Although, I have always been a vocal advocate in the past about industry professionals being paid for their work, there are plenty of valid situations when asking for a favor—and free labor is definitely a favor — is reasonable and appropriate.
Whether you are organizing a charitable event, a non-profit party or just seeking some advice, there are honest and correct avenues to go about it. However, be very careful, as there are also plenty of ways to become a burden, in which case most people will decline to help you.
Here are several guidelines below that will increase your odds of getting a positive response from folks when you are short on budget.
A GOOD CAUSE
When there is a charitable cause involved it is nearly always acceptable to ask for people to chip in and help out. With that said, be considerate in what you ask for. Asking someone to judge a cocktail competition for a couple of hours is much different than asking someone to assemble and breakdown a venue on the outskirts of town. People naturally want to help out when they can, but be certain that you are respecting their time and effort.
PEER TO PEER
If a friend is seeking advice in regards to updating their beer taps, then you as a bar manager, would no doubt be happy to offer some insight. However, if an international hotel chain with hundreds of locations asks the same thing, than we have ourselves a slightly different situation. In this case, the former does not have the resources to properly pay you for your time, while the latter simply chooses not to.
EASE THE BURDEN
When someone is kind enough to lend assistance when you ask for help, be sure to do everything you can to reduce any stress that may be involved. If someone offers to write a guest post on your site, let them write it, while you post it and handle the technical aspects. To expect them to deal with additional tasks is inconsiderate at best, especially considering that they are doing you a large favor already.
GIVE PLENTY OF HEADS-UP
Asking a fellow bartender to write a letter of recommendation like a legitimate enough request, if you have a good relationship with them. When asking though, be mindful that you are giving them enough time to write and edit you something they think worthy. Making an appeal and only giving them a day to get it back to you is not only too demanding, but also what most would consider a unprofessional.
QUID PRO QUO
In other words, you scratch my back I scratch yours. While not always stated so obviously, there are plenty of relationships I have in the industry, where I would only say no if there was absolutely no possible way I could do it. Not because they have anything over my head, but rather because they have come through for me so often in the past that I would be privileged to return the gesture.
DON’T ASK FOR TOO MUCH
I am continuously shocked at some of the requests I have seen or heard about within our industry. Asking a peer for a cocktail submission for your menu is totally standard and can be an honor for both sides involved. However, asking that same peer for six new recipes that you can submit to your boss and tell them that you created them is not only absurd, but also completely unethical.
ABSOLUTELY NO BUDGET
If there is truly no budget that definitely gives you much more credibility in your requests for people’s unpaid time, but steer clear of doing so unless there are actually no resources to compensate those helping. Of course, charity events would be an exception since, we would hope, a portion of the budget is allocated to altruistic purposes. But if people find out that you paid $5,000 for an ice sculpture, but the bartenders were paid zero, you had better be ready to start answering some questions.
SAY PLEASE AND THANK YOU
This industry is not a one-time interaction, it is a long-term exchange and the way you treat others can either be an asset or a liability. Show appreciation and reciprocate the good gestures whenever possible. In other words, don’t be an ungrateful piece of shit, and you will find that your professional life will become much easier.