to Navigate Romantic Relationships When You're Both Behind the Stick

Hint: Limit work talk while at home.

Bartenders pouring drinks

Getty Images / / Laura Sant

For bartenders, having a significant other in the drinks business has its perks. Your partner inherently understands the late nights, difficult customers and unique job stressors. But it also comes with its particular challenges, such as coordinating time off together and striking the right balance between letting off steam after a rough shift and letting work talk disrupt your downtime at home.

From creating shared rituals and planning regular dates to prioritizing self-care and establishing clear lines of communication, these are a few strategies that bartending couples have found to help them more easily navigate their relationships.

1. Create Shared Rituals

Whether it’s as simple as starting the day with a cup of coffee or walking the dog together, Fanny Chu of Brooklyn’s Donna Cocktail Club says it's important to create shared rituals with your significant other. She and her fiancée, Llama San head bartender Natasha Bermudez, often have breakfast together before departing for work or split grilled cheese sandwiches at home to unwind post-shift. Portland bartender Matt Gumm and his partner, Izzy Storm, also make breakfast together daily and set aside time to work on “The New York Times” Sunday crossword puzzle at their favorite coffee shop once a week. “That time together in the sunlight away from the bar is really important to our relationship,” says Storm.

2. Have Regular Non-Work-Related Dates

In addition to shared small daily rituals, Chu and Bermudez plan one day off together per week, during which time they avoid checking work-related emails, texts and phone calls. Linda Nguyen of Good Times at Davey Wayne's in Los Angeles recommends taking advantage of having the opposite schedule of the working world. “My boyfriend and I like going out on Mondays or Tuesdays, when there’s not a huge wait at our favorite restaurants,” she says.

Sarah Karl and her boyfriend, who both work at Ice Plant bar in St. Augustine, Florida, request the same days off so they can take their dogs to the beach or go to the farmers market and cook meals together.

3. Limit Work Talk at Home

“Your work is a huge part of your life, so coming home and letting off steam is necessary sometimes. It helps so much to have a sounding board after a shift,” says Nguyen.

For Laura Newman, who owns Queen’s Park in Birmingham, Alabama, with her fiancé, the lines between work and home are even more blurred. “The biggest challenge we've found is bringing work home with us and discussing and sometimes arguing about it outside of work hours,” she says. “We're pretty good about realizing when things are getting too heated and pressing pause until the next day. It’s important to sometimes let it go and focus on us as a couple.”

Even couples who don’t work together are careful to draw boundaries at home. Nguyen and her boyfriend table serious work talk until the following morning, and Ian Lyke of Rusty's Bar and Grill in Livermore, California, and his girlfriend, Desiree Villarreal, the bar lead at Bistro 135 in Tracy, California, do the same. “We set time limits on work talk and also try to find at least one positive thing to share about our shifts with each other every day.”

4. Prioritize Self-Care and Alone Time

“There are some days when I’ve had a rough shift and I need to sit and be quiet, take time to clean and organize my room or listen to music,” says Storm, recommending that you respect your partner’s boundaries when they need to decompress from work—and possibly from you. Gumm spends his alone time surfing, reading or listening to podcasts during long walks.

Newman also suggests maintaining separate lives outside of your relationship, whether that’s spending time with separate friends or just staying at home and taking a bath or watching your favorite TV show.

5. Build Trust and Communicate Well

“Part of being a bartender is making people feel comfortable and welcome, which leaves the door open for guests that might take this as an invitation to flirt or hit on you or your significant other,” says Nguyen. “You have to be very secure about your relationship and not get jealous.”

Manisha López, the general manager and beverage director of Restaurante Ariel in Miramar, Puerto Rico, says that while “trust is important in any good relationship, it’s even more important for bartenders. My current boyfriend understands that we’re both professionals and that flirty customers and late nights are part of the business.”

And whether the issue is challenging customers, unexpected schedule changes or being frank about your anxiety, Villarreal recommends keeping the lines of communication open with your partner. “If one of us has to work an extra shift or change our schedule, we consult each other first and are willing to compromise,” she says.

For Villareal, the best part about dating a fellow bartender is having someone who knows firsthand the job’s unique stressors. “There’s so much mental illness unchecked in our industry, and Ian and I have figured out that our own anxiety and stress are alleviated hugely by talking to each other. It truly helps having a partner who understands completely.”