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Know when to cut off an intoxicated guest

A bartender has to watch for these signs of intoxication
A bartender has to watch for these signs of intoxication

It’s great for a bartender to have a rollicking crowd, but eventually one of your guests is going to get too intoxicated and you’re going to have to cut him off. It’s something bartenders dread having to do, but sometimes its necessary. Knowing when your guests have had enough to drink is part of a bartender’s responsibility. It’s not only the right thing to do; in Texas, it’s the law. The Texas Alcohol Beverage Code states that no bartender will serve an intoxicated person, nor shall he serve a guest to the point of intoxication.

It can be a tricky thing to master, since there are many “unknown” factors that can contribute to your guest’s intoxicated state, including what he’s had to eat that day, his weight, and his level of body fat. You also have to figure in his mood or emotional state, whether or not he’s had a few drinks before his visit with you, and the possibility that he might be on drugs, prescription or otherwise. There are so many things to keep in mind, it can make your head spin.

So how do you, the bartender, know when to cut off your guest?Your best bet is to watch for some of the following signals:

  • Speech—Your guest may slur his words, or he may speak too loudly or softly; it varies from person to person. An easy way to check on his speech is to get him talking. I like to keep my guests engaged in conversations. Sure, I’m naturally outgoing, but I’m also watching at how they respond to me. I’m listening for their tone of voice, for slurred words, for how long it takes them to answer simple, surprise questions. If your guest is trying to hide his intoxication, his speech will often betray him. Speech is an excellent indictor of his level of intoxication.
  • Mental state—Watch out for guests who become agitated, argumentative, or emotional. While it’s difficult to gauge the mental state of someone you’ve just met, it shouldn’t be too hard to read a guest you see all the time. You know what’s going on in her personal life, like if she’s having a rough time at her job, or at home. When she’s stressed, she’s likely to overindulge. Be sure to monitor her closely.
  • Movement—Alcohol can slow down motor reflexes. Your guest may have trouble sitting up, walking or balancing. He may move slowly, or lean on his elbows a lot. Watch his eyes. He might have difficulty tracking sudden movements. Try this: show him something unexpectedly, like your wristwatch, or a photo on your phone. If he’s having trouble focusing, he’s probably had too much to drink.

So, you’ve decided your guest is intoxicated, how do you cut him off?

Do your best to keep calm. If possible, pull him off to the side and whisper it into his ear. Tell him you’re sorry, but you’re unable to serve him any more alcohol. If a private conversation isn’t possible, then inform him anyway, but as calmly as you can. A savvy guest will get the message right off the bat. But most likely, your guest will challenge you. He’ll want to know exactly what he’s done to step out of line. Don’t go into specifics here; he’ll only want to debate you. Just tell him you’re not allowed to serve him anymore at this time. Invite him to come back tomorrow, and if he’s in really bad shape, call him a cab.

Hopefully, the next morning as he’s nursing his hangover, your guest will understand he was out of line. He’ll come to see you again when his embarrassment wears off. If he’s any kind of a man, he’ll even apologize. But don’t count on it. Sometimes a guest will never get over having been cut off. He’ll take it personally even though you were only doing the right thing in a difficult situation. He’ll never understand that you were only doing your job by following the law, trying to keep him, and others, safe. Guests who think like this will never come back. Don’t let it get to you. Your bar crowd is a two-way street. Sure, you want to be known as the bartender everybody goes to, but it works both ways. You want a fun, drama-free crowd, full of people who are mature enough to drink in a responsible manner. You’re serving adults, and for goodness sake, you want them to act like adults. If he doesn’t come back, maybe he didn’t need to be coming to you in the first place.

Bartending can be tons of fun, but it also comes with serious responsibilities. You have to know when a guest has had too much to drink, and the skill to cut him off when necessary. Remember, it’s the right thing to do, and it’s the law.

For more info: The author of this article will cut you off in a heartbeat at The Eagle, 5740 Maple Avenue, Dallas, TX, 75224; (214) 357-4375.

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