The best bartenders get a kick out of knowing they’re helping people have a good time – but what if it goes too far? Should bartenders be to blame if someone drinks themselves into injury or illness?
Bartending is a profession dedicated to the art of hospitality, but working with alcohol is not a position of power that should ever be taken lightly.
While the cocktail sector is exploding with boundary-pushing innovation, it is imperative the industry does not become detached from the dangers associated with what is, after all, an intoxicating drug.
In numerous countries including the UK, the US and Australia, legislation has been put in place making it illegal to sell alcohol to a person who is obviously drunk, and similarly, to buy an alcoholic drink for someone you know to be drunk.
However, despite the foundation of such laws, questions abound over who is responsible for ensuring the industry is not plagued with a problem of over-consumption.
During recent months, the media has been awash with a string of high-profile tragedies involving the apparent “over-serving” of alcohol, a handful of which have had calamitous consequences.
In April 2015, Martell’s Tiki Bar in Point Pleasant Beach, Jersey Shore, US, was fined $500,000 and had its licence revoked for a month after allegedly over-serving alcohol to a woman who later died in a car crash.
The incident unfolded in 2013 after Ashley Chieco, 26, left Martell’s in another person’s car, which collided with an oncoming vehicle, killing herself and injuring the other driver, Dana Corrar.
The survivor suffered two broken legs, broken ribs and will “never work again, never walk again normally and never be pain-free,” according to her lawyer, Paul Edelstein, a personal injury specialist. Martell’s pleaded “no contest” to the charge of serving alcohol to an intoxicated person in exchange for the fine.
“Businesses that profit from the sale of alcohol are well aware of its dangers, particularly when combined with people who then get into vehicles.”
Edelstein adds that “it is akin to a shop selling bullets and then allowing its customers access to a gun when they leave. Hopefully, the attention alone will make a bartender think twice before continuing to serve someone and inquire as to how they are leaving a location that does not provide access to mass transit.”
So when it comes to alcohol consumption where does the responsibility of the bartender start and that of the consumer end?
For some, all persons involved – the consumer, bartender and management – have a collective duty for the wellbeing of both patrons and staff.
Know your limits
“It’s everyone’s job to make sure the guests are happy and safe at the same time,” comments Kate Gerwin, general manager of HSL Hospitality and winner of the Bols Around the World Bartending Championships 2014.
“First and foremost, obviously the customer should know their own limits, however we all know that is not always the case. Bartenders should make safe service of alcohol a huge priority in day-to-day business and the owner of the bar should take a vested interest in the education of the staff about over-serving and the dangers and consequences.”
But for others, the responsibility rests with those in a managerial position who need to step up to their line of duties.
“Inevitably, the responsibility lies with the management chain – they are the licensees,” says British bartender and entrepreneur JJ Goodman, co-founder of the London Cocktail Club.
“In the UK we have an inherent history of binge drinking, so customers aren’t very perceptive to being told they’re not allowed another drink. When that sort of situation occurs, someone more senior and experienced needs to come in to handle it and command control as quickly as possible.”
Diffusing the situation
Similar snippets of advice surrounding this irrefutably sensitive subject are echoed throughout the industry.
Accusing guests of being drunk is deemed as the biggest faux pas, and a sure fire way to escalate an already testing episode.
Avoiding embarrassment, ascertaining a first name basis and gaining the aid and trust of any peers who may be present are all recommended methods when it comes to diffusing any drama involved with this task.
Various initiatives have been instigated to curtail irresponsible service and consumption. At the end of 2014, the British Beer and Pub Association launched a poster campaign in the UK to drive awareness among consumers and on-trade establishments of the law surrounding serving people who are obviously drunk.
“It’s not about getting more prosecutions; it’s about raising awareness.”
Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, continues by explaining that, “it’s important we don’t turn pubs and bars into fortresses – we want to encourage people to go to these socially responsible places. But we need to find a balance between staff responsibility and personal responsibility.”
This article originally appeared in The Spirits Business.