Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility Skip to main content

Bartending and Mental Health

Bartenders are lauded for their ability to create beautifully crafted and delicious concoctions. However, there’s another side of bartending that isn’t as often paid attention to. In an industry that demands resilience, mental health and well-being often take a back seat.

I’ve been a professional bartender for about 10 years. Bartending is a passion of mine. Like most bartenders, I have a thirst for knowledge and a creative outlet. Bartending requires a robust understanding of products and cocktails, production and history, the science of flavor and balance, and the science of hospitality. When you hold a cocktail in your hands, you’re holding a work of art that is a product of someone’s passion for the industry.

I’ve also struggled in this industry. There are so many great things to bartending, like the community, the creativity, and the constant growth and learning. However, this industry demands that you’re always “on.” Every shift you work is a performance and the culture is an unhealthy one. While I enjoy some aspects of the performance, it can leave you feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.

A lot of industries can leave workers feeling like this. If you’re feeling burnout and stress from work, what you’re feeling is real and should be addressed. But what makes food and beverage workers more prone to mental health issues? According to Mental Health America, food and beverage is among the top three unhealthiest industries. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA) reported in a 2015 study that the hospitality and food service industry has the highest rates of substance use disorders and the third-highest rates of heavy alcohol use of all employee sectors. Food and beverage work is associated with higher risk of stress, depression, anxiety, and sleep problems. These risks are especially high for women in tipped positions, according to

I can point to a few reasons why those in this industry are likely to experience challenges with their mental health. There are many variables that impact the mental health and well-being of hospitality workers.


The large majority of hospitality workers rely on tips as a form of income. This means they have an inconsistent cashflow. While a good night can mean making more than minimum wage (but don’t get me started on minimum wage, that’s a whole other blog post), a bad night can leave workers scrambling to make ends meet. This can result in higher levels of anxiety and instability than you would expect from jobs with a steady paycheck.

Furthermore, tipped minimum wage is problematic. “Tipped minimum wage” means your place of employment can pay you below minimum wage because the expectation is that tips will make up the difference. The federal tipped minimum wage is $2.13 an hour and in Denver, it’s $9.54 an hour. This means that workers are reliant on tips from customers in a culture where tipping is customary, but not guaranteed.


Some larger chains and corporate establishments offer benefits like medical coverage and retirement savings. However, most workers go without these benefits because their place of work doesn’t offer them, or because they are categorized and scheduled in a way where they don’t qualify. This means that many hospitality workers don’t receive insurance coverage or retirement savings from their career in the industry. This can be fine if you’re working a summer gig or putting yourself through school, but for those of us who have chosen this as a career, this can lead to stress and financial hardship. Staying on top of your health can be costly when paying out-of-pocket, and planning for the future can seem out of reach.


Hospitality workers don’t work a 9 to 5. Restaurants and bars open later in the day and close late in the evenings. The waking hours of bartenders, for example, are opposite of “the rest of the world,” so getting anything done outside of work can be a challenge. In addition, weekends and holidays are the primetimes for hospitality work, which can leave a workers with feelings of isolation and loneliness when they can’t see their loved ones. On top of unusual hours, hospitality workers hardly ever work an eight-hour shift, and they’re most likely not getting their entitled break. Hospitality folk work an average of 10 hours a shift and taking a full 30-minute break can be unrealistic when guests and management expect continuity of service.

High-Stress Work

Hospitality is THE most stressful job I’ve ever had. It’s not easy work and it requires the ability to prioritize, multitask, communicate effectively, and make quick business decisions, all while making it look easy in a fast-paced environment. This delicate balance takes a lot of energy, focus, and practice. In addition, serving customers can be hard. You must adapt to different communication styles and must have excellent interpersonal skills. Needless to say, the nature of bartending is stressful, and the physiological effects of stress over time can add up.


Hospitality service culture in America is unique. We are one of the few countries where tipping is customary, and we have high expectations for service industry folk. We expect them to deliver on some unspoken promises; we expect that they will be pleasant, give us the right amount of attention, deliver a product to our exact specifications, accommodate our preferences, and treat us as if we were a welcomed guest in their home, no matter how busy or slow the restaurant or bar is. If they don’t deliver, this impacts how much appreciation we show them through a tip.

Behind the scenes, service industry folks are expected to be resilient. Rules are strict at service establishments because our behavior affects the guest’s experience. Before COVID-19 we were expected to show up while we were sick (unless we got our shift covered). We’re expected to take abuse from customers with a smile. Taking time off is frowned upon and often not possible due to lack of paid time off (PTO) and coverage. We’re expected to work through the stress and show up as a more agreeable version of ourselves and constantly put the needs of the guests above our own. This can impact folk’s sense of self-worth.

Unhealthy Behaviors

The food and beverage industry has the highest risk of illicit substance use disorders and the third highest risk of heavy alcohol use than other industries, according to the This can be for many reasons. One being that due to the nature of this work, it’s more socially acceptable to consume. The other is that substance use and alcohol are often used as coping mechanisms. However, this is not a healthy coping mechanism and can lead to some serious health issues. In these high stress and demanding jobs, hospitality workers may turn to drugs and alcohol as a reprieve. Substance use and alcohol consumption over a length of time can lead to serious health problems, chronic disease, and death.

The irony is that the service industry is one in which workers are supposed to take good care of others, but they don’t necessarily take care of themselves by putting their health and wellness first. While this trend is starting to see a change, the service industry is a lifestyle that can have harmful impacts on mental health. Things like high stress environments, lack of adequate sleep, and substance use all impact a person’s mental health and exacerbate mental illness. A person’s financial wellness may impact their mental health, and access to health care can impact whether someone has the right support to address their mental health and well-being. These factors add up and create a cumulative effect over time.

For folks who struggle with mental health, or simply want to prioritize their mental health, here are a few tips and resources that I have found helpful:

  • Take care of your body
  • Choose not to drink alcohol, or drink in moderation (2 drinks or less in a day for men; 1 drink or less in a day for women)
  • Avoid misusing prescription opioids and avoid using illicit opioids. Also avoid mixing these with one another, or with any other drugs.
  • Continue with routine preventive measures including vaccinations, cancer screenings, and other tests recommended by a healthcare provider.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. It’s good to be informed but hearing about adverse events constantly can be upsetting. Consider limiting news to just a couple times a day and disconnecting from phone, tv, and computer screens for a while.

If you want professional help with your mental health, here’s some tips you can follow to find a mental health provider:

  1. Speak with your doctor to see if they can refer you to a mental health professional.
  2. Call your health insurance to find out what your mental or behavioral health coverage is. Ask for a list of paneled providers.
  3. Use therapy websites to find a provider who is in-network:
  1. If you identify as (BIPOC) Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color and you’re looking for a therapist, there are many resources out there, but here are some that I’ve found helpful:
  • National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network
  • A Therapist Like Me
  • Therapy for Queer People of Color
  • Healing in Colour
  • Clinician of Color
  • Therapy for Latinx
  • Inclusive Therapists
  • Therapy That Liberates
  • Therapy for Black Girls
  • Black Female Therapists
  • Whole Brother Mission
  • The Loveland Foundation
  • Black Therapist Network
  • Melanin & Mental Health
  • The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation
  • Latinx Therapists Action Network



Food and Beverage Mental Health Organizations:


  • Dear Therapists
  • Hidden Brain
  • Mindful Minute
  • Let’s Talk Bruh
  • Men, This Way
  • Savvy Psychologist
  • Small Things Often
  • The Anxiety Podcast
  • Mark Grove Podcast
  • Black Girls Heal
  • Therapy for Black Girls
  • Super Soul Podcast
  • Therapy for Real Life Podcast
  • Express Yourself Black Man
  • The Place We Find Ourselves
  • Sleep Meditation Podcast
  • Building Relationships Unlocking Us

Instagram Accounts I Follow

  • @ablackfemaletherapist
  • @nedratawwab
  • @igototherapy
  • @therapyforblackgirls
  • @therapyforlatinx
  • @blackandembodied
  • @thenapministry
  • @refinedtherapy
  • @browngirltherapy
  • @thefatsextherapist
  • @sexedwithirma
  • @holisticallygrace
  • @dr.thema


Free Mental Health Workbooks


References – :~:text=Due to the nature of,working long hours, and depression.&text=Hospitality workers’ mental health frequently goes undiscussed in the workplace – :~:text=Tipped Minimum Wage,wage of %249.54 per hour