‘The closest thing to being a rock and roll star is running a bar’

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Natural high: Drug and alcohol use is cultural to catering, said operators (Getty/ South_agency)
Natural high: Drug and alcohol use is cultural to catering, said operators (Getty/ South_agency)

Related tags Health and safety Training Alcoholism Addiction mental health

Addiction in hospitality is nothing new. In 2011, research by The Insider showed chefs were nearly twice as likely to be addicted to alcohol and drugs than the average person and Gordon Ramsay has previously described cocaine as the industry’s “dirty little secret”.

The celebrity chef's comment was made in 2017,​ but in more recent times, a 2020 survey by The Caterer​ revealed 64% of hospitality workers had seen evidence of drug use by colleagues. 

What’s more, a study by the University of Liverpool conducted this year revealed pub owners and licensed premises owners were almost three times more likely to be heavy drinkers than other workers. 

Tell us now through voting in our poll if you have seen evidence of drug use by colleagues at work.


Justin Bone rose from barman to operator in the catering industry from age 19 to 45 and learnt from his first job that shifts were much easier if you were “off your head”. 

Bone’s alcohol dependency was hidden by the ‘90s culture of hedonism and it was only 26 years later when he found himself on the streets that it dawned on him: “Oh my god, I’m an addict.” 

“In the ’90s, there weren't any smartphones, there wasn’t Facebook, so you could get up to mischief and it wasn’t recorded,” said Bone. 

He added: “When you’re in a room and you're drunk with 100 people, and they’re all drunk, that’s easier than when you're in a room with 100 people and they're all sober and you’re drunk. In that case, you stand out like a sore thumb.” 

Bar-work, drugs and rock and roll

With the psychoactive drug ecstasy taking ’90s nightlife by storm, Bone said there was a “really good vibe” to the hedonistic behaviour, with the ‘love drug’ stopping things from seeming too destructive.  

“It wasn't an addiction. It wasn't a problem, because everyone was having a good time,” he said.

Moreover, that alcohol and other substances were so readily accessible made the bar a “good place to be an addict,” with staff often joining customers in drinking after the shift ended. 

Bone said: “Someone once said to me, ‘the closest thing to being a rock and roll star is running a bar’ if you look at the hours, the stage, the alcohol and the groupies. 

“When you finish a full-on shift, you're on a natural high, and when it's 11 o'clock, 12 o'clock or one o'clock in the morning, alcohol is the obvious thing to take the edge off and come down from that high.” 

"The closest thing to being a rock and roll star is running a bar"

Celebrity chef and owner of Marlow-based gastropubs Tom Kerridge carried on this comparison, saying staff were often full-on characters who created vibrant worlds for guests to enter for a few hours. 

Kerridge said: “People go out for dinner or go to clubs, bars and pubs to escape a sometimes mundane lifestyle, whereas if you're in hospitality, your life is about excitement, late nights, meeting people, buzz and adrenaline. 

“If you work a Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five job, for instance, as an accountant, you're not surrounded by alcohol and your place of work is not one where people go for fun and there's a DJ playing; but if you work in [hospitality], it’s your workspace as well.”  

Sustainable staffing

For Bone, the industry’s addiction problems could be tackled if hospitality jobs were viewed as long-term career choices rather than stopgap roles for thrill-seeking teens. 

“We’re seeing people say, I didn't sign up for that. I did when I was younger, but if I'm going to work in this industry for 40 years and give it my all, then that kind of lifestyle choice isn't sustainable,” he said. 

He continued: “The catering industry needs to bounce back and say, ‘this is a career choice’, and if you come and work for 45 years, there are loads of great benefits.” 

Bone said the worst thing operators could do was giving staff struggling with booze time off work as they would likely spend the free time drinking. 

"The catering industry is a drug"

Instead, it was best to keep busy. Operators could support staff through swapping them onto shifts where they were less likely to crave a drink, for instance, a Friday night could be swapped for a Monday lunchtime.  

Bone said: “The catering industry is a drug. I stopped when I was 45 and said, I'm never going back in this industry, no way, and lo and behold, it did pull me back in.” 

Bone now co-runs the London-based vegan restaurant Vetomeato with his partner Natalie. The couple champion a culture of respect where each team member is treated equally. 

Reaching out

Kris Hall, founder of the mental health charity the Burnt Chef Project, said addiction can impact an employee’s ability to work well in addition to impacting mental and physical wellbeing. 

The Burnt Chef Project features a 24/7 helpline for hospitality workers wishing to talk about their mental health. 

Hall said: “As an employer, you want every member of the team to be as healthy and happy as possible, but you also need them to be working to their strengths and performing well in their role – not just for their team, but also for the company as a whole.” 

Operators should educate themselves on the signs of addiction and create compassionate work environments that foster openness and trust, to help staff feel supported. 

Red flags might include taking more days off work than usual, difficulty focusing at work, noticeable changes in physical appearance and appearing anxious for no reason. 

Unexplained changes in personality, mood and co-ordination can also be signs something is wrong. 

“If you’ve spotted these signs, talk to the individual privately and express empathy rather than blame or accusing them of anything,” said Hall. “Make sure you’re approaching the conversation with facts rather than assumptions – for example, saying you’ve noticed a smell of alcohol rather than accusing them outright of having a drinking problem. 

“Addiction is often someone's way of managing very difficult feelings or experiences. Stress tends to fuel addictive behaviour, so criticising, demeaning or shaming them will only push your colleague away and may even encourage them to seek further comfort in self-medication.” 

The Drinks Trust, an organisation providing support to those in the drinks trade, encourages those struggling with addiction to seek out self-help groups, cognitive behavioural therapy and detoxification. 

If you are struggling with your relationship to drugs or alcohol, find support here: 

The Burnt Chef Project: https://www.theburntchefproject.com/​ 

The Drinks Trust: https://www.drinkstrust.org.uk/downloadable-resources​ 

Related topics Training

Related news

Show more