As an alcohol server, you are responsible for not only providing excellent customer service, but also for recognizing when alcohol service needs to slow down or stop.
Balancing these needs is not always easy! Judging someone’s blood alcohol content (BAC), or the amount of alcohol in their system, requires more than just counting drinks. If you want to protect yourself, your customer, and your establishment, make sure you know the common signs of intoxication and how to respond.
Overservice means serving alcoholic beverages to obviously intoxicated customers. This is a common violation of many states’ liquor laws.
When a person consumes enough alcohol to become intoxicated, their judgment is impaired. This impairment has the potential to lead to dangerous behavior resulting in damaged property, injury, or death. In fact, over 10,000 people died due to drunk driving in 2019—that’s almost a third of all traffic fatalities.
In many areas, servers and their establishments can be held responsible for damages caused by someone who was overserved. To avoid costly fines, jail time, and license penalties, prevent overservice of alcohol in your establishment.
So how can you tell whether a person is already intoxicated, and what can you do about it?
While counting drinks is not a reliable indicator of intoxication on its own, it can be a valuable tool to monitor a customer’s impairment. The number of drinks it takes to increase someone’s BAC to unsafe levels depends on a person’s gender, size, and other personal characteristics. In general, it takes more alcohol for a larger person to become intoxicated, and less alcohol for a smaller person. You can use a BAC table to help determine whether a customer may be approaching intoxication based on their number of drinks.
Common signs of intoxication
Additionally, take note of the customer’s physical appearance for signs of intoxication, which include:
- Loud or slurred speech
- Bloodshot eyes
- Uncoordinated movements
- Sudden mood or behavior changes
- Delayed reactions
- Overconfidence or friendliness
- Sloppy appearance
Assessing customers over time
It’s a good idea to pay attention to how customers look and act when they first enter your establishment. That way, you can notice how their appearance and behavior might have changed as they consumed drinks. Be aware that a customer could arrive already drunk—another reason why counting drinks alone is not a good measure of impairment.
Slowing down and cutting off service
Before a customer becomes intoxicated, you can take steps to prevent them from reaching unsafe levels of intoxication. You can maintain a positive relationship with your customer by using a few useful techniques for slowing down service. Try passing by that customer’s table less frequently. Offer food or water, which can help to direct a customer away from alcohol and help their body to absorb alcohol more slowly. And, of course, avoid encouraging the customer to order more alcoholic drinks.
If a customer begins to show signs of intoxication, it is too late to slow down service. At that point, you must employ strategies to cut off service. If an intoxicated customer attempts to order more drinks, politely inform them that you are not allowed to serve them more alcohol. Do not place blame on the customer; instead, use “I" statements to describe the policy you must uphold.
Recognizing intoxication, and taking steps to cut off service when necessary, can be intimidating. However, avoiding overservice protects you and your establishment from liability. More importantly, you will be doing your part to protect the health of your customers and the safety of your community.
For more responsible alcohol service training, check out our alcohol certification courses for servers and sellers.
— Diana Shelton
Download/print cartoon: Intoxicated Leprechaun
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