How to Handle an Intoxicated Patron

Dealing with an intoxicated patron is an unfortunate, but important, job for most bar owners. Given the sensitive nature of these situations, it never hurts to brush up on best practices for handling a difficult or over-served customer.

Preventing intoxication is the responsibility of every member of your front-of-house staff, from the bartenders to the hosts. Each team member should be held accountable to check ID’s, watch for signs of intoxication and prevent drunk driving.

In some states owners can face criminal charges for negligence, so it is imperative to always be vigilant for intoxicated patrons. The following are some standards and tips on how to protect yourself, your staff and your guests from an unfortunate situation.

Warning Signs

Everyone is unique. You cannot tell who will get drunk and who will not, just by looking at them. Medication, fat-to-muscle ratios, sun exposure and genetic makeup can affect how many drinks it takes for someone to become intoxicated. The most tried-and-true method consists of simply observing your patrons and staying attentive to their behaviors. Common warning signs of an intoxicated patron include:

  • Loud and slurred speech
  • Stumbling
  • Spilling drinks
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Ordering drinks in rapid succession


No one likes to cut off a patron. Simply slowing guests down can do the trick. If your staff chooses to take this route, they should always let management know first. Here are some clever ways to pump the brakes:

  • Offer the customer some food.
  • Quickly remove any empty glassware.
  • Hand them a glass of water.
  • Stall. You shouldn’t ignore the patron, but you shouldn’t rush to refill their drink.
  • Shift attention to guests farther down the bar.


Stopping Service

Deciding to completely cut someone off is the most crucial decision any bartender or staff member can make. Remember, once they walk out that door, you can be held responsible for anything else that happens. If you decide to stop service, keep these helpful tips in mind:

  • Always alert management. Getting a neutral authority to step in can be an effective way to keep an unhappy patron from going overboard.
  • Avoid making a scene or loudly cutting someone off in front of others.
  • Quietly inform any person the intoxicated patron is with of your decision, and stand firm.
  • Make sure the person has a ride home and that they are not driving themselves.

Training and Certification

There is a lot of liability involved with serving alcohol, so it’s best to obtain focused training through a state-sponsored program. In some cases, your insurance company may even give you a discount if your employees take the classes and/or get certified. The following are a few resources for training courses:

  • T.I.P.S is the most popular program across the country and is the only one completely dedicated to alcohol training. T.I.P.S. stands for Training for Intervention Procedures and will teach your staff how to prevent, recognize, and report intoxicated patrons.
    *If the program doesn’t offer workshops in your area, you can sign up for online training with your state’s beverage license association.
  • ServSafe Alcohol, though best known for their food-safety programs, also offers classes on alcohol. ServSafe is sponsored by the National Restaurant Association, and courses can be taken online or in the classroom.

Proper training, observation and intervention, will help keep your establishment a safe and fun place for all of your patrons.