From happy hour to last call, responsibly serving your patrons is a critical component of running a successful and profitable restaurant, bar or tavern. While hospitality and service are always paramount, each of your employees must play a role in ensuring no one is overserved. This includes your front-desk hosts and bartenders, to servers, runners, security, and managers. It only takes one drink to change the trajectory of your business. 

Mitigating, if not eliminating the opportunity to overserve requires continuous training and vigilance.  Failure to act responsibly can result in loss of life to one or more patrons which can have a ripple effect on your business reputation, let alone fines, increased insurance costs, loss of liquor license, possible imprisonment, and being shut down.

Alcohol awareness training offers a proactive step in ensuring your operation maintains high standards without compromising service.  Because of dram shop laws, alcohol servers may be held responsible for harm caused by intoxicated or underage customers.  Depending on the state you operate in, individual servers may be required to obtain official certifications.  TIPS and TAM are two examples of professional alcohol awareness training programs.  All employees should be trained on effective techniques for identifying if a patron has had too much, and standard operating procedures should follow to ensure the patron is handled appropriately.

Regardless of the specific certification requirements in a given location, it is always a good idea to adopt the following policies:

  • Always ensure that bartenders and servers have been trained in overserving
  • Make sure there are daily reminders to your bartenders and servers. A simple reminder at the punch clock is the best place to reinforce this message.
  • Offer friendly service that never runs the risk of overserving

There’s no magic formula for knowing which patrons will drink responsibly, and which ones will put themselves and others in danger.  And there is no set amount that a person can drink before he or she becomes intoxicated.  While guidelines based on gender, height, and weight may give a rough guesstimate, many other factors including food, medication, sleep, and so on can affect how a person processes alcohol.  The best advice for alcohol servers is to observe their patrons. 

Often it comes down to common sense and judgment in determining when to stop serving.  Here are some common intoxication warning signs to look for:

  • Excessively loud speech
  • Slurred speech
  • Stumbling
  • Spilling drinks
  • Aggressive or inappropriate behavior
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Sleeping or visible drowsiness

It helps to be cognizant of the number of drinks served to a patron, and how long that patron has been there.  In restaurant settings, servers should be in contact with the bartender, know who’s getting drinks and ensure that no minors in a party are consuming alcohol. 

Ultimately, cutting a patron off is at the bartender’s discretion. In general, though, protocol says that if a server spots someone who’s over the limit, the server should stop serving that person alcohol, offer an alternative beverage such as water, close the tab and call a cab or ride share service. Employees need to deliver the decision softly and with resolve to show that they are serious, but to also avoid embarrassing or agitating the patron. If possible, enlist the help of the inebriated patron’s friends.  If there is a sober friend accompanying the patron, pull the friend over to the side – out of earshot – and explain the situation. The key is to not make a big deal of it, but to be straightforward and polite.

In the end, remember that looking out for the wellbeing of your patrons is part of your entire staff’s job responsibility.  Paying attention, communicating and being deliberate will not only help to protect the reputation of the business but also save lives.