Each state regulates alcohol — from its manufacturing, to selling, and the actions resulting from its use. This includes assessing the liability of any violations. If you serve alcohol in your restaurant, it is important that you and each staff member are aware of the laws, rules, and best practices in your state. Serving alcohol involves many risks. 

The failure to act responsibly may result in fines, loss of your liquor license, increased costs of insurance, or even imprisonment. Ultimately, it could result in losing your business.

Consequences of Serving an Intoxicated Guest

In almost every state, it is illegal to serve alcohol to an intoxicated person. There are numerous types of liabilities associated including criminal, administrative (liquor control commission), and broad civil liabilities via the Dram Shop Law. Therefore, it is imperative that you develop specific policies that ensure the responsible serving of alcohol in your establishment. This includes having a clear concise process for the difficult situation of denying service to an intoxicated guest.

Alcohol Awareness Training

Most liability insurances now require that all members of a restaurant, bar, or tavern staff undergo this type of training. Additionally, it is important because it helps underscore the importance of responsible service as well as the consequences of failing to do so. It also provides bartenders and servers with a factual base that enables them to make informed and often difficult, service related decisions with confidence. In addition to outside training, it is important that you have internal policies that define what to do when faced with these judgment calls.

The failure to act responsibly may result in fines, loss of your liquor license, increased costs of insurance, or even imprisonment.

Situational Awareness Training and Empowerment

Each member of your staff, no matter if they serve alcohol are important in the success of these policies, as often situations like these can be prevented. Train your staff to be observant. They should be listening and watching what is going on in your restaurant. Encouraging them to use their best judgment, empower each staff member to report any person or group they believe may present a problem. This is the best opportunity you have to prevent an incident from occurring. Once a report has been made, that is the time to have a manager or the owner drop by the table, speak to the patron, further assess the situation, and perhaps intervene.

Other Preventative Measures

  • Servers and bartenders keep track of how many drinks have been served.
  • Don’t serve drinks ordered for someone who is not yet present. As this person could already be intoxicated or perhaps even underage.
  • Have a visible authority presence in the bar area. This could be security or management.
  • Have signage posted with your policy

…it is important that they have the trust and support of management.

Tips to Refusing Service to an Intoxicated Patron

Because this is a judgment call that servers and bartenders are in the best position to make, it is important that they have the trust and support of management. Having a written policy that outlines the process is also helpful. These factors make it easier for them to exercise good judgment of how and when to refuse service. Robert Plotkin, founder of Bar Media offers the following advice on how to cut off an intoxicated guest.

  • When in doubt – don’t serve- Make this your policy. Because of the potential liability, isn’t it better to err on the side of caution?
  • Keep it simple- In the fewest words possible, explain that as a matter of policy, you will not be serving any more alcohol.
  • If possible, be discreet- There is no need to cause a scene that may embarrass the patron and potentially provoke an incident.
  • Utilize tact and diplomacy- Avoid using inflammatory language, disapproval, or criticism.
  • Remain firm- Once you have committed to this decision there is no turning back. To do so would undermine your credibility and authority.
  • Keep everyone in the loop- Notify the other staff and servers so that they do not mistakenly serve the guest additional alcohol.

For general precaution, management on-duty should be notified to take any further action needed, allowing the bartender or server to resume their regular roles. Management should determine whether to offer and arrange alternate transportation for the patron.

Keeping the patrons safe from harm and your establishment safe from liability is a job that falls to every employee. Knowing when and how to cut off an intoxicated guest is a judgment call often left to the bartender and servers. It is sometimes awkward and difficult, however, with proper training, guidelines, and internal support it can be accomplished with dignity and tact. 

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