In my experience as a bartender there were occasions that I drove patrons home, called spouses to pick someone up, or took away keys and called a cab. Now do not think that I allowed customers to get plastered. Sometimes they came to me that way. However it happened, it was my duty as a responsible bartender to ensure they got home safely without hurting themselves or others.
Being a responsible bartender means several things. You are accountable. You are aware. You are in control.
Did you know that bartenders are liable in many places if any thing happens to an intoxicated patron after they leave your bar? This means that if you serve someone, and any person gets arrested, hurt, or killed afterward, then you and/or your bar can be sued. I have seen it happen and it's not pretty.
A bartender friend of mine served a patron too much once. The customer left the bar, was involved in an accident, and was arrested for a DUI (driving under the influence). No one was seriously injured but the property damage and arrest was enough to warrant a lawsuit. The bar and the bartender were sued.
The bar lost its liquor license and was shut down. The bartender lost their server certification and was ordered to pay restitution to the tune of $30,000. The bar owner settled and paid $100,000.
Unfortunately, this bartender lost their home because they could not pay the restitution and keep up with their mortgage. They ended up working at job for minimum wage and living at their parent's home. To this day they are still struggling.
Because the bar was closed, other bartenders lost their jobs. The bar owner ended up selling the bar and partnering in another venture.
This case was small in comparison to what it could have been. Injuries could have been life threatening or fatal. Could you live with yourself if you knew someone had died because of your poor judgment? I know I could not.
I have heard of cases that settled in the million-dollar range. The intoxicated person served time in prison. People's lives turned upside down because of over serving.
Bartender be Aware
The stories are sad. The facts are true. Just think if the bartenders had been aware, then a different outcome could have been. Do not be one of those bartenders that have 20/20 hindsight. You must be aware.
A huge issue in bartender awareness is minor's drinking. You should card any person you suspect to be under age. Yes, this takes time and when you are busy time is of the essence. Taking the time will save you trouble in the long run.
In Texas, the TABC (Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission) operates stings. They hire minors to go to various bars and attempt to be served. If the bartender serves them, a slew of law enforcement bombards the establishment, shuts it down, and tickets or arrests the bartender. Bartenders lose their TABC certification, bars get ticketed, and lose or get their liquor licenses suspended, and people lose their livelihood.
If you are in doubt, then card. I have carded many people throughout my career and they were flattered. Flattery gets you better tips. Serving minors gets you in trouble.
A responsible bartender knows consumption limits. The legal limit of BAL (Blood Alcohol Limit) differs from state to state. In Texas a BAL of .08 means you are drunk. Some areas consider a BAL of .10 the legal limit. You should know the legal limits for your state.
For some people it does not take much to get to this limit. Also, there are many factors that you have no control over. Have they been drinking before they hit your bar? Has the person eaten? Are they on medication or drugs that could enhance the effects of the alcohol?
An aware bartender knows the signs of intoxication. A person's eyes can give you clues. If a person can't hold a glance, they may be intoxicated. If their eyes are bloodshot, glassy, or pupils are dilated, they may be intoxicated. Other observations you can make to determine intoxication include:
Behavior changes (nodding off, overt behavior, or lack of concentration)
Speech changes (slurring, talking loud, or excessive cursing)
Appearance changes (facial cues, frowning, or loss of focus)
Attitude changes (emotional, moody, or angry)
Gait changes (stumbling, falling, or bumping into things)
Rate of consumption increases
Responsible Bartenders are in Control
Remember you are in charge. There are many things you can do to rope a drunk patron back in. Call it intervention, call it prevention, call it protection, call it whatever you like. You must take charge if you feel someone has had too much to drink.
The image that accompanies this article is a chart that indicates how long it takes for a body to metabolize alcohol. This varies by individual but it gives you a base to work with. If it takes a 150-pound person 4 hours to flush out 3 drinks, and they already show the signs of intoxication, then slow them down.
Give them water with their order
Offer them food
Use less alcohol in their drinks
Make them wait longer to get their drink
If they are out of control, cut them off
If you have a drunken patron and need help dealing with them, then get assistance. Call on another patron, call the manager or security, or call the police. Many times if a customer is past their limit, another customer talking to them may be all you need to get them on the road to sobriety. If further action is needed, then do it.
Your customer is drunk. Under no circumstances can you let them drive. Try to get their keys. If you cannot get them, get help. Try to get a number of someone to call to pick him or her up. Most of these phone calls are more than appreciated. If there is no one to call, then you should call a cab. Should a vehicle need to be left at your bar assure the owner that it will not be towed.
You can also offer to drive patrons home after your shift. I do not recommend you do this with out bringing someone with you. When I did this, I drove the customer's car and had someone follow me. Once they were home safe, I hid the keys so they could not drive anywhere after I left.
For my married patrons, I knew phone numbers of the most spouses. For those numbers I did not know I managed to get them, I was always pretty crafty that way. Those phone calls were always appreciated.
If a customer becomes belligerent, and you have exhausted all of you options, you must call the cops. The police will do what it takes to keep someone from driving. The drunk may get a ticket for PI (Public Intoxication), but that is better than the alternative. The police may also arrest them, but that is better than letting them drive.
I have called the police because a customer had too much. The cops came and talked them down. The officer explained their options: they could let me get them a cab or they could be arrested. Of course a cab was called. The next day I got flowers and an apology. The customer sobered up and realized that I had his best interest at heart.
If a drunk drives away from your bar, call the cops. Try to give the license plate, a description of the car, and the direction they headed. You have no choice. If anything were to happen, your chances are better in court if you have record of doing this.
Remember you are the responsible bartender. Use your best judgment when it comes to serving alcohol and you will do fine.