Most of us, if we’re being honest, have gone out for a fun night on the town and ended up having too much to drink. These nights often lead to nothing more than a painful headache and some embarrassing stories the next morning, but that’s not always the case.
Bartenders and bouncers are constantly having to deal with customers that don’t know their limits when it comes to alcohol consumption, and these situations can escalate into nasty situations that occasionally turn violent.
As a bartender, especially those working at college bars, dealing with drunk patrons is expected. Nonetheless, for the safety of themselves and customers, it’s important for bartenders to know when and how to properly cut someone off from drinking too much.
A Bartender’s Job
As a bartender, you’re often directly impacted by the behavior of customers at your bar. If customers are too intoxicated and start causing trouble with other patrons and workers, questions will be asked as to how they were able to get to the state on the bar’s property.
In addition, overly-intoxicated customers can cause problems and disruptions that will likely cause others to leave the bar and enjoy the rest of the night elsewhere, which can impact the amount in tips you make that night.
To keep the party going, tips flowing, and the vibe up, it’s important to make sure everyone at the bar is not too intoxicated to ruin everyone’s night. If people are acting up, looking too drunk to function, or appear to be causing trouble for others, it’s up to you to take action.
Why is it Important?
Crafty Bartending said it best, “The importance of cutting people should not be understated.” Mishandling an intoxicated patron can have serious consequences for you, your bar, and your customers.
Knowing how to manage intoxicated customers is important in keeping the atmosphere favorable to everyone at the bar. You don’t want someone to ruin the night for themselves or for everyone else. More importantly, your alcohol awareness training will all be for nothing if you’re unable able to serve drinks responsibly.
Essentially, bartenders and venues have a duty of care for their customers and protect their bar. They are responsible for making sure they are not jeopardizing the health and safety of those they serve.
When Should You Cut Someone Off?
"So much of knowing when to cut people off is based on signals and behavior: their voice is getting louder, they are not eating any food as they continue to drink, they knock something over," says Darron Cardosa, a New York City waiter and author of The Angry Waiter. "Most of the time, though, the decision to cut someone off is based on gut instinct."
While your guts will usually tell you the right time to help your guest off of the counter, it’s important that you’re also inherently aware of the common signs that inebriated customers may possess, like:
- Slurred speech
- Bloodshot & glazed eyes.
- Strong alcohol smell from their breath
- Ordered several drinks (shots, etc) in quick succession
- Swaying, staggering, stumbling
- Inappropriate behavior
- Overly loud, boisterous, animated gestures
- Bothering other guests
- Increased clumsiness – spilling drinks, dropping phone, etc
- Falling asleep
Over time, spotting these signs would come in as your second nature. But for starters, it’s good to review this list from time to time and combine it with what you’ve already learned from your alcohol training.
How Do You cut a guest off?
As many seasoned bartenders will tell you, you never really know what type of reaction to expect when cutting off a customer. To avoid confrontation, however, it’s best to try being respectful at first, with a line like, “Sorry, I think you’ve had too much. I can get you a water if you’d like?”
There’s a good chance that you’ll get some type of negative response, but by not being rude and disrespectful, it’s unlikely that the customer will be aggressive in response.
If the guest has his peers with him, it’s also good practice to reach out to a friend and ask for help in advising the customer. Most people take it better when they hear it from their friends that they had enough.
If they still insist to continue, try going through these steps:
- Settle the tab first.
- Speak in a clear and collected way, and tell them that you’re definitely not giving them any more alcohol.
- Don’t bargain. When you cut them off, that has to be it.
- Be respectful and keep it low key as much as possible, and ensure them that they are welcome to come back another day.
- Make sure they are not driving home. If they are with a group, check that someone else is the designated driver, or they are all taking a cab together.
- Have security escort them out if they refuse to leave or continue
Most bartenders would tell you to follow your gut. But as Chino Lee, an experienced bartender in Oregon shared, you should have a few tactics at your disposal so that you won’t get caught in awkward situations with the guest. "I have to say I am pretty adept at cutting guests off. You have to read the situation, you should use the tactic which is most appropriate and effective. Sometimes I'll just keep offering water or soda until they get the hint. Most people pick up on it the 3rd time. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and call security," explains Lee.
Your local alcohol awareness training program, along with stories from experienced bartenders should both serve as very rich resources of information when handling intoxicated guests. However, there’s no harm in revisiting this blog or listing your own action plan moving forward. Just remember, to be an excellent bartender you mustn’t just learn how to prepare and serve alcohol, you must also have keen understanding of when it’s time to call it a night for your customer.