On any given day, a multitude of customers pass through the doors of a wine bar. Customers represent a vast range of ages, backgrounds, personalities, drinking ability/tolerance, etc.
This diversity is one of the most interesting and entertaining parts of working behind a bar, but also one of the most potentially dangerous components. Each customer is distinct. Each individual has a specific threshold for alcohol consumption and though there are certain telltale signs of intoxication, not everyone reacts/acts in the same way.
In most places, it is illegal to serve alcohol to someone who is visibly intoxicated.
Here in California, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control states:
Every person who sells, furnishes, gives or causes to be sold, furnished or given away, any alcoholic beverages to any habitual drunkard, or to any obviously intoxicated person is guilty of a misdemeanor.
As a wine bar owner/manager, it is essential to prepare your staff for dealing with situations in which a customer may need to be turned down or cut off from service. However, if staff members are well-trained and are diligent about checking in with customers and encouraging safer drinking, the frequency of these types of situations should be dramatically reduced.
Here are a few reminders of “good practices” to pass along to your staff:
1. ID ID ID!
In the United States, it is unlawful to serve alcohol to anyone under the age of 21.
In some wine bars, IDs are shown at the door, while in others, servers ask for IDs at the bar. If the latter is the case, the number of drinks that go out from the bar should never exceed the number of IDs that were provided.
Even if the person ordering drinks is well over the age of 21, it is never safe to assume that their drinking companion(s) are as such. There are parents who will try to order drinks for their under-aged child (true story) or the “cool older friend” who attempts to skirt the system and buy alcohol for their younger pal.
The easiest way to ensure compliance is to ask each customer to provide identification prior to serving an alcoholic beverage. No ID = no service. 1 ID = 1 glass of wine.
There are plenty of liability issues to worry about that are more subjective and harder to control—underage drinking is something that can be more objectively regulated.
2. Engage/interact with each customer.
This is part of why the one ID/one drink rule is so essential. Bartenders and servers should take a brief moment to speak with and observe the customer prior to serving a drink. Again, someone who is already visibly intoxicated cannot be served.
It is a good idea to do this quick assessment before providing the initial drink and prior to doling out any additional drinks. Not every beverage order needs to foster a heart-to-heart discussion, but a quick “hello/how are you?” should be encouraged (it is also part of delivering quality service!).
It can be easy to omit this step in the serving process, particularly on a busy day, but staff members should be frequently reminded to try to ascertain the frame of mind of each customer prior to and throughout their pouring.
3. Pay attention to what is happening away from the bar.
Utilizing peripheral vision and frequently scanning the room is extremely helpful in assessing a customer’s present state of mind and body. Sometimes, folks will put on their “best behavior” when they step up to the bar, but the more telltale signs of intoxication actually take place when they perceive themselves to be out of the bartender/server’s eye line.
Frequent scans of the room or even quick walks around the room can shine a new light on the customer’s “condition.” Staff members should be reminded to look beyond what is happening right in front of them.
4. Encourage customers to drink water and stay hydrated.
This is a pretty easy one. If someone is toeing the line of drunkenness, keep the water flowing and slow down the flow of alcohol.
5. Encourage customers to eat something (if you offer food in the bar).
Not only does this slow down the pace of drinking, but it can also help moderate the level of the customer’s intoxication.
These were just a few (but by no means all) of the ways to try to prevent customers from reaching that point at which they must cut off from service. While it may be successful at times, when you work in the wine/alcohol industry, there will inevitably be situations in which people can no longer be served. Staff members must also be trained to deal with such instances. In the next post, we will discuss some other “good practices” that can be passed along in executing the dreaded “cut off.”