It’s rarely easy and it’s never fun. Telling customers that they’ve had too much to drink and that you cannot serve them is one of the prickliest moments for those of us in the hospitality industry. The situation itself is difficult enough—the guest has diminished judgment and inhibitions to begin with, so reasoning can only go so far. Even worse, the fact that he or she is intoxicated means that your staff failed to serve alcohol responsibly.
Essentially, there are two major areas of responsibility of which we should be mindful. The first is that we need to try our best to keep our guests from becoming intoxicated in the first place. This means that happy hours, ‘2 for 1’ deals, ‘Ladies drink Free’ and other such offers are likely to culminate in a guest being overserved. But rest assured that there are still ways to attract a crowd that are compatible with responsible drinking. The best is to offer either free food or affordable bar snacks. Luckily, many of the foods that are popular during a happy hour are relatively inexpensive. Most importantly, they can please a drinking crowd while subtly warding off intoxication.
Keep Tabs on Your Customers
The more difficult area of responsibility is to monitor our guests’ behavior and intervene if they’ve had too much to drink. In order, the four main categories are inhibitions, judgment, reaction time and physical coordination.
Although alcohol is technically a depressant, its initial effect on someone is to depress their inhibitions. Obvious manifestations of this are speaking more loudly, talking more easily to strangers and acting more relaxed. These are perfectly healthy signs of a guest responsibly enjoying a cocktail or two, and equate to a ‘green light’ situation.
As judgment is hampered, though, your guest can start telling off-color jokes, be less responsible with their money or become argumentative. The guest is probably not legally intoxicated yet, but should be monitored more closely.
Slowed reactions and loss of coordination are both signs that the guest is probably legally intoxicated and should not be allowed any more alcohol. The most effective method to do so is to use compassion. Saying “I really want you to get home safely tonight” will go a long way towards helping them to accept the situation. It is also important to make sure that they don’t try to drive home. Ask for their car keys while offering them a free cab ride home.
If they are not accepting your compassionate approach, the best final line to tell them is, “at this point, it is against the law for us to serve you any more alcohol.” And lastly, if the guest refuses to give you their keys and insists on driving home while intoxicated, call the police, even if it’s a regular patron. These calls are all recorded and can be used as evidence if you end up in court.
This is serious business. Lives and livelihoods are at stake. We want our guests to enjoy alcohol responsibly, have a great time at our places and come back again soon to have another drink at the bar. But when the guest has a bit too much to drink and is a potential threat to his/her own welfare, as well as other people on the road, it is our responsibility both legally and morally to control their behavior. And one last thing.—once you’ve made the decision to cut somebody off, never back down. When you say “no more drinks,” that is the final word. Really.