When should you stop serving someone

How to Cut Someone Off

Jess Legal 101 Leave a Comment

Sometimes, a customer is past the point of being served.

As stated in the previous post, each person is different and has a specific threshold for drinking. However, there are certain signs that a bartender or server should be looking for when determining a customer’s present state of mind and body.

But the question you may be asking yourself is:

“How do I determine whether a customer is obviously intoxicated from a legal perspective?”

Here in California, the CA Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control states:

“A customer is obviously intoxicated when an average person can plainly observe that the patron is intoxicated. The usual signs are staggering, alcoholic breath, dilated pupils of the eyes, slurred speech, poor muscular coordination, etc. (Section 25602).”

These are just a few of the “symptoms” of intoxication– symptoms that if demonstrated should result in a customer being cut off from drinking. Servers and bartenders also should be more experienced than “the average person” in determining whether a customer is intoxicated.

Cutting people off is a necessary evil of working in a wine bar.  It isn’t fun, it isn’t always easy—emotions often run high and tempers can flare. It is something that hopefully won’t happen very often (especially if preemptive/preventative measures are taken), but it is something that every all staff members should be prepared to deal with.  Staff members must be trained to recognize these signs and to act accordingly.

Here are a few “good practices” that can make a potentially uncomfortable situation a little bit less so.

Best Practice #1: Trust Your Judgment.  

If staff have been trained to recognize the signs of intoxication, they should have a fairly solid sense of when someone has reached that point.  If a bartender/server is having doubts about serving someone, there is probably a good reason for it.  Wine bar workers see plenty of people who have consumed alcohol, across a broad spectrum of intoxication levels.  If a staff member has flagged a consumer as being in a different “league” than the other customers, they should be encouraged to stick to their guns and trust their own assessment.

Best Practice #2: Be Firm & Polite.  

Nobody likes to be cut off.  It can be embarrassing and frustrating, and since the person is feeling the effects of the alcohol, emotions are often heightened.  Folks will frequently try to argue with the bartender upon being told they are no longer able to be served: “I’m totally fine– I promise!”  Bar workers should be firm when addressing the customer and not leave room any for negotiation however should also try to be as polite as possible and not cause additional anger or embarrassment.  Even if the customer is being argumentative, they should refrain from reciprocating in any way and instead, maintain a professional demeanor.  Role playing activities and situational training can help prepare staff for what to say and how to respond to an unhappy/intoxicated customer.

Best Practice #3: Utilize The Group Of Friends.  

Often times, one member of a larger group/party is (for whatever reason) considerably more intoxicated than the others.  It can be helpful to find “allies” in the more sober members and enlist them to help deal with their drunk friend.  As said– everyone has a distinct threshold for drinking and not everyone exhibits drunkenness in the same way.  Someone’s friend may be more in tune with his/her “cut off point” than a bartender who is seeing and serving that person for the first time.  Frequently, friends will take the initiative themselves in cutting the other member of their party off from drinking.  And if not, they will often assist in doing so if the bartender pulls them aside and gives them the heads up that their friend can no longer be served.

Best Practice #4: Utilize An Authority Figure.  

I say this last because sometimes a manager won’t be available to assist.  However, if a manager is on site, it can be helpful to have him/her speak directly with the customer, particularly if the customer is acting in a hostile manner.  The manager should be trained and have experience in situations such as these and know how to address any concerns that you or the customer might have.  Also, the presence of an “authority figure” can make the decision to cut someone off seem more definitive (particularly to a person who is not thinking rationally). Staff members should feel comfortable coming to the manager for help in any/every situation, particularly if they are a bit unsure of what to do.

It is an offense to serve someone who is visibly intoxicated, not to mention a huge risk—a risk for the safety of the customer and also a risk for yourself and your business.  It is something that should be taken seriously and something that business owners/managers should be proactive in training staff members to deal with.  These were some general suggested practices that may be beneficial, but are by no means specific guidelines.  For additional information, here are some helpful online resources:

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