I’ve always found it ironic that our business is to sell people alcohol, but we also have to make sure they don’t get too drunk. We want them to buy more so we make more money, but we can’t sell them too much because it causes problems—The worst being that they will kill themselves or someone else. The drunker they get, the more childish they become, and have you ever tried to tell a child they can’t have more of something they want? It doesn’t go well. At least children are tiny and tire easily. Drunk adults have a much greater capacity for bullshit and it falls on us bartenders to deal with it.
Cutting off guests who’ve had too much is one of the most common challenges bartenders have to face on a daily basis. It’s never fun, it’s never exactly the same, but if you are prepared and you approach the situation as an opportunity for good hospitality, cutting someone off doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
My guest this week, Andrew Meltzer, has had a lot of experience cutting people off and he had some great advice to share. Andrew was the 2016 World Class bartender of the year, president of the San Francisco USBG chapter and he is currently the beverage director at the brand new Noosh restaurant, where we recorded this interview. Before Noosh, Andrew managed 15 Romolo, an amazing Spanish focused bar in the North Beach neighborhood. 15 Romolo is a nice place, but it’s literally surrounded by strip clubs and dive bars with loud music. Not that there’s anything wrong with those places, it’s just that the neighborhood tends to facilitate over doing it and that spills up the alleyway through the doors of the bar.
Check out my interview with Andrew in the player below, on this page or wherever podcasts are found. Make sure to hit subscribe to stay up to date with all of our great conversations about the biggest challenges in bartending. Read on after the break for some more in depth advice about cutting off drunk customers.
We bartenders are responsible for the safety of our guests and we have an obligation to make sure nothing bad happens as a result of us serving alcohol. “Say that person goes out and causes damage or drives their car drunk and kills somebody,” Andrew said, “There are laws that make you liable for even the death or damage.” These laws are called Dram Shop Laws, and they are slightly different in different states or countries, but they generally place some level of legal liability on either the staff, the establishment or both for the actions of guests who are over served and cause damage.
Legality aside, we all just want our guests to be happy and have a fun, safe time, and if someone is over served and potentially in danger, it’s not good for anyone. As uncomfortable as cutting people off can be, it’s an amazing opportunity to provide great service to our guests. They might not realize it in the moment, but if you prevent someone from getting hurt or even just make their next morning a little better by cutting them off, they’ll thank you later. Maybe they won’t say it, maybe they won’t even come back, but they’ll know that you were looking out for them. “If you realize that you were taken care of and somebody cut you off for a good reason,” Andrew said, “You’re actually, probably going to come back. You’re like, ‘You know, those guys take care of me. I’m gonna go back, I’m even gonna tip them bigger next time.”
So with all of this in mind, what are the best methods for cutting people off? Andrew had some great advice on this, basically you just need to be prepared. Here are some key tips for successfully cutting someone off.
Be sober – You cannot accurately judge someone else’s sobriety if you are intoxicated. Also, be your best self at work. If you are struggling emotionally or physically, take a couple minutes to take care of yourself. Meditate, breathe get a couple minutes of fresh air, whatever you need to get centered.
Maintain awareness – Pay attention to your guests. Look out for signs of intoxication: slurred speech, memory loss, loss of coordination, trying to buy drinks for strangers. You can interact with guests who come in and ask them what they’ve been up to in a friendly manner. Often they’ll tell you if they’ve been out at another bar.
Get a second opinion – Always ask another coworker for their opinion before cutting someone off. Also, once you do cut someone off, you need to inform all of your staff and no one else can serve that person a drink. If one person in a group is drunk, no one else in the group can get them a drink either.
Have a plan and be clear – Have a plan going into a situation. Be very clear, kind, show the guests that you’re looking out for their best interest and set a very firm precedent. Lay all the rules out on the table so that everyone understands. Don’t change your mind, go back and forth or dangle options of maybe having a drink later in front of your guests.
Have other options – It’s so important to have great non-alcoholic options on your menu. There are plenty of reasons why people don’t drink and it’s really important to serve those guests as well. Nobody want’s a Shirley Temple anymore unless you’re five years old. There are plenty of great teas or craft sodas out there that don’t take much effort to put on your menu. You can present this to a guest that has been cut off so they still feel welcome and taken care of. It’s much better to comp a tea than it is to get into a bad situation.
Cutting people off used to be one of the things I hated most about bartending, but after speaking with Andrew and getting his advice, I see it as just another great opportunity for service. Make sure to check out our other episodes, subscribe to our mailing list to stay up to date and share us with your friends a colleagues. We’ll see you next time.