How To Handle Drunk Customers As A Bartender (7 Pro Tips)

how to handle drunk customers as a bartender
Joe | Last Updated: November 24, 2023
I'm Joe, a veteran bartender with over a decade in the industry and a burning passion for mixing drinks.

Being a bartender is much more than service with a smile. It requires exceptional social skills, a keen eye for detail, and the ability to navigate challenging situations with confidence.

Dealing with drunk customers isn’t fun, but it’s an essential part of the job that all bartenders must learn at some point in their careers.

Whether it’s a rowdy group of friends celebrating a special occasion or an individual who has had one too many shots, knowing how to handle drunk customers is a crucial skill that every bartender should possess.

That’s why in this post, we’re going to walk you through exactly how to handle drunk customers as a bartender and provide 7 pro tips to help keep you safe at work and deal with those customers that can’t handle their drink.

Let’s get into it…

How To Handle Drunk Customers As A Bartender

The responsibility of a bartender extends beyond simply serving drinks; it includes fostering a welcoming atmosphere while keeping the safety and well-being of all customers at the forefront.

Drunk customers can not only be a danger to themselves but also to other guests or staff members on the premises, so they must be dealt with efficiently and swiftly.

Don’t worry we’re pulling out the muddlers and going all guns blazing, it’s more so about preventing these patrons from being served more alcohol or removing them from the premises.

Below are my seven tips I’ve used for years as a veteran bartender that have helped me quickly remove hammered customers with ease:

1. Spot The Signs

As a bartender, you’re able to see every single customer that comes to the bar for a drink, so look out for those that seem to be reappearing more frequently than you would expect.

Stumbling to the bar, slurred speech, shouting, being aggressive, and ordering multiple drinks at a time are all early warning signs that you’ve got a drunk customer on your hands.

how to handle drunk customers as a bartender
Image by Elea Chang

Whilst there’s no harm in being a little woozy with your friends, being able to spot the early warning signs of a troublemaker is important for all bartenders.

This will give allow you to keep an eye on them and warn security if you suspect they may be too intoxicated.

2. Stay Calm And Composed

Staying calm and composed is essential when handling drunk customers. The calmer you can remain, the more easily you’ll be able to deal with the situation.

Approach drunk customers with empathy and understanding and be sure to avoid confrontation or judgemental attitudes towards them.

We’ve all been hammered before, so don’t lose your cool by shouting at them or being overly assertive.

Remember that you’re there to ensure the safety of yourself and others so keeping the situation calm and from de-escalating is vital.

>> Read more: How many drinks can a bartender serve to one person?

3. Communicate Clearly And Assertively

While we don’t want to be too assertive and come off as aggressive, it’s important to communicate clearly and assertively to get your point across.

You may want to advise them that you’ll no longer be serving them alcohol and perhaps they should opt for a glass of water to help sober up instead.

Remain respectful but be clear with your intentions.

4. Ensure Your Own Safety

If the situation is becoming a little heated and you feel in danger, walk away from the situation to ensure your own safety and notify management and security immediately.

If the customer is becoming aggressive or threatening, remove yourself from harm’s way and allow security to take over.

No employee should ever feel like they are in a threatening situation at work and this is when bar management and security will step in to remove the individual or call the police.

It’s not worth risking your own health over a customer that’s had too much to drink.

5. Know How To Cut Them Off

Cutting someone off at the bar isn’t as easy as it sounds. The customer will often complain, whine, and will try anything they can to grab your attention and another beer.

However, as a seasoned bartender, you have to learn how to cut someone off, and you do this by being respectful whilst also assertively and clearly advising the customer that they will not be served an alcoholic drink again.

If the individual is with a group of friends, it’s a good idea to speak with their friends and advise them that the individual has had too much to drink and will no longer be served.

how to handle drunk customers as a bartender
Photo by Laura Tancredi

Ensure that the guest is not planning on driving home and that they have a designated driver to get them home safely.

Don’t buy into the “one more drink and then I’ll leave” trick.

It’s the oldest one in the book and they never end up leaving… go figure. No means no, so stick to your guns.

6. Involve Management Or Security

Involving security should be considered when a drunk customer’s behavior becomes disruptive, aggressive, or poses a threat to themselves, other customers, or staff members.

If the customer is being abusive, aggressive, or refusing to cooperate then you should notify security immediately and allow them to escort the person off the premises.

Any attempt to harm others such as fighting, verbal or physical threats, and general safety concerns should be dealt with by management/security and as a bartender, you should allow them to handle this type of customer.

Getting involved will only put you in harm’s way and security is trained to deal with situations like this and are more likely to be able to de-escalate the situation without anyone getting hurt.

7. Maintain Records And Documentation

In the case of a patron being aggressive or threatening, it’s important to record the situation and document it accurately to help prevent similar incidents in the future.

Report the situation to your manager and they will ban the individual from coming back to the premises.

Prevention is key when it comes to drunk customers, so if you can prevent a troublemaker from coming back to the bar then that’s a win for everyone.

>> Read more: 19 GAME-CHANGING Tips For Bartenders (Old & New)

Can I Refuse To Serve A Drunk Customer?

Yes, absolutely! As a bartender, you have the right and responsibility to refuse to serve a drunk customer.

Serving alcohol to someone who is already intoxicated can not only lead to potential legal and liability issues but also compromise the safety and well-being of the customer and others in the establishment.

When you observe signs of intoxication in a customer, such as slurred speech, unsteady movements, or other behavioral changes associated with alcohol consumption, it is within your rights and best interest to withhold further alcohol service.

Responsible establishments often have policies in place that support bartenders in making this decision.

It’s important to approach the situation tactfully and communicate with the customer respectfully.

how to handle drunk customers as a bartender
Image by Marco Verch Professional Photographer

Explain that you are unable to serve them more alcohol due to concerns about their well-being and the establishment’s commitment to responsible service.

Offering non-alcoholic alternatives and ensuring they are hydrated can help address their needs without contributing to their level of intoxication.

Be open and honest with the customer and speak with the calmly, nine times out of ten they will understand and cooperate but if not then allow security or management to step in.

>> Read more: Can bartenders refuse to serve?

Final Thoughts

Handling drunk customers as a bartender is a skill that requires a combination of empathy, professionalism, and effective communication.

It’s your responsibility to create a safe and enjoyable environment for all patrons while ensuring their well-being. By following the strategies outlined in this post, you can navigate these challenging situations with confidence and competence.

Recognizing the signs of intoxication, limiting alcohol service, offering alternatives, and engaging in conversations are essential tactics to employ when dealing with drunk customers.

But it is equally important to know when to involve security or seek assistance from colleagues to maintain a secure atmosphere.

NEVER put yourself at risk when trying to deal with drunk customers, it’s simply not worth it.

Hopefully, this post has helped reassure you that there are ways to effectively handle drunk customers and you now know the strategies and methods to do so.

Catch you in the next one.

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