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 to a point of harm are signs that employees should watch out for when on shift.
Unlike local authorities, bartenders primarily depend on instinct, personal judgement, and experience when identifying guests who already had a little too many drinks. This is a skill that’s developed with experience, but is 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 with their own two eyes.
How to Identify Intoxicated Guests
Servers and bartenders rely heavily on visual cues when a customer is suspected to have drank too much. 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.
For one, slurred speech or lack of coordination might be a sign of something, but it’s not always a red flag for intoxication. However, while visual cues such as these don’t apply in all circumstances, they do warrant the attention of bartenders.
After all, it’s still part of the job to check on customers and then serve accordingly based off of those reactions. 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
- 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’s done for the night, red skin can may 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 set the pace for themselves.
In addition to flushed cheeks, you should watch out for bloodshot or watery eyes. Such reaction can mean that the customer is taking alcohol at a rate that their body isn’t really comfortable with or they’ve simply had too many drinks for the night.
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
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 have 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 when 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 the 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 standout for the wrong reasons.
If you did notice sudden changes in behavior, be cautious about how you handle the situation as you are unable to determine how they will react. Try to avoid serving them or at least reduce the amount they’re drinking. Speak to your colleagues and let them know you think the customer has had too much to drink and you think they could be a hazard to themselves or others. If they have companions, it’s best to talk to the sober friend and ask their help to advice their friend to slow down.
Keeping Things in Check
Beyond mixing cocktails and serving up beers, bartenders must work hand-in-hand with the rest of the staff to maintain order at the bar.
With impeccable skills at the counter and good understanding of people and surroundings, your top-notch mix of skills and wits should help you build a long and successful career in the hospitality industry, or wherever your imagination takes you.