How to Deal With Intoxicated Patrons in Your Bar

Have you ever had a customer slurring their speech and asking for yet another drink? Or perhaps a customer drinking and showing off, while being loud or obnoxious inside of your business? How about someone drinking excessive amounts of alcohol within a short period of time? Each of these can be signs of intoxication. As a bar or restaurant owner, it may seem as though intoxicated customers just come with the line of business you are in. However, it’s how you deal with these intoxicated customers that can make all the difference.

Society Insurance, which provides coverage to the hospitality industry, has put together tips on addressing intoxicated persons to make sure they don’t cause harm to themselves or others.

Potential Signs of an Intoxicated Person

Many times, it can be clear as day when someone is intoxicated. However, other times you’ll need to take a closer look at a person’s appearance and demeanor. Signs of intoxication include:

  • A flushed face
  • Loud or agitated speech
  • Ordering drinks rapidly
  • Slurred speech
  • Stumbling
  • Spilling drinks
  • Appearing drowsy
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Bloodshot eyes

Less obvious signs include unfocused eyes, memory problems, lack of emotional regulation, and even decreased sociability.

Right to Refuse Service – Steps

Once you’ve pinpointed that someone may need to slow down or stop their drinking completely, staff should inform a manager of the behavior. The manager should keep a close eye on the situation to decide the appropriate next steps - whether it’s having them vacate the premises or allowing them to stay and sober up.

Strategies to help you deal with intoxicated patrons:

1. Bring Up Food.

Suggest that they purchase a food item instead of another drink. When we eat, it helps slow down the absorption of alcohol in the body. Also, if the patron has an empty stomach, they will continue to get more intoxicated, more quickly.

2. Offer Water, Coffee or Tea.

Suggest having them try a different product that is non-alcoholic. This gives them time to let the alcohol pass through the body. Offering them water or coffee is a great alternative. If this doesn’t work, perhaps try juice or a soft drink.

3. Try Talking to the Group.

It can be beneficial to have friends talk to an intoxicated individual instead of a bartender. If an intoxicated individual is with a group of people, try talking with the group members. The group may be able to help sway the intoxicated individual into slowing down or switching to a non-alcoholic beverage.

intoxicated patrons

What to Say When Refusing Service

Don’t cut anyone off in front of others if you can help it. The manager should request the person to accompany him or her off to the side or a somewhat quieter place to break the news. (But never alone. Take another staff member) Keep calm and state the facts. Do not be accusatory or aggressive, but be firm. You could state, “We are not serving you anymore. Do you have a ride, or can I call you a car?” Instruct your bartenders to not serve the patron anymore. Don’t negotiate.

Refusing service can potentially lead to a heated conversation with the customer, so it’s important to have an established policy in place stating how your business deals with intoxicated customers. Servers and bartenders need to know it’s acceptable to go to the manager for help when dealing with an intoxicated customer.

When speaking with a customer about refusing them service, staff could try the following tips:

●      Be as friendly as possible, yet firm in the decision.

●      Tell the patron you care about their well-being and want them to get home safely. It is recommended that you help them find transportation home, if they do not have a way to get home safely. A cab service or third-party app such as Lyft or Uber can make a big difference if the intoxicated customer is drinking alone.

●      It’s all right to let them know that your job or liquor license could be at risk if you were to overserve them.

If a drunk patron becomes disorderly or you feel threatened in any way, contact your local police department for assistance. The goal is to keep everyone involved in this situation – and your business – safe.

Every shift, bartenders are faced with decisions to create a welcoming environment, while keeping patrons out of harm’s way. Though businesses in the hospitality industry provide a fun and relaxed atmosphere for clientele to briefly escape their everyday routines, it’s also their responsibility to keep their patrons safe. Excessive drinking can lead to verbal altercations on-site, physical harm to oneself and others, and widespread issues once a patron has left an establishment.

Preparation, policies and training help to minimize incidents all year long. By obtaining proper insurance coverage, understanding Dram laws, refusing service when applicable, and practicing conflict resolution training, you and your staff will be more empowered to safely address challenges that arise during holidays, sports’ seasons, and other celebrations.

This is only a general description of coverages and is not a statement of contract. All coverages and limits are subject to the terms, definitions, exclusions and conditions in the policy. This information does not amend, modify or supplement any insurance policy. Consult the actual policy or your agent for details regarding available coverages. This information is provided as a convenience for informational purposes only. It is provided to assist you in recognizing potential unsafe work problems or conditions and not to establish compliance with any law, rule or regulation. This information does not constitute legal or professional advice. For a legal opinion, please seek legal counsel from a qualified attorney.


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