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How Changing Times and Social Media Are Transforming Shift Drink Culture

It’s a time-honored tradition — a sacrament that was once damn-near codified as law across the industry.

“Thou Shalt Enjoy a Shift Drink” might as well have been etched on a golden plaque, affixed to the inside surface of every kitchen door, locker room, wine cellar, chef’s office, and speed rail at any restaurant or bar on Earth. A hospitality employee’s right. A ritual. A cleansing breath of liquid peace, commiseration, and camaraderie after a shift in the hospitality hustle.

Late-nighters from outside the industry have likely witnessed the insider rite radiating through the windows of establishments already closed. Or in a local bar, where the restaurant crew from a few doors down are nursing High Lifes and Jamie shots while collectively bemoaning that insufferable asshat from table 16.

A diverse compendium of low-brow beverage classics within the shift drink canon are still alive and well in some quarters — Whiskey and Coke, PBR, Jägermeister, the Scotch Highball — all immutable fixtures of the trade unyieldingly resolute against the ever-forceful current of fashion.

As long as humans are humans, these stalwarts will never die out completely. There’s a psychological science to it. “You just want something easy and comforting,” explains Alf del Portillo, acclaimed cocktail maestro and co-owner of Lisbon’s Quattro Teste. “If I’ve been making cocktails all night, I don’t want another one.”

But elsewhere, in contrast to reverential loyalists of the trade, the tradition has undoubtedly been altered — or outright replaced — as the neo-temperance movement and viral trends leave their imprint on the industry. Younger generations are drinking less, and work-related boozing is in decline. When fused with the now ubiquitous pressure to snap colorfully composed pictures for our social media feeds, it’s rapidly becoming apparent that the shift drink culture of yesteryear is fading.

Good Old Days of the Shift Drink… Revised

In a few remaining industry enclaves, and with individuals who still proudly embrace the comfort of the classics, the old-school, post-shift prescription continues to shine. But frequently now, with a bar and restaurant scene ever more precision oriented, even traditionalists are modifying the formula.

As a golden generation of industry professionals ages, that boilermaker regimen (shot and a beer, or two… or three) just isn’t sustainable. Twenties become 30s become 40s, and the plucky bounceback after a night of over-indulgence wanes — or disappears altogether.

Accomplished cooks are among those most likely to champion humble and potent throwback shift drink selections. But this battle-hardened crowd has ratcheted the post-shift dial down from 11 over time. Hangovers typically presage a miserable, poor-performance shift the next day. And for those who take real pride in their craft, phoning it in is not an option.

The party, it seems, is just no longer worth the payback.

“The restaurant industry has come so far. It’s becoming a real business where one can have a long and fruitful career.”

“I’ve been in the industry since 2006. I love the ‘old days,’ but there are a lot of toxic habits that came along with those good times,” says Eric Ehler, adored chef-owner of San Francisco’s Outta Sight Pizza and former sous chef at Michelin-starred Mister Jiu’s. “Back in the day, it was two shots and a beer as my first post-shift drink,” he says. “Now I’d rather have a glass of wine or a strong beer. I just want to feel good in the morning!”

The starchy nutrition of beer is a common theme for the classic shift drink, even among the grapehead crowd. As the least intoxicating, cheapest, and most hydrating and readily available option, it’s been a (somewhat) sensible go-to for ages. And given the current social paradigm of neo-temperance and adjacent trends, beer’s premier position on top of a moderated shift drink podium is likely secure for the foreseeable future.

Denver’s Clara Klein, lead sommelier at Sunday Vinyl, recounts her barley-soaked introduction to the rite at Little Nell in Aspen. “Our go-to spot was Zane’s, a greasy hole-in-the-wall dive bar, and I remember always jumping in on whatever pitcher of beer was being poured,” she says. “As long as it was cold, I swear it tasted like a million dollars, especially with a pile of wings.”

Nowadays, though, she describes her post-shift as much more “grandma-esque,” highlighting the altered attitude toward the food and beverage scene since the social media and celebrity chef boom. “The restaurant industry has come so far,” Klein says. “It’s becoming a real business where one can have a long and fruitful career.”

And truthfully, things can get out of hand from time to time. No one should ever be driving intoxicated, some after-hour tales are not fit to print, and, to be blunt, there are predisposed unfortunates among us whose lives can be infinitely improved — or even outright saved — by completely laying off the sauce.

As Fernet shots and pitchers give way to Cabernet Franc and one-and-done pints — or seltzer with lime — the ritual is aging into maturity. It’s the smart move, after all. A bit of evolution is to be expected: Alcohol is a toxin, and nobody wants to pay the piper the day after.

Is Social Media Spoiling the Shift Drink?

For those who play within the law and keep intake on a leash, it does feel as if the rise of social media has encroached on a hard-earned, post-work safe space. It was always a land of anonymous decompression; a deeply cherished layover between the unbridled chaos of the shift and the restorative elixir of sleep.

But now, an ever-present pressure exists among many industry workers to “feed the ‘gram” for professional purposes with beautiful, catchy images. For some, classic boilermaker combos and timeless bartender’s handshakes may have taken a back seat to all drinks posh and pretty.

And then there’s fear of the cameras. They’re everywhere, ready to pounce, and the deep sigh of libationary relief is sometimes replaced by a looming expectation to always be “on” and perfectly behaved. Cutting loose is out of fashion, and God forbid the awaiting apertures expose an occasional indulgence or transgression.

Ehler pushes back on the unrelenting pressure of social media by blocking it out entirely for a spell. “After I’m off, I try really hard to be off,” he says. “When I go to my local watering hole for my post-shift drink, I just wanna chat with people and talk shop. The phone is usually dead anyway.”

“As far as having our little spot, well, it loses a little bit of the magic if everyone else is on to it. In terms of business, good for them!”

Klein is much the same, “I just ignore it and hang out with my cat and dog,” she says.

The Paradox of a Changed Post-Shift

An outsized share of bar and restaurant marketing is now executed via those perky little icons on our indispensable phones, though. Social media is a potent pathway to greater exposure, higher sales, and possibly international renown. Even if the urge to snap and post can be resisted, the medium nonetheless exerts its influence in the opposite direction as well.

“Now, I can creep on industry throughout the entire world, so I feel like I get the inside scoop when I am lucky enough to travel,” Klein says.

And absolutely, that’s great. But as social media secures its grip on our advertising efforts, once-hidden haunts are brazenly revealed to the “civilian” population.

“As far as having our little spot, well, it loses a little bit of the magic if everyone else is on to it,” says Quattro Teste’s del Portillo. However, he reckons it’s a relatively small concession given the enormous benefit for admired colleagues. “In terms of business, good for them!” he adds.

Whether at the local pub slinging shots and pulling beers, holding court behind the rail of a dimly lit cocktail den, or splashing out crushable fizz in a secluded wine bar, those noble souls who run post-shift shelters are frequently dear friends. Happiness for their exposure and success should override the feeling of lost refuge. And for most in the business, it certainly does.

“I used to think we were the gatekeepers of the cool,” concludes Ehler. “I used to hate ‘normal folks’ doing ‘industry’ things. But f*ck that, to each their own. Let it be! As long as we’re all having fun.”

The post-shift tradition and its low-brow drinks will live on in some form or another. They’re not disappearing, just changing a little and growing up. Going forward, the tales may not be as rowdy, the drinks sometimes more polished, and many of our anonymous safe places will have to be shared. But really, when you count it all up, is that necessarily a bad thing?

The article How Changing Times and Social Media Are Transforming Shift Drink Culture appeared first on VinePair.

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