What Do I Do With a Drunk?

What Do I Do With a Drunk?

As a bar manager or bartender, you either have faced or will have to face the delicate issue of how to handle a drunk. Often an effective approach will make the difference between a peaceful incident and a potentially violent confrontation.

As we mentioned in a
previous article, the drunk is your problem whether he got that way in your establishment or not. So you must keep him off the street, if possible, until time has allowed him to sober up. Here are a few helpful ideas:


  1. Train your entire staff, from hosts and waitresses to managers and bartenders, to react to the first hint of trouble. Teach them to issue friendly warnings right away.
  2. Once a warning is issued, the staff should collectively keep an eye on the subject and issue a second warning if needed. Most people will respond to a second warning.
  3. Phrase your language in terms of “I” instead of “you.” For instance, “I cannot serve you any alcohol right now. I am concerned about you”. Avoid more confrontational phrasing such as “You are drunk,” “You can’t have any more to drink,” etc.
  4. Do not serve the customer a drink containing alcohol.
  5. Offer alternatives to buy some time. Food, water, coffee or soft drinks will not sober the person up but will allow his body the time to process the alcohol.
  6. Have a friend take him home, if possible. The police will often be glad to give him a free ride home with no legal ramifications.
  7. Do not get into a confrontation with the person. If you used the early warning approach above and treat the customer with courtesy, most will know why they are being asked to leave and will do so with little or no confrontation.
If a confrontation becomes unavoidable, here are some ideas about minimizing the disturbance:

  1. If the customer hasn’t been violent, try to allow him a little time to collect himself. He’s more likely to react peacefully if he has his dignity intact and isn’t being confronted by a huge, threatening bouncer.
  2. Resist using force if at all possible. The law doesn’t allow you to use force except to defend yourself or to take someone into custody after committing a crime, so a customer’s verbal abuse isn’t enough to warrant a physical response.
  3. If all else fails, the police will assist you. Bar operations are notorious for avoiding calling the police unless absolutely necessary, because they fear losing their liquor license if too many incidents are recorded. But such a policy only sets the establishment up for legal problems in the long run.
It can be difficult to minimize problems when you’re already juggling all the other duties associated with running an active bar operation. But consistent training of staff and strict adherence to your policies will go a long way. Many bar operations have seen good results, not to mention lower insurance premiums, from the TIPS program (http://www.gettips.com). So if you’re starting from scratch you might want to give them a look.

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