Illustration of group of bartenders drinking shots, with one being thrown away
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Can Sobriety Make a Better Bartender?

For many in the industry, taking stock of their drinking habits has improved not just their personal, but professional lives.

Hailey Hosler is a morning person. But she didn’t reach her daytime potential until she got sober on September 3, 2018. “My favorite part of sobriety is the morning,” she says. “[Before], mornings were such a point of dread. I always felt so awful. Now, getting up, it’s amazing. I want every bartender in the world to know what that feels like.”

Hosler, an industry vet who’s now the Oregon territory manager for Athletic Brewing, represents a bar world metamorphosis. She’s thriving, and so are many of her sober peers, in jobs and spaces that were once inhospitable to nondrinkers.

Thanks to industry leaders—and a pandemic-era reset for the bar community—conversations around mental health, wellness, alcoholism, and overconsumption are becoming more normal. And after sober bartenders weathered years of being questioned if they are even capable of doing their jobs without drinking alcohol, all bar professionals are now finding the chance to learn from their sober peers.

Illustrated portrait of Robert Björn Taylor, wearing hat and blue shirt
Robert Björn Taylor, bar consultant, Austin.

“I serve not just as a tale of caution, but also a tale of what you can do, which is to have a better relationship with alcohol even if you continue to drink,” says Robert Björn Taylor, an Austin bar consultant who’s been sober since September 30, 2019. “I’m not here for a temperance movement. I don’t want alcohol to disappear, but I really do think if you’re not aware of your drinking habits, then you’re probably overdoing it.”

Taking Stock of Drinking Habits

Working in bars presents all too many opportunities to overconsume. Björn Taylor drank with coworkers after his shift. He pounded shots with customers. “We use alcohol as a crutch, especially within the bar community,” he says. “But we got into this because we like to serve, and that’s what we need to do—be present and serve, not be 100% of the party.”

While working in Birmingham, Alabama bars, Sarah Tuttle drank because she was stressed. She drank on the job and partied post-service. She took a few shots at night to help her sleep. “To free myself from that nightmare, super, super deep self-honesty was necessary,” says Tuttle, who is now bar lead at The Rosecomb in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and who has been sober since January 26, 2017.

“I’m not here for a temperance movement. I don’t want alcohol to disappear, but I really do think if you’re not aware of your drinking habits, then you’re probably overdoing it.”

—Robert Björn Taylor

It’s a practice, she says, that could benefit everyone in the business. Check in constantly, ask yourself why you’re drinking, and reflect on when and how you drink.

“It’s doing that and then taking the information, being honest with yourself, and acting on it,” says Tuttle. “That’s the hard part.”

It’s OK to Slow Down

Drinking more mindfully, according to Josh Gandee, can be done one glass at a time. With the rise in popularity of low- and non-alcoholic drinks, he says, more folks now feel they have a permission structure to slow down or opt out of alcohol.

“It allows people to take off one round and ask, ‘Do I actually need another full-proof drink right now? Or am I so caught up in the moment that I want to keep existing in this bar?’” says Gandee, a beverage consultant in Columbus, Ohio, and host of the “No Proof” podcast, for which he interviews fellow sober bar pros. “Then you take a pause for one drink and are like, ‘I’m still here. I’m still engaged. I’m still having a good time, and I’m drinking something delicious.’ You didn’t have to leave a situation that you love, and you just made one simple change.”

The Power of a Sober Month

Gandee doesn’t have a tragic sobriety story. He wasn’t an alcoholic. He never hit rock bottom. He just started Sober October in 2017 and never stopped.

Illustration of Josh Gandee in white v-neck t-shirt, looking to the right
Josh Gandee, beverage consultant and host of “No Proof” podcast, Columbus, Ohio.

Laura Sant /

“At the end of that month, I was experiencing the sort of clarity that you read about, [and] I took inventory of the way I felt,” says Gandee. “My body looked different. And I kept experiencing more and more positive changes in my life.”

Conversely, Björn Taylor recalls ending a 21-day booze break with a bender of epic proportions. Even so, he believes all bartenders benefit from periods of abstinence. As frustrated as he was in early sobriety, Björn Taylor remembers that he started to sleep better at the one-month mark. His skin looked healthier. He could think faster and clearer.

“You degrade your body so much if you’re a daily drinker, especially a heavy daily drinker,” says Björn Taylor. “Taking a break is necessary for your body and your mental health.”

Illustration of bartender looking at a tower of shots, twice as tall as they are

Laura Sant /

Alcohol Isn’t the Center

Removing alcohol from his life also helped Björn Taylor reframe his perspective. Alcohol wasn’t necessary. And being an alcoholic, or someone confronting his problems and disease, was just a normal and healthy part of life, he says.

Similarly, as Tuttle matured in her sobriety, she decided she didn’t want it to define her or her place in the industry. It was just a fact about her, something as relevant as the vegetable farm she owns with her partner and some friends, the hikes she likes to take, and a job she’s excited to have.

When Gandee stopped drinking, he says, conversations with his peers changed, too. Instead of talking about what they drank the night before or how hard they partied, colleagues told him what they were watching on Netflix or about a nice bike ride or walk in the park. “Simple things,” he says. “What we talked about behind the bar changed, and it made for this monumental shift in the way people saw work and what they did before and after it.”

In other words, without alcohol at the center of their lives, these bartenders started to see their full humanity—all while leaning into their careers.

Becoming a Bar Professional

Hosler used to see restaurant work as, “Show up how you show up, get through your shift, and make your money,” she says. But getting sober made her more reliable and opened her eyes to hospitality as a legitimate career. “There really is opportunity for advancement,” she says. “I just didn’t know how good it would feel to put my name on really good work.”

Hosler also bought a house last year. “That was not on the table for me,” she says. “I would leave restaurants with a wad of cash and spend most of it that night. I’m making the same amount now that I did in restaurants, but I have a financial plan.”

Illustrated portrait of Hailey Holser, looking straight ahead, smiling
Hailey Hosler, territory manager for Athletic Brewing, Portland, Oregon.

Laura Sant /

Gandee, too, says he tapped deeper into his potential once he stopped drinking. “I have the clarity, mindfulness, and intention to sit with anything that comes and then deal with it,” he says. “That makes me feel like I’m capable of anything.” As a bonus, he also found that his staff took him more seriously. They were more willing to come to him as a resource or address him with ideas and problems.

Similarly, Björn Taylor just hired a sober bar manager for a project he’s working on and anticipates that she’ll help set a professional tone: straight-laced, attentive, and detail-oriented. He’s also excited to work with her on drinks.

Rethinking Cocktail Creation

For every full-proof drink Björn Taylor puts on a menu, he now tries to adapt the specs to also be non-alcoholic or at least low-ABV. And where Gandee used to first reach for a bottle when workshopping new cocktails, he’s now hyper-focused on the other flavors he can build and stories he can tell. “Whether we were creating no-proof or high-proof drinks, it felt like we started thinking more deeply about what we were creating,” says Gandee. “You gotta pay attention to your stock before you think about what your soup is.”

Tuttle’s drinks have grown more culinary and collaborative over the years. When developing a cocktail, she takes it 60%, then 90% in the glass, straw tasting and spitting along the way. And instead of trying the drink over and over, Tuttle turns it over to the rest of the bar team for feedback and adjustments—a process rooted in mutual respect.

“Whether we were creating no-proof or high-proof drinks, it felt like we started thinking more deeply about what we were creating. You gotta pay attention to your stock before you think about what your soup is.”
—Josh Gandee

Better, Empathetic, and Inclusive Hospitality

Returning to a serious bar program at Rosecomb felt for Tuttle like a victory lap. “Like I was going back into the belly of the beast, but I was actually ready this time,” she says. Tuttle also found that she’d become more empathetic and compassionate with her team and guests. Rehab and her sober community had humbled her.

Illustrated portrait of Sarah Tuttle
Sarah Tuttle, bar lead of Rosecomb, Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Laura Sant /

“The idea that you don’t know what someone is going through helped me become a better ear for people at the bar and navigate conversations I had no idea how to go about before,” says Tuttle. “Now, I’m equipped and comfortable talking through it.”

As a guest herself, Tuttle is thrilled with the progress of the non-alcoholic movement. Until recently, cocktail bars weren’t welcoming to sober people, but at 30 years old, Tuttle also doesn’t want to sit out nightlife. “Now, my partner and I can go on vacation, go to an award-winning bar, and be part of the experience—and not just be like, ‘I guess we’ll go to Waffle House.’”

When she became sober at 26, Hosler was initially depressed that the party was over. “I was looking at my closet filled with sparkly things and thinking I’d have to throw it all away,” she says.

However, she didn’t and, in fact, found that sober partying can be a lot of fun. But now, instead of following a crowd or saying yes to every invitation, she only goes to events she actually enjoys.

“The idea that you don’t know what someone is going through helped me become a better ear for people at the bar and navigate conversations I had no idea how to go about before.”
—Sarah Tuttle

“There’s a hump of discomfort for sure, every time for me and especially on the dance floor,” she says. “But if I really want to be there, I just have to close my eyes, sink in, and then it pretty much always goes away.”

Another thing that has all but disappeared for Hosler is work burnout, which she used to experience a couple times a week. Healthier, happier, and centered, Hosler says her sobriety has set her up for longevity in a notoriously punishing industry—one she loves and can’t imagine leaving.

“There’s a closeness, community, and level of care that happens in restaurants that I’ve never seen anywhere else. Restaurant people are the best people,” she says. “I’m still very much in the industry. I’m in bars and restaurants all day, but [I’m] supporting a healthier side of it.”