How Many Drinks Can A Bartender Serve To One Person?

how many drinks can a bartender serve to one person
Joe | Last Updated: November 14, 2023
I'm Joe, a veteran bartender with over a decade in the industry and a burning passion for mixing drinks.

As a bartender, it’s essential to know the limits of alcohol consumption and how to serve customers correctly and responsibly.

But how many drinks can a bartender serve to one person? It’s a good question and one that is difficult to answer as it depends on several factors.

In this post, we’ll explore the guidelines for responsible alcohol service and the laws around serving alcohol to customers whilst they are intoxicated.

So whether you’re a seasoned bartender or a newbie looking for guidance on serving alcohol, by the end of this article you’ll have all of the insights into how to serve alcohol responsibly.

Let’s get to it…

How Many Drinks Can A Bartender Serve To One Person?

The number of drinks a bartender can serve to one person varies from country to country and state to state, but there are some guidelines that bartenders should follow to ensure they’re serving responsibly.

Firstly, it’s important to be aware of what the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines as a standard drink, which is 14 grams of pure alcohol.

This is equivalent to the below;

  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol by volume)
  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol by volume)
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (40% alcohol by volume)

The NIAAA defines moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

They define binge drinking as consuming four or more drinks in a two-hour period for women and five drinks in a two-hour period for men.

how many drinks can a bartender serve to one person
Photo by cottonbro studio

It’s difficult to answer how many drinks a person can consume as their body weight, age, health, and how quickly they metabolize alcohol all play a significant role.

However, most people can safely consume one drink per hour without feeling intoxicated, but if drinking on an empty stomach the effects can start to take effect more quickly.

Whilst there are laws in some areas of the world for bartenders serving alcohol, it’s important for bar staff to use their judgment and assess the situation of each customer individually.

If a customer is clearly intoxicated, it’s the bartender’s responsibility to refuse them service and encourage the customer to find alternative transport.

Bartenders should never continue serving customers if they are already drunk, and by following this as a guideline you can ensure that patrons have a fun and responsible night out.

The Law On Serving Customers Multiple Drinks

Many states in the US have laws and regulations in place that limit the amount of alcohol a bartender can legally serve to one person.

It’s a way to ensure that bartenders are not continuing to serve clearly intoxicated customers and to help keep punters safe whilst they are drinking.

Drunk driving, falls, drowning, alcohol poisoning, and other unintentional injuries can happen when people drink too much, so it’s important that there are laws and guidelines in place to keep customers safe.

In California, bartenders are not allowed to serve more than two drinks at a time to one person and they are not allowed to serve alcohol to anyone who is intoxicated.

For example, if there was a group of four friends attending the bar, they would only be allowed to order eight drinks at a time, two for each person.

The US also has dram shop laws that hold establishments such as bars, restaurants, and liquor stores, liable for the actions of their patrons who cause injury or harm to another person whilst intoxicated.

Whilst the laws differ from state to state, they help to stop greedy establishment owners from continuing to service customers who are already intoxicated.

If a person did cause injury or harm to another person whilst intoxicated and the establishment continued to serve them, they would be liable for the resulting damages.

In the United Kingdom, there are no legal limits on the amount of alcohol a bartender can serve to one person, but the government has issued guidelines for responsible alcohol service.

The Licensing Act 2003 requires that bartenders and establishments that sell alcohol must operate responsibly to reduce alcohol-related harm.

This means not serving customers alcohol that are already drunk or appears to be drunk, and of course, not selling alcohol to anyone under the age of 18.

Whilst there’s no legal limit on the number of drinks a bartender can serve in the UK, the establishment does have a responsibility to promote responsible drinking and prevent alcohol-related harm.

The Morality Of Serving Customers Multiple Drinks

Despite the laws in place that prevent bartenders from serving already intoxicated customers and promote responsible drinking, many establishments still service drunk people.

Whether this is intentional or unintentional, it could be due to a lack of proper training, poor judgment, or instruction from the establishment owner to continue serving.

See, the more alcohol an establishment can serve, the more money they make. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for bars to continue to serve intoxicated customers to make more money.

how many drinks can a bartender serve to one person
Photo by Monstera

This is where bartenders need to act responsibly and take it upon themselves to make the conscious decision to stop serving a customer if they appear to be drunk.

Not only is it illegal to serve an intoxicated customer in the US and many other states, but there’s a moral line that bartenders need to be aware of if they’re ignoring the law.

Serving alcohol to intoxicated customers can have serious consequences, including liability for harm caused once the customer has left the bar, loss of liquor licenses, fines, and even imprisonment.

Let alone the guilt if that customer goes on to end up in a motor accident or causes serious harm to another person due to being intoxicated.

It’s always in the best interest of establishments and bartenders to abide by the law and err on the side of caution when it comes to serving alcohol.

If you are a bartender, do not allow yourself to break the law, even if the establishment owner wants you to continue serving customers whilst they’re intoxicated, it’s illegal.

How To Know When It’s Time To Stop Serving Someone

As a bartender, it’s important to know how to identify when it’s time to stop serving someone and to have the ability to confidently refuse service to that person.

All too often, I see bartenders serving customers alcohol who are clearly drunk because they are afraid of how the punter will react.

This is a training issue that bar managers need to address if there are staff members like this in your business, educate them on the laws and how to refuse service to a customer.

There are lots of signs to look out for when it comes to knowing when it’s time to stop serving someone, let’s look at some below;

  1. Slurred speech – if a customer is slurring their words and having difficulty speaking clearly, this is a sign that they’ve had too much to drink and they should not be served.
  2. Poor coordination/stumbling – customers who are struggling to stand and are perhaps stumbling to the bar have often had too much to drink. If you notice this as the punter comes to the bar, it’s a sign that they should not be served.
  3. Vomiting – if a customer is vomiting or is nauseous it’s likely that they’ve had too much to drink and should not be served again.
  4. Slow reactions – customers having slow reactions is a sign that they’re already too intoxicated and should not continue drinking alcohol or being served.
  5. Aggression – bartenders DO NOT need to put up with aggressive customers. This is why establishments have security and door staff. If a customer is being overly aggressive, they’ve probably had too much to drink and should not be served.

Do not be afraid of rejecting service to a customer if they are showing any of these signs and remember the laws that we’ve discussed above.

The last thing a bartender wants is to be held accountable for the actions of someone else because they did not refuse them service when they were visibly drunk.

Be smart, use your judgment, and if in doubt, speak to your bar manager or simply SAY NO.

Wrapping Up

Whilst the rules on bartender serving drinks to customer varies in different countries, in the US, it’s two drinks per person each time and ensuring you’re not serving customers that are intoxicated.

Bartenders are responsible for serving customers with care, so it’s important that they keep an eye on the behavior of customers who are consuming alcohol.

Responsible service of alcohol is always better than risking it or turning a blind eye to serving drunk customers, there’s no harm in refusing a customer service if you suspect they are too drunk.

In the UK, the laws are different, and there is no legal limit on how many drinks a bartender can serve, but UK bartenders are still required by law to refuse service to already drunk customers.

So be careful!

Bartenders should use their judgment and err on the side of caution when it comes to serving alcohol, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and there’s no harm done by saying no.

Thanks for taking the time to learn more about the laws and morality behind serving customer alcohol, and I hope you’ve learned something new today.

See you in the next one!