As a bartender, pouring drinks and serving customers is only half the job. Bartenders also act as the eyes of the bar and are responsible for reporting any behavior that may put the bar, or its customers, in a potentially dangerous situation. Things like bar fights, abusive behavior, or alcohol abuse are signs employees should watch out for when on shift.
Bartenders primarily depend on instinct, personal judgment, and experience when identifying guests who’ve had a few too many drinks. This is a skill that’s developed with experience, but it’s also covered by most alcohol seller/server training courses.
With that said, let’s dive into some of the ways that bartenders can spot overly intoxicated individuals.
How to Identify Intoxicated Guests
Servers and bartenders rely heavily on visual cues when they suspect a customer has had too much to drink, which is why it’s common for them to pay close attention to a person’s appearance and behavior. However, it’s worth noting that visual indicators don’t tell the whole story since almost everyone reacts differently to alcohol.
Slurred speech or lack of coordination is not always a red flag for intoxication. However, they do warrant the attention of bartenders.
After all, it’s still part of the job to check on customers. With that being said, here are the top visual cues that will tell you if someone has had too much alcohol for the night:
Flushed cheeks, Bloodshot, or Watery Eyes
- Bloodshot, glassy, or watery eyes
- Flushed face
- Droopy eyelids
- Excessive perspiration
- A blank stare or dazed look
- Twitching or body tremors
- Disheveled clothing
Flushed cheeks usually give away that someone’s (especially non-drinkers) drink is starting to get to them. While it’s hardly a foolproof indicator that someone is done for the night, red skin can tell you that someone’s body is breaking down alcohol at a slightly slower rate than most. Thus, you may want to help these guests pace themselves.
In addition to flushed cheeks, you should watch out for bloodshot or watery eyes. In the case of an intoxicated person, bloodshot, glassy, or watery eyes are a red flag for drunkenness. When someone reacts this way, it typically means they’ve been drinking too quickly or they’ve simply had too many drinks.
Disorientation & Slurred Speech
- Thick, slurred speech
- Loud, noisy speech
- Speaking loudly, then quietly
- Rambling train of thought
- Unusually fast or slow talking
- Slow response to questions or comments
- Repetitive statements
- Bravado, boasting
- Making irrational statements
Loud, noisy, slurred speech is high on the list of symptoms of alcohol intoxication. If the person is talking inappropriately loud (or soft), keep a close eye on them. When visual cues like flushed cheeks and watery eyes are combined with slurred speech or disoriented movement, the chances that someone is about to or already has gone over their limit becomes significantly higher. In fact, slurred speech is one of the symptoms often seen on people with more than 0.08% blood concentration level (BAC).
Scientifically, and according to law, that’s the amount of alcohol in someone’s blood that will make them legally drunk. As a bartender, it’s typical to see people reach that point on a busy night. It’s when customers reach higher levels of consumption— it gets serious. When it starts to look like a customer can no longer handle their alcohol, you should consider telling the patron that they’re done for the night.
Change in Attitude & Restless Behavior
- Annoying other guests and employees
- Aggressive or belligerent
- Obnoxious or mean
- Inappropriate sexual advances
- Depressed or sullen
- Crying or moody
- Extreme or sudden change in behavior
- Overly animated or entertaining
- Crude, inappropriate speech or gestures
- Drowsiness or falling asleep
A big red flag that you may want to watch out for is a sudden change in your guest’s behavior. While there are a lot of things that can affect someone’s demeanor while they’re inside the bar, you must pay attention to guests who are starting to stand out for the wrong reasons. If the person starts pestering other customers— arguing or, even, being overly friendly with them—there’s a good chance that he or she has had more to drink than they can handle.
How Can Bartenders Respond to an Intoxicated Patron?
If you do notice sudden changes in their behavior, be cautious handling the situation since you can’t predict how they will react. Try to avoid serving them or at least reduce the amount they’re drinking. Talk to your co-workers. Let them know you think the customer is intoxicated and they could be dangerous to themselves or other patrons. Also, if they are with friends, ask them to intervene. They might have better luck convincing their friend to slow down or stop drinking.
Don’t be confrontational; remain friendly and neutral. Offer them a non-alcoholic beverage and (if possible) some food to take their mind off a potentially embarrassing situation. If the guest becomes aggressive and belligerent, it’s important to not stoop to his or her level. Be empathetic, keep calm and stay friendly.
Is Drinking Too Much Against the Law?
When restaurant and bar customers are over-served, public intoxication (a misdemeanor in most states) is a real danger. This is illegal activity that—along with drunk driving—restaurant employees have to combat.
The charge is often called “drunk and disorderly” and refers to intoxication resulting in publicly disruptive behavior. Some states require a demonstrable threat to one’s self or to those around the accused. Sometimes prosecutors don’t even have to prove that the accused was drunk; the appearance (to others) of intoxication or associated behavior is sometimes enough to merit the charge and get a conviction. There are some rare exceptions (for example, Nevada, Montana and Missouri don’t have laws against public intoxication; neither does the city of Milwaukee), but criminal behavior that results from being drunk in public is always illegal.
In addition to being (or seeming to be) intoxicated, the other conditions that must be met for someone to be charged with public intoxication is that they are in—you guessed it—public. And anyone at a bar or restaurant is in public. That’s why you, as an employee in the food and beverage industry, have to be vigilant in preventing your customers from posing a danger to themselves and to others.
Getting the appropriate alcohol seller certification and training will help you (or your employees) spot and prevent behavior that could be dangerous and illegal.
Part of your job is to keep your patrons safe. If you learn to recognize the warning signs of public intoxication, you’ll be keeping your place of business safe and enjoyable for you, your coworkers and your guests. Want to learn more about recognizing the effects of alcohol intoxication? Enroll in state-specific alcohol training today at learn2serve.com!