In Oak Ridge, Tenn. earlier this year, it took every police officer on duty to help break up a drunken brawl. Two men were apparently competing for the attentions of a woman at Lincoln’s Sports Grille Feb. 10. Harsh words were exchanged, and somehow the dispute escalated into a free-for-all fight raging inside and outside the establishment. The mess involved more patrons than local police could handle.
Oak Ridge Deputy Police Chief Alan Massengill spoke about the incident at an Oak Ridge Beer Permit Board meeting where Lincoln’s owners were publicly castigated.
“Now we’re starting to see the level of intoxication pick up on patrons that are in there and not being cut off,” Massengill told the owners of the restaurant and bar. “If your staff is not cutting them off, then we’re headed for a problem.”
The Oak Ridge Beer Board, like similar regulatory agencies all over the United States, can revoke or suspend alcohol permits and issue fines. The board, in this instance, decided not to suspend Lincoln’s license, but called on the establishment to do a better job monitoring customers. Steps to take would include verifying their ages, serving food to those who appear under the influence and refusing service to anyone who seems drunk when they arrive at the bar.
How can you, as the employee or manager of a bar or restaurant, prevent instances like this? Public intoxication (a misdemeanor in most states) is a real danger when restaurant and bar customers are over-served. 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 the 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 the 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 condition 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) know how to spot and prevent behavior that could be dangerous and illegal. Here are some signs that it’s time to stop serving (of course, you should recognize when it’s time to slow service down long before it gets to this):
- Guests are slurring
- Guests are speaking loudly
- Guests have difficulty walking
If you have to cut the guest off, alert the manager on duty, as well as your co-workers. You don’t want someone else serving them after you’ve told them they can’t have any more. If the guest is with friends, enlist their help. Chances are they’ll be glad to explain to their friend why it might be a good idea to slow down.
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.
Part of your job is keeping 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.