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October 23, 2018 How to Expertly Handle Drunk Customers (7 Tactics)

drunk customers

You’re working behind the bar when you hear it. Someone is shouting “shots, shots, shots” as they head straight (err, crookedly) to you. Do you serve them those shots even though they appear to have had plenty? Or, will you cut them off and hand them a water? Take time now to prepare a plan for dealing with drunk customers using these 7 tactics – including the FAST formula for cutting off a customer with class.

1) Know Those Dram Laws and Understand Your Liability

It may seem unfair, but according to laws in most states, drunk customers are your responsibility as a bar owner or manager. Penalties for overserving can range from fines to liquor license suspension or loss. If drunk customers leave and hurt themselves or someone else, you could personally face criminal charges and 6-figure lawsuits.

Known as Dram Shop Laws, rules for over serving alcohol vary by state. Get familiar with your state’s alcohol laws and how they relate to drunk customers. In general, state laws are getting tougher. For example, in 2017, a South Carolina  Dram Shop Law made bars accountable for over-serving customers. Many bars were not alerted of the change. So, do your homework. Know the law. And protect yourself, your business, and your customers.

2) Train Your Team

Many states require all bartenders and managers to undergo 3rd party responsible server training. Use this link to find out about your state’s rules. Even if training isn’t mandated by law in your state, it’s still worth investing in professional training for dealing with drunk customers. In fact, your insurance company may require it or at least offer you better rates on liability insurance if you complete the training. Here are two excellent 3rd party training options:

3) Check the Forecast (Busy with a Chance of Drunk Customers)

Certain holidays increase the chances that you’ll be dealing with drunk customers: from St. Patty’s Day to Thanksgiving Eve, big televised sporting events to Cinco de Mayo. Also keep an eye on local events in town. Is there a big concert nearby or a citywide festival where patrons may already be drinking? Be prepared that already drunk customers may want to continue partying at your place.

Plan ahead by hiring bouncers or security personnel. It’s your right to turn away patrons at the door if they appear intoxicated. As always, ensure that door staff thoroughly checks i.ds. The last thing you need are underage drunk customers….

4) Drunk Customers: Learn to Spot Them

Torrey, a bartender in Los Angeles with 20 years of experience shares his tips for spotting drunk customers:

“They’re overly loud and often a little too animated. Drunk customers are typically aggressive getting to the bar or trying to get your attention.”

He also says some drunk customers are the complete opposite. They’re quiet and move slowly, with a “glazed” look in their eyes.

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5) What NOT to Do When Faced with Drunk Customers

Before sharing the FAST method for dealing with intoxicated guests, here’s what NOT to do.

  • Ignore: Some suggest ignoring drunk customers when they want another drink. This can backfire in two ways. First, the customer may get offended and angry by your neglect…leading them to aggressive behavior. Second, the guest may go to another bartender who ends up serving them.
  • Serve: It’s tempting. You don’t want to upset those drunk customers…what’s one more drink? Maybe it’s easier to serve them. Then they’ll go away, you think. No…just don’t do it – no matter how much they beg and plead. Your bar’s liquor license and liability are on the line. Not to mention, if one of those drunk customers gets in an accident or harms someone, you’ll have to live with the guilt.
  • Shout: Some drunk customers will raise their voices. Don’t respond by shouting back. Stay calm and speak normally. If the inebriated guest is shouting, other customers are watching how you act. Some may even have their cellphones out recording what they think may be a fight. No matter how angry you are, remain calm and courteous. Act as if you’re being filmed.

6) The FAST Method for Handling Drunk Customers

Friends: Chances are, drunk customers are with friends. Enlist their help. Explain that you are unable to serve the customer and you want to ensure they get home safely.

Ask: If the intoxicated guest is alone, or their friends aren’t helpful, ask the guest if they really do want another drink. “Are you sure?” Give the guest an opportunity to cut themselves off. If that doesn’t work, and they say “yes, I want another drink,” then…

Suggest: Drunk customers could be distracted by the promise of a complimentary snack and a glass of water. Or, suggest a soda or coffee on the house. If that doesn’t work, kindly and quietly say, “I’m sorry but I cannot serve you.”

Taxi: Even if you’ve succeeded in talking drunk customers out of more drinks, your work is not done. You need to get them home safely. Call a taxi. Ask their friends to summon an Uber or Lyft driver. Then, double check that the customer actually gets into the vehicle!

If all of the above isn’t working, you need to call the police. Escort the customer outside so that the police can monitor the customer away from the eyes of your other patrons.

7) Document Every Move You Make

It’s critical that you document actions taken when handling drunk customers. In you’re faced with legal issues related to overserving, proper documentation can help protect you. For example, if you offer an intoxicated guest complimentary food or non-alcoholic drinks, enter it into your POS with a note about the comp. If you’ve called a cab, note the time, the company, and the driver’s name in a log book.

It’s not easy handling drunk customers. But with the right training and tactics in place, you can feel confident and prepared for those worst-case scenarios. Ultimately, deciding not to serve a guest – then ensuring they get home safely – is the best thing you can do…for the guest, your bar, and your peace of mind.

2 Comments

  • Michaela Hemsley Sep 11, 2019 12:25 pm

    Thanks for pointing out that even if training is required by your state on dealing with drunk customers it can be smart to invest in it anyway. I think that investing in training for how to deal with drunk customers as well as responsible beverage serving would help make sure that your stuff could be better prepared for both encountering those customers and helping to avoid creating them. I also think that it would be good because it would be one less thing for you to worry about in your bar because your staff would know how to deal with it so you could focus on other things.

  • Arlyn A. Conanan Apr 14, 2019 8:22 am

    How about if the drunk costumer drink the drinks from other table? Hiw to handle them?

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