For two years, Max Crane put himself through bartending hell every weekend.
“I worked the bar at a nightclub in San Francisco’s North Beach area,” explains Crane, now the lead bartender at cafe Verdant within the Orange County Museum of Art in Costa Mesa, Calif. The then 31-year-old’s typical routine wasn’t pretty: Show up each Saturday at 4 p.m. to prep for private parties in the space. Open the doors at 6 p.m. Sling drinks until last call at 10 p.m. Break down the bar, clean, and leave at 3 a.m. Hit a 24-hour diner for a bite or sneak in an hour of sleep. Return to work at 5:30 a.m. and open at 6 a.m. for a Sunday morning techno party. Sling more drinks until leaving sometime around 2 p.m. — then do it all again a few days later.
This may sound like torture to a hospitality industry outsider, but according to Crane, “it was fun at the time.”
Crane’s former ritual is an extreme example of clopening, a colloquialism describing the act of working a closing shift and working an opening shift the following day. The definition offers leeway — clopening at a bar that closes at midnight and opens at 5 p.m. may not sound particularly brutal. While it’s a once-in-a-blue-moon shift for some to take on, others may feel like it’s a necessity to pay the bills. But when pushed to its most intense limits, questions surrounding legality and bartenders’ mental and physical health begin to bubble.
Bartender Damon Boelte occasionally pulled clopening shifts from 2008 to 2012 when he worked at Prime Meats in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens neighborhood. The now shuttered space closed at 2 a.m. and opened at 7 a.m. with a fully functional kitchen and bar program, and mornings weren’t light and breezy.
“If managers are just scheduling clopens without talking about it with their employees first, they’re taking advantage of their staff.”
“Lots of industry workers would get off their shift around 5 or 6 a.m. and show up as soon as it opened,” says Boelte, now the co-owner of acclaimed Brooklyn cocktail bar Grand Army and co-host of The Speakeasy podcast. “They’d come [to Prime Meats] and grab burgers, drink Old Fashioneds, and smoke cigarettes. I kinda liked those shifts.”
This is the strange paradox of clopenings, even the ones with the tight turnarounds: Some bartenders enjoy them, and they do for a few reasons. Money obviously factors into the equation — picking up an extra shift when asked or working a morning shift at a second bar can mean the difference between a tight month and a comfortable one — but not just because it’s being earned. (“When I’m at work, I’m not spending money,” Boelte adds.) Some like the sense of control it offers, since they have the power to set themselves up for a smooth service for the next morning before they close. Others note the energy level from the night before doesn’t always fully dissipate by morning, so they’re still riding high on good vibes.
Those positive vibes can fade quickly, though, when bartenders no longer have a say in whether they’re clopening or not. When a manager forces these back-to-back shifts upon them, that’s widely viewed as a bridge too far.
“Clopenings should never be scheduled,” says Erin Katz, bartender at Pony Up in Denver. “If managers are just scheduling clopens without talking about it with their employees first, they’re taking advantage of their staff.”
“If the willingness to clopen is there, then everything’s OK,” Crane says, as many hospitality workers may rely on this option to pay their bills or make scheduling conflicts, including childcare, work. “But if you take that willingness out of the equation, then it shouldn’t be allowed.”
There are no federal regulations around clopening, and regulations barely exist on the state and local level. The state of Oregon and eight cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, have what are known as predictive scheduling laws on the books, and only a few of these ordinances prohibit scheduling two consecutive shifts within a specified time frame — typically nine to 11 hours — without an employee’s consent. New York’s law doesn’t even cover bars, just fast-food joints and retail shops. Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, and Tennessee actually have statewide mandates prohibiting their cities from enacting predictive scheduling laws.
This general lack of regulation mainly makes clopening a self-policing activity nationwide, which some in the industry view as a legal misstep.
“I never had a problem with clopening when I was a bartender, but there should be laws to protect [workers],” explains Will Cutting, former bartender and current director of beverages at the soon-to-open Regent Hotel in Santa Monica, Calif. “At the bare minimum, bartenders should have the right to have a decent sleep if they want to.”
Naturally, not all instances of self-regulation are alike. In a large-scale corporate environment such as Cutting’s, unions may put internal parameters in place to prohibit clopening from occurring. Bartenders working at smaller, independent establishments may have to rely on managerial sensibilities to avoid involuntary clopening shifts. Fortunately, there are signs of benevolence among schedule-makers.
“A lack of sleep can take its toll, and if a bartender’s running on three hours of sleep, they may be either slap-happy or cranky. If a bartender’s not in a great space, your guests won’t have a great experience. In the long run, this can end up hurting your bar as a business.”
“It’s mean to schedule a clopen,” explains Ali Martin, partner and cocktail director at Manhattan bar The Up & Up. “The only way to schedule one is to give the employee the option to pass it up, which they may not do. If they have five shifts coming up in a week, they may do a couple of clopens and knock those shifts out in three days to give themselves more time outside of work.”
If managers don’t necessarily have to worry too much about the legality of clopening, there are other elements in play that may make some hesitant about clopening from a business standpoint.
“Safety and liability are concerns,” Martin says. “We deal with sharp things. If you’re pushing people through a schedule and they’re tired, they’re not going to be as aware.”
In Katz’s view, the long-term effects of excessive clopenings on a bar or club are greater than a broken glasses or a nicked knuckle.“A bartender’s main job is to make their guests happy,” she says. “That’s why short clopens are risky. A lack of sleep can take its toll, and if a bartender’s running on three hours of sleep, they may be either slap-happy or cranky. If a bartender’s not in a great space, your guests won’t have a great experience. In the long run, this can end up hurting your bar as a business.”
More importantly, an oversaturation of clopenings has the potential to harm the weary workers themselves. Even if they choose clopening, the sessions — particularly the ones with shorter gaps between shifts — can wear a bartender down. A lack of sleep, elongated instances of public interaction, and the physical demands of the job itself can be draining for the body and the mind over time. This makes the industry’s increased focus on mental health and wellness — and the actions backing up that focus — even more crucial.
“More groups in the service industry are now offering benefits,” says Boelte. “Even if they never go to the doctor, just knowing that they’re taken care of is probably one of the most important actions that help their mental and emotional health. Knowing that someone cares enough about you to care about you means everything.”
Above all, there’s one prime actor that drives bartenders to volunteer for a clopening shift: money. This is particularly the case among club bartenders, who tend to be younger and eager to rake in as much cash as possible. Some of these greener workers may also not be as industry-savvy compared to their more experienced counterparts in less chaotic sectors.
“Club bartenders are [often] young, like 21. In some places like New York, they can be 18,” explains Katz. “They’re not aware of their rights or may not have the voice to push back, so they’re easy to take advantage of when it comes to clopening. They don’t think twice about how it might affect them, because they’re still in that mindset of just making money.”
Of course, these baby bartenders won’t be naïve forever. Those who stay in the industry and settle in behind the stick at cocktail bars may still enjoy the occasional clopen, but they may also realize that pulling clopening shifts isn’t worth the money if it comes at the price of their well-being. It may be too early to tell if this is inevitable for the next generation — the oldest members of Gen Z are only 26, after all. Hospitality veterans with their own clopening horror stories from previous roles are prepared for either result.
“I don’t see much of a pushback against clopening, but maybe it’s happening, and we just don’t know about it yet,” says Crane. “Eventually, they could decide that just because it’s been done before doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.”
The article Close at 3 a.m., Open at 6 a.m.: The Ups, Downs, and Dangers of Working the ‘Clopening’ Shift appeared first on VinePair.