How to Handle Drunk Customers at Your Bar or Restaurant

When your establishment serves alcohol, dealing with customers who’ve had one too many is inevitable.
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Once a bartender or server decides that a customer is too drunk for service, a manager should step in and handle the situation. (Photo: Dean Drobot)

With St. Patrick’s Day, college basketball tournaments and Spring Break coming up, it’s important that your bar or restaurant knows how to deal with guests who’ve had too much to drink.

It’s a common scene without easy answers. Should you refuse them service or let them continue their binge? What is your legal and ethical responsibility? How do you keep customers happy, your staff safe and your business protected? After all, you don’t want to stop serving alcohol because of one bad apple martini.

NCR Silver asked three experts for their advice on what to do when customers go overboard with alcohol intake, and how to keep an intoxicated guest from hurting your business.

Chris-Adams

“Immediately work on diffusing the situation, whether that is enlisting the help of friends they might be with or buying time with water and food while you look for a resolution.” -Chris Adams (Photo: Chris Adams)

Dealing with those who arrive intoxicated

If your restaurant is near a stadium, college or concert venue, you may be used to having drunk patrons visit your establishment. Or it could just be your unlucky night, but when a customer arrives already drunk, you need to have a plan.

In that situation, it’s up to the manager on duty (MOD) to take control, said Chris Adams, principal of Ellis Adams Group, an international consulting firm for luxury restaurant brands.

“Immediately work on diffusing the situation, whether that is enlisting the help of friends they might be with or buying time with water and food while you look for a resolution,” he said.

Bartenders and waitstaff have a legal obligation to refuse service to those they think may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Unfortunately, knowing when someone has had too much is a tough judgment call, especially in a bar setting.

Spend time training your staff on how to properly identify someone who comes in inebriated. Or if this becomes a routine scenario, consider hiring bouncers to help keep intoxicated patrons from entering your establishment until they’ve sobered up a bit.

Interacting with drunk diners

Perhaps a customer is watching the big game for several hours at your bar, or has one too many glasses of wine with his or her meal. If your bartender or waitstaff feels that continuing to serve the guest poses a risk — to the drunk customer, other guests, themselves or the establishment’s reputation — they should communicate that to the manager who can step in and handle the situation.

debawegner

“Pull the guest aside first and calmly say that the establishment will not be serving the guest any more alcohol on that day.” -Deba Wegner (Photo: Deba Wegner)

“The MOD does the actual conversation,” said Deba Wegner, owner of restaurant consulting company Recipe for Success Inc. He or she should “pull the guest aside first and calmly say that the establishment will not be serving the guest any more alcohol on that day.”

Immediately bringing the issue to management’s attention takes the responsibility off the bartender or server, which can help de-escalate the situation.

“Many times, having a new person involved in this is a positive thing, and the guest reacts accordingly,” she said.

Related: A Consumer Psychologist’s Tips for Handling an Angry Customer

Making sure inebriated customers are safe

An intoxicated customer is still your customer. No matter how uncomfortable you may be when telling a guest he or she has been cut off, your goal is to look out for their safety — and that of your other guests.

“Do not let the awkwardness of the situation push you into a decision,” Adams said. “You want to keep their best interests in mind.”

Wegner said one course of action is to give the guest some food to help them sober up. Give them a great deal on an appetizer or send over a dish that was accidentally duplicated in the kitchen free of charge, which can also help cut back on food waste.

Furthermore, go the extra mile to help ensure a drunk customer gets home safely. Adams said to see if your guest has a designated driver, or offer to call a cab on their behalf.

Related: How Generous Should Your Bartenders Be?

Take defensive actions

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“Depending on the situation, both staff and the licensee/owner can be held liable.” -Marbet Lewis (Photo: Marbet Lewis)

According to Marbet Lewis, a partner and owner at Lewis Fox, a boutique alcohol industry law firm, many states have laws that hold the bar responsible for the actions of a patron who has been served alcohol when they should not have been. For instance, if a guest leaves your establishment having been served too many and causes a wreck, your business could be held liable.

“Accordingly, an effective compliance policy requires retailers to review procedures with their state enforcement agency and review their state’s Dram Shop laws relating to potential civil liability with service to intoxicated patrons,” she said.

Lewis said some states require establishments to remove the patron or call the local authorities, while other states make it clear that the patron can enter the restaurant but should be refused service. Either way, make sure you have a good relationship with local law enforcement, who can help handle a potentially violent situation.

Related: The Records You’ll Need if You Ever Get Sued

“Depending on the situation, both staff and the licensee/owner can be held liable,” said Lewis. “Even patron removal procedures can lead to equal liability for any damages suffered by a patron due to extreme force or negligence. As such, working with local police or third party responsible service providers can offer effective training that can be implemented uniformly and without excessive use of force.”

Hopefully, such situations are few and far between for your establishment, but if and when they do happen, keeping these tips in mind will help ensure inebriation doesn’t escalate into an issue.

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