You want customers to have a great time at your bar or restaurant. Of course, this includes alcohol…in fact, you probably spend a lot of time and energy making sure that customers buy more drinks! But what do you do when customers get out of hand? Drunk customers are an unfortunate and inescapable reality of owning a business that serves alcohol. Customers who have over-imbibed can have a negative effect on your bar or restaurant. They can be destructive and disruptive, possibly upsetting and annoying other customers. They’re much more likely to become unruly and start fights. And, even worse, if drunk customers drive they may cause accidents that can be considered your fault. So what should you do when you’re faced with drunk customers?
Although you want your patrons to enjoy themselves, you can’t ignore drunk customers. It’s your responsibility to intervene. First and foremost, you should train all employees to recognize the signs of someone who’s had too much to drink. If someone has bloodshot eyes and is slurring his/her words and spilling drinks, these are all very clear signs that s/he’s inebriated. At this point, bartenders should refuse to serve the customer. The customer might become angry or combative, but remember that this is a safety issue. You have an obligation to protect not just the drunk customer, but all of your other customers as well.
Try serving the customer more food instead of drinks, make sure s/he has plenty of water, and offer to give him/her a drink “on the house”…however, this drink should be non-alcoholic! Often, this stalling technique works on customers who may be too drunk to even remember that they’ve ordered a drink.
If you’re concerned that the customer may cause problems, focus on his/her friends. Is there a reasonably sober friend who you can appeal to? S/he might understand the problem and be able to help you out. Belligerent drunken customers are more likely to listen to their friends than a bartender or employee.
Try to be polite to the customer for as long as you can. After all, this person is a paying customer, and you want to have their business again on another night (hopefully in a slightly less volatile situation!). Try not to embarrass the customer if possible. Discreetly let him/her know that you’re cutting him/her off or offer him/her the check. However, if being polite isn’t getting you anywhere, you may need to call in reinforcements. If your safety or the safety of anyone else at your bar or restaurant is in question, don’t hesitate to involve security.
Simply kicking out a drunk customer might seem like the easiest option for you, but be careful. If a drunk customer leaves your business, gets behind the wheel, and causes an accident, your business could be held responsible. Earlier this year, a Pittsburgh area restaurant was ordered to pay $15.6 million after a drunk customer drove away from the restaurant and caused an accident that killed a 7 year old. Not only do you not want that sort of accident on your conscience, but you likely can’t afford to pay a sum that high, either. You must make sure drunk customers have transportation—either in the form of a sober friend or from a cab. In fact, you should focus on developing a relationship with a cab company for just this situation. If a customer has no way to get home safely, you should always insist on calling a cab for them. Let the customer know that their safety is important to you and escort them to the cab yourself if necessary.
Drunk and disorderly customers aren’t fun to deal with, but they’re a reality for most bars and restaurants. By following this advice, you can deal with them safely and carefully.