If there’s one thing we want no part of as an owner, a manager, or even a bartender or server, and that is the drunk belligerent moron in your bar who has crossed the line of decency.
Anyone who has ever set foot in a bar knows exactly what I’m talking about. They’re loud, they’re obnoxious and they make things uncomfortable because they’re behavior is bordering somewhere between inappropriate to outright offensive.
With that said, today I’m going to spoon feed you five steps on how to deal with overserving and intoxicated guests. These five steps will allow you to not only help prevent your bar patrons from turning into an over-intoxicated buffoon, but also exactly how to deal with them if you suddenly realize it’s too late.
I used to bartend and bar manage for years, and I’m telling you right now that it can be an awkward conversation to tell someone they’ve had too much to drink and that they can’t have any more. It’s awkward because you’re basically telling someone to their face that they are acting strangely, which can be offensive to some.
They feel like you’re attacking their personality. With that said, awkward or not, you’ve got to find some courage and get tough. You can’t be wishy-washy when dealing with someone who has completely misplaced their good judgement. You can’t be soft with someone who is becoming increasingly aggressive. If they smell weakness, it just gets worse.
Of course, the bartenders and servers are the first line of defense. You, as an owner or manager can’t be responsible for running around the floor gazing into the guests’ eyes like it’s your 16-year-old daughter, trying to dissect if they’re wasted or not.
That means you need to equip your staff with some strategies and skills to first prevent over-intoxication, and second what to do if they’ve failed at prevention and the guest is already past the point of no return.
Without further ado, let’s get into the five steps.
STEP 1: PREVENTION
Right off the bat, this is a big reason not to pour the drinks heavy, which bartenders tend to do for good-tipping regulars. This is why you, as an owner, need a quality liquor inventory system in place to monitor and track their pours to make sure that 1) they aren’t pouring too strong for guests, and 2) so they aren’t stealing all of your fucking money.
Bartenders need to follow the standards set in your bar or your guests are going to get to the point of no return really quick. Also, if you are the server or bartender and you have already served them like three drinks in 30 minutes, you need to try and slow them down or things are going to escalate real quick.
That means you can 1) offer to get them some food, 2) get them some water, or 3) ignore them, just a little bit. Not in a rude way, but the more you can avoid them, the more you slow them down.
One method I used to use when bartending was to pour their next drink weaker and then ask management if we could comp it since it wasn’t as big of a loss, since it’s a lighter pour. This way they get a drink, but it’s not loaded with booze.
STEP 2: TEACH YOUR STAFF HOW TO READ THE SIGNS
And by “the signs” I of course mean the signs of intoxication. This seems obvious, but just making your staff aware—to be aware—will heighten their drunk sensors. It is your job as their leader to make sure they are properly trained in this area.
So, signs of intoxication are: slurring, swaying, falling asleep at the bar, droopy eyes, falling into people, groping other patrons (god forbid), constantly repeating themselves, or probably the most notable one which is talking loudly as if they’re a coach inside a locker room at half time.
Once one or more of these signs start surfacing, it’s cut-off time. Not after one more drink. Now. It’s not a yard sale and this is not a negotiation. Don’t let the guest talk you out of being responsible. Got it? Good.
STEP 3: THE APPROACH
This is where you need to first inform the patron that the time has come to stop. So when you recognize those symptoms of blatant numbskull-ness, and they order another drink, now is when you gently and politely let them know that it’s time to take a break. We don’t want to make a scene or embarrass them. Like I said, cutting someone off, in their mind, is the equivalent of you calling them a noticeable, visible idiot.
So here’s what you say. And yes, I’m going to tell you exactly what to say because I hate when I watch a video or read a blog post and they’re like, cut them off gently and politely and then that’s it. And I’m like “How? What do I say?” I’m not going to leave you hanging like that. Because I love you.
Here’s what you say. You say, “You know what Mr. Jones, I’m sorry, but it appears to me that you’ve had quite a bit, and for liability reasons, I really need to wait a bit before serving you another one.”
At this point, they almost never go quietly into the night, because nobody ever thinks they’re drunk. They’re like, “I’m not drunked, I’m just having a good time. Look at me, I’m perfegly fine.”
Most likely you will get some push back. Sometimes it’s mild and sometimes it’s aggressive. Whatever the pushback is, we go on to the next step which is:
STEP 4: PUT THE BLAME ON TO LAW
This removes yourself from responsibility. So Mr. Jones says, “This is bullshit!!! I spend thousands of dollars here. I’m one of your best regulars. Give me another drink.”
Now here’s where you reply, “I know Mr. Jones, you are a great regular. We all love you here. My issue is that ABC is in here all the time (ABC being alcohol beverage control), and if I overserve someone, and they see it, they will literally fine me a thousand dollars or more and take me away in handcuffs. I will lose my job, and I simply can’t risk it. Again, my apologies.”
The great thing about this, is that it’s all true. Different states have different fines and penalties, but they all have them, and if they see you overserve, they will fine you and arrest you.
Overserving is serious and the bartenders can be liable. I’m telling you, I bartended for years and I used this line all the time, and I kept returning to it every time the drunken guest kept arguing. No matter what they came back with, I’d say, “Again, I’m sorry, but I’m not losing my job and going to prison. I’m happy to get you some food. You can have a soda or lemonade on the house. I just can’t serve you anymore. I hope you understand.”
Again, be very cordial, but you need to be firm. You cannot be hesitant here or they will pounce on you like a cornered rattlesnake. If you are firm, this tactic almost always defuses them. Because unless they are a giant pile of shit, they don’t want to be responsible for you going to jail and losing your job either, so they usually surrender and eventually wander out of the bar.
Now, if this doesn’t happen and the aggression keeps rising and it turns out they are a giant pile of shit, it’s time for:
STEP 5: GET THE MANAGER INVOLVED
At this point, the bartender or server has done their job and tried their best to be as civil and firm as possible. Once they see that they’re tactics are having no effect, it’s time to send someone for the floor manager.
You as the floor manager have the same job. You start off soft and calm. It’s best if you can walk them off to the side a bit so there is no scene. You listen to Mr. Jones’ story with empathy. Then you say, “I understand, Mr. Jones. And I do apologize, but we both know what a touchy thing alcohol is when it comes to the law, and if my bartender says that you’ve had enough, I need to back her up on this. I tell you what, the next time you come in, I’ll get you an appetizer on the house. That’s the best I can do. If you want to stay for a bit, that’s fine, but we simply can’t serve you anymore tonight. I hope you understand.”
Again, hopefully this dispels them. If they are simply beyond reasoning with, at this point, you need to let Mr. Jones know that if he doesn’t calm down that you will be forced to call the police, or security if you have security. This almost always gets them to calm down because most people don’t want to go to jail or be thrown out on their chin by a security guy the size of a silverback gorilla.
By the way, as an owner or manager, don’t you dare override one of your employee’s decision to cut someone off. Don’t be like, “Oh, it’s ok Sarah, he’s good. Go ahead and give him another one.”
No, no, no. When you do this, you make your employees look and feel small and stupid for doing their job. Make sure you always have their back.
I hope this has helped give you a sense of how to approach someone who has had too much to drink. I also hope you take overserving and over-intoxication seriously because I wasn’t kidding about the law. They will punish both the employee and the business severely. And don’t even get me started on what might happen to you if someone is overserved and goes out and kills someone driving home. That’s a nightmare of a lawsuit that can be traced back to you.
Thanks for being here. I’ll see you next time.