Can Bartenders Refuse To Serve?

can bartenders refuse to serve
Joe | Last Updated: August 5, 2023
I'm Joe, a veteran bartender with over a decade in the industry and a burning passion for mixing drinks.

Bartending can be a fun yet challenging role that involves dealing with customers from all walks of life, some chatty and friendly and some wildly intoxicated!

Dealing with annoyed customers that have waited in line for longer than intended is undoubtedly difficult at times, but managing expectations and turning frowns upside down is all part of being a great bartender.

That said, there are some customers that you simply should not serve. Today, we’re going to dive deep into a question that punters are eager to learn the answer to “can bartenders refuse to serve?”

YES, bartenders working on any premises that require a license to serve alcohol are well within their rights to refuse service, it’s up to the licensee to either accept or refuse a person’s custom.

Let’s take a closer look…

Can Bartenders Refuse To Serve You?

The licensee of a bar gives authority to bartenders to legally work and sell alcohol, and they also give them the right to refuse service to certain people when required.

Refusing to serve customers is part of a bartender’s role, and they are well within their legal rights to refuse service if they see fit to do so.

It may not be something that the bartender necessarily wants to do but is perhaps necessary to keep the bar running and operating safely.

A bar is a place where people come to socialize, drink alcohol and have a good time. But there are some circumstances in which bartenders must use their judgment and refuse service to customers.

can bartenders refuse to serve
Photo by cottonbro

We’ve all been there, one too many drinks waiting in line at the local pizza shop to grab some food before you stumble your way into the taxi for the ride home.

It happens to the best of us, but there’s a point at which bartenders must use reasonable judgment to ensure the safety of their punters and refuse to serve more alcohol.

Why Do Bartenders Refuse To Serve?

There are many reasons why a bartender may find it reasonable to refuse service. Alcohol can quickly get the better of people and they can become highly intoxicated very quickly.

This can lead to bad decisions, safety hazards, and lots of abuse.

Let’s take a look at some of the more common reasons why bartenders refuse service:


One of the most common reasons for being refused service in a bar is simply being too drunk.

In fact, it’s against the law to serve alcohol to anybody that is visibly intoxicated. Additionally, a drunken person must always be refused entry to the establishment.

This means that if you’re too drunk, don’t expect to even step foot in the bar let alone be served any alcohol.


Punters that are aggressive in establishments will likely be barred or at the very least told to leave by the door staff.

Some customers get can very aggressive when drinking alcohol, therefore, bartenders are within their rights to refuse service to these individuals if they see them as a threat.

However, it’s important to remember that refusing to serve an aggressive punter may cause embarrassment and they could become even more aggressive.

The best course of action here is to speak with management or door staff about the aggressive customer and they will deal with the punter accordingly.


Bartenders may also refuse service to customers that are rude or disrespectful to staff. Bartenders are there to do a job to the best of their ability and should not under any circumstances tolerate rude customers.

In fact, it’s common practice for most bars to have a sign displayed behind the bar where punters can see saying something along the line of “under no circumstances will abuse towards staff be tolerated in this establishment.”

If you find that a customer is being rude, it’s best to try to defuse the situation as best you can in a civil manner. There’s no need to disrespect the rude customer but simply ask them to leave or speak with the door staff.


Health and safety in a bar environment are very important and it’s the responsibility of the employer to make sure all of their staff are safe at work.

Bartenders may refuse service to customers that are causing a health and safety hazard, such as standing or dancing on tables or refusing to move away from fire exits.

Can A Bartender Refuse To Serve A Pregnant Woman?

There are no federal laws that restrict pregnant women from using alcohol, and the woman is entitled to make her own decisions in relation to her unborn child.

There was an interesting case of this happening not too long ago which you can read here if you like.

In short, a group of people, including a pregnant woman were ordering multiple rounds of alcoholic drinks to their table when the bartender took it upon themselves to switch the alcoholic drinks out for non-alcoholic ones.

The switch was only discovered when the group got the bill which showed that the drinks were in fact non-alcoholic.

The pregnant woman was so furious that it resulted in the server being suspended from work. This incident raised some interesting ethical questions as to whether this was the right thing to do or not.

In this case, the pregnant woman was entitled to order alcoholic drinks if she so chooses. The bar would therefore have to justify a gross misconduct dismissal for the member of staff. No unfair dismissal case could be raised.

The Law

There is a common law right to refuse entry or service to whom he/her chooses, provided the refusal is not on the grounds of sex, race, disability, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or belief.

This means that the bartender has the right to choose who to refuse to serve so long as they have reasonable cause for doing so such as any of the reasons set out above.

Aggression, being too drunk or causing health and safety concerns are all valid reasons for a bartender to refuse a punter service.

Why Do Bartenders Ignore Me?

A common misconception that some customers have is that they are simply being ignored by the bartender when this is most likely not the case.

Working in a busy bar can be very demanding and the bartender is more likely not ignoring you but is busy serving other customers and making drinks.

Nine times out of ten, a bartender is just too busy to acknowledge every customer at the bar. Even if the bar does not seem that bust, there’s a long list of duties that the bartender is responsible for which includes cleaning and prep work.

Try to be as patient as you can when being served in a bar, especially on weekends. Bartending can be stressful for even the most experienced bartenders at times.

can bartenders refuse to serve
Photo by M.S. Meeuwesen on Unsplash

When you are ordering at the bar, be more assertive and communicate exactly what you want. If you are too quiet and not making yourself known a bartender can easily forget your there whilst busy with other orders.

Don’t go shouting at the bartender or hand signaling every few seconds, just make sure your presence is known to the bartender so that they can see you’re waiting in line patiently.

Rude or aggressive punters are much more likely to be ignored or put to the back of the bartender’s mental queue if they are trying to force their order down the bartender’s throat.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you now have a clear answer to “can bartenders refuse to serve” and a better understanding of some of the reasons for doing so.

Yes, bartenders can refuse to serve, and whilst it’s not something they particularly enjoy doing as it’s bad for business, sometimes it’s a must to ensure the safety of staff and their customers.

The licensee of the bar gives authority to bartenders to bar anyone whom he/her sees fit, so long as it’s not discrimination.

The most likely reason to be refused service in most bars is simply for being too drunk. Customers that have had a little too much to drink are a recipe for disaster in a busy bar, so they’ll likely be advised to leave or sober up.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post and I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Catch you in the next one!