The Risks You Take When You Overserve Customers

New Year’s Eve is one of the most dangerous holidays – 47 percent of men and 40 percent of women admitted to binge drinking to ring in the New Year, drunk driving accidents are significantly up, and more pedestrians are killed on New Year’s Day than any other day of the year. 

While the hospitality industry embraces fun and celebration, it’s also operators’ responsibility to keep patrons safe. That’s why we’ve compiled four tips on how bars and restaurants can protect themselves, their patrons and their employees this New Year’s Eve (and every day!).

Understand Your State’s Dram Laws

Laws regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol are local, not federal, and they vary widely across jurisdictions. Failure to manage the commercial sale of alcohol puts your business in danger, increasing your criminal and civil liability exposure.

Consider the Dram Shop Act, which is active in 38 states. The Dram Shop Act may allow third parties or others to recover for damages caused by alleged overservice of alcohol (so, if someone leaves your venue intoxicated and gets into an accident, your establishment can be held liable). In addition to Dram, some states allow for the criminal prosecution of servers in cases where the alleged overservice caused damage to property or injury to people. Failure to follow the appropriate laws and regulations for your business could result in fines, jail, license revocation and/or bad publicity. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Refuse Service 

Make sure your bartenders know when to stop serving patrons. Potential signs of an intoxicated person include loud or agitated speech, ordering drinks rapidly, slurred speech, stumbling, spilling drinks, appearing drowsy, aggressive behavior and/or blood shot eyes. When possible, have a manager break the news off to the side. Keep it calm and state the facts. Do not be accusatory or aggressive. “I think you should call it a night. 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.

Double Down on Conflict Resolution

Each patron who enters your establishment brings different ideas, interpersonal skill sets, prejudices and emotions with them. Add alcohol to the situation and your business is at an increased risk of an incident. Eventually conflict can happen. Shockingly, the average cost of a bar fight claim is $109,678.25 (based on Society Insurance information). Claims range from a few hundred dollars to several million dollars for a single altercation. This can dramatically impact the bottom line for bar owners, which is why conflict resolution training is critical for bar owners and staff. 

Recommended conflict resolution techniques include:

  1. Capable door staff in place: The door staff is the first point of contact for patrons. They are among the first that have the task of determining if guests are of a proper age to enter and do not show signs of intoxication. They can also monitor for conflicts that may already be developing between customers before they enter. The actions you take at this point can resolve a potential conflict before it ever arrives. 
  2. Closely monitor alcohol service: Bartenders can help minimize the risk of a conflict developing by monitoring alcohol service using drink counting methods, observing patron physical and cognitive behaviors, pouring measured drinks and employing a good cut-off policy.
  3. Remain vigilant, especially during peak hours: Security and floor staff see what is happening throughout the operation. They are the eyes and ears of the operation and get the best view of what might be bubbling up throughout the night. By stepping in early, they can more easily manage the situation.
  4. Implement comprehensive standard operating procedures and policies: Your management team should be able to provide proper training to all staff, including conflict resolution skill development training. Don’t overlook it. It’s important to implement strong procedures for staff to follow, including: cut-off policy, effective ID and non-entry policy, patron ejection policy, training and exercise for emergency situations, use of force policies and more. Provide regular training to ensure the staff possesses a clear understanding. Having the proper policies and training in place will help to minimize the impact of a conflict and maximize the effectiveness of everyone’s response when an issue arises.

Obtain Liquor Liability Insurance

If you operate a business that sells alcohol, you should have liquor liability insurance. Alcohol service creates unique risks and exposures. Liquor liability insurance can help with costly claims and litigation that arise because of alcohol service, and damage or injury caused by an intoxicated person. Even if your bar is not liable in these complicated situations, your legal defense costs can add up quickly.

Shelby Blundell is a Risk Control Representative at Society Insurance. Blundell holds a master’s degree from St. Louis University’s School of Public Health, and has worked as a Risk Improvement Representative for Society Insurance since 2010. He is a member of the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) and the Insurance Loss Control Association (ILCA).

This information is provided for informational purposes only and does not 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. For more information about liability insurance contact Society Insurance.

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