Behind the Bar To Your Health

How Parents in the Bar Industry Can Find Balance Between Work and Family

The hospitality industry has unique demands. This is how some parents deal.

Family illustration / Alex Testere

Being a working parent is difficult for those in any profession. But the bar industry’s evening and weekend demands, long shifts and late-night hours can make it particularly challenging for those with small children. From setting boundaries to creating family rituals and carving out time for self-care, bar professionals who are also parents offer their recommendations for establishing balance between their work and home lives.

  • Communicate Your Needs

    Braithe Tidwell, the beverage director at Brennan’s in New Orleans, recommends being upfront with employers from the start about your needs and realities as a working parent. “It’s important to be honest when interviewing about what will make you feel comfortable day to day so that you can attempt to have a healthy work and life balance,” she says. 

    Manisha López, the general manager and beverage director at Restaurante Ariel in Miramar, Puerto Rico, agrees. “Lay your cards on the table [with your employer] when taking on a new job or if there’s a life change, like starting a family,” she says. For López and her partner, Jonatan Melendez, who are parents of a two-year-old with another child on the way, that means working alternate shifts so one parent can be home at all times. “We were lucky enough to have understanding bosses and co-workers that worked with us on flexible scheduling, but we were prepared to move on if they didn’t,” she says.

  • Establish Boundaries at Work and at Home

    Andrew and Briana Volk, the co-owners of Portland Hunt + Alpine Club in Maine and the parents of two children, encourage their staff to set boundaries and prioritize family life when away from work. “This job is physically demanding and requires dealing with people, so find ways to set work aside and focus only on your family when you’re at home,” says Briana. She recommends limiting work talk and silencing notifications for email and other office channels when not on the clock. “A day off is a day off,” she says. “There’s no need to hop on Slack to tell another bartender where the pineapple juice is.”

  • Sync Schedules and Create Rituals

    With most bartending jobs requiring evening and weekend shifts, syncing schedules with your partner and carving out family time is crucial, says López. In addition to eating breakfast together daily with their son, she and Melendez both take Mondays off. “It’s an easier day to request off, and there are fewer people out and about,” she says, which makes the day ideal for running errands, enjoying outdoor activities or having a date night.

    Kellie Thorn, the beverage director for restaurant group Hugh Acheson, and her partner, Trip Sandifer, the beverage director at The Painted Pin in Atlanta, reserve Monday and Tuesday nights, when their bars are closed, for family time. “We all have dinner together, play board games, watch a movie or take walks in our neighborhood,” says Thorn. “This gives us extra time to be together as a family that we can’t find on weekends.” 

    Jordan Salcito, the founder of canned drink company Ramona and an alum of the beverage programs at New York City’s Eleven Madison Park and Momofuku, walks or scooters with her son to school daily. Tidwell prioritizes picking her kids up from school daily and cooking them a midafternoon snack. “Since I don't always get to make dinner or help them get to sleep, this allows time for some hugs from Mom before their evening starts,” says Tidwell.

  • Don’t Forget Self-Care

    “You can’t take care of your guests and certainly can’t take care of your family if you don’t take care of yourself first,” says Andrew Volk. He recommends finding simple, healthy ways to center yourself daily, whether that’s going for a run, drinking your morning coffee solo or working in a community garden. 

    Salcito walks to errands and appointments as often as she can, listens to podcasts and schedules time for online workouts from Melissa Wood Health and Tracy Anderson. Thorn enjoys kickboxing and gets regular acupuncture and other healing therapies.

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  • Advocate for Better Policies

    While Thorn says she’s grateful for a supportive employer and coworkers, she admits the pandemic has been particularly challenging for families in the bar industry. “Moving forward, I think there needs to be a real reckoning in this industry to support families, to make sure all employees have health insurance and the other support systems they need,” she says. 

    While the Volks provide health insurance and paid maternity and family leave for their employees, Briana notes there are not a lot of models for small bars like theirs to emulate. She encourages the bar community to continue to have conversations about flexible scheduling, child care, health insurance and paid leave, so those with families or planning for families can have “happy fulfilling personal and professional lives.”