Tips and Techniques for Responsible Serving

By Andrea Victory

Bartender serving beers to customers at the bar

When libations are flowing it most often means good times, but as a bar owner or bartender, making sure those good times stay safe is in your hands. And the stakes are high: irresponsible serving can mean that your bar could lose its liquor license, or you could personally be held responsible. So, if you’re serving alcohol, it’s essential that you ensure that patrons enjoy themselves but don’t become too inebriated.

Thing is, refusing service can be uncomfortable, awkward, and even dangerous. To navigate the uneasy waters of cutting off customers, here are tips and techniques to use to make sure that you and your staff are serving safely and responsibly.

Know When to Act

It’s not always the case that the person being refused service is intoxicated. Loud, obnoxious behavior, or uneasiness about a patron’s state may also lead you to feel uncomfortable with the person drinking in your establishment. If you are ever concerned that someone is in an altered state it’s okay to deny booze. Though be aware of any situations or laws in your area that may make refusing service a discriminatory issue, and don’t jump too quickly. Some disabilities and diseases like Parkinson’s can appear to be a concern when in fact the patron is fine to enjoy some refreshments. If unsure, always talk to the customer first.

Spot the Signs

As part of attentive service there are ways to note when someone has had too much. Look out for clues like the obvious: slurring of speech, stumbling, slouching, volume increase, and others such as ordering another drink when they’ve barely touched the one they have, or if they are repeating themselves.

Practice Slow Service

If you do suspect that a customer is intoxicated and you think they’ve had enough, you can modify your behavior in subtle ways to discourage the customer from ordering yet another beverage. Bring them some water, take a few steps back from the bar, turn away from the customer, polish glasses, or restock shelves to put some distance between you and the patron.  

Know How to Cut Someone Off

It’s often not as simple as bartenders would like it to be when refusing to serve another drink to an inebriated person. Often, they’ll whine, they’ll beg, they’ll bargain. But stick to your guns and stay firm.

  • Settle the tab first.
  • Be firm with refusing to pour another beverage. Speak in a calm, cool, and collected way, and be clear that you’re definitely not going to give them more alcohol.
  • Don’t bargain with the patron. “Just one more and then I’ll leave”, isn’t going to be effective. When you cut them off, that has to be it. Stick to your word.
  • Be respectful and don’t embarrass them. Keep it on the downlow as much as possible, and ensure them that they are welcome to come back another day, but tonight they’ve had enough.
  • Make sure they are not driving. If they are with a group, check that someone is the designated driver, or they are all taking a cab together.
  • Stay safe. Safety is priority – the safety of your other guests, the staff, and the individual.
  • Ask them to leave the premises. Once they are cut off, there should be no sticking around or hanging out with friends that are ordering more alcohol and possibly sharing it with them.
  • Help them safely on their way. This may mean calling a taxi or ordering an Uber and ensuring they are in the car and headed home, or making sure that friends or family with the patron are in control and taking care of them.

Role Play

To empower your staff to feel confident to refuse service, as part of your initial front of house training, include a role play session where staff practice cutting off a customer. This way you’ll also be able to reiterate your values and preferred methods of dealing with drunk or disorderly customers.

Back Up Your Staff

Always make sure your staff knows they can grab a manager to step in and handle the situation if they are uncomfortable or if things are escalating. No employee should feel that they are in a threatening situation, and should be fully backed up by management.

As a bartender or bar owner you’re most likely going to come up against situations that require you to step in and be responsible. Knowing what to do and how to handle the situation with calm authority is key and will keep you and your patrons safe and enjoying good times at your bar.

Photo of Andrea Victory
by Andrea Victory

Andrea was a Content Marketing Specialist and Editor at TouchBistro where she wrote about restaurant and dining trends, restaurant management, and food culture. A self-affirmed food geek, Andrea devours cookbooks and food blogs. She also knows how to make a killer kale salad.

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