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Potential Alcohol Issues

One of the goals of responsible service is to keep people from becoming intoxicated (markedly diminished physical and mental control resulting from consumption of alcohol and/or other drugs).

In this section you will review:

  • Assessing Customers’ Level of Intoxication
  • The Traffic Light System
  • Responsible Service Procedures
  • Refusing Service
  • Getting Guests Home Safely
  • Reasonable Force

One of the goals of responsible service is to keep people from becoming intoxicated (markedly diminished physical and mental control resulting from consumption of alcohol and/or other drugs). Preventing intoxication among your customers requires understanding how alcohol affects people and having procedures in place to check and pace service.

A change in behaviour is more meaningful than a specific behaviour.

By being attentive to the behaviour changes of individuals you are able to identify potential alcohol issues more confidently.

Assessing Customers
1. Initial Condition
The first thing you should note is your customer’s initial condition.

  • Has the customer been drinking before arriving?
  • Does the customer exhibit behaviours which may indicate the person is taking medication/drugs?
  • Is the person in a good mood?
  • How has the customer behaved in previous situations (if known)?

    This allows servers to set the pace and tone of service, to avoid trouble as well as to make note of customers who are depressed, impaired, aggressive, or out to get drunk.

    2. Listening
    Listen closely and intently to what the customer says. Show that you are interested by making eye contact.

    3. Observing Behaviour and Noting Body Language
    In many situations, observing people and reading body language are more important than listening.


    • Loudness or quietness of conversation and orders.
    • Facial expressions and gestures.
    • Tone of voice.
    • Posture.

    4. Asking Questions to Clarify
    In some situations, you will have a chance to make small talk with customers. This is an opportunity to pick up information and clarify things heard. Find out:

    • How the customer is feeling.
    • Who is driving?
    • What the intention is for the evening.
    • If he/she had been drinking prior to arriving at your establishment.

    Traffic Light System
    It is often impractical to count drinks for every customer. One way to monitor your customers (and service) is by using the traffic light system. This system is based on your assessment of patrons and what they order, and is meant to be an internal guide for monitoring your customers.

    Customer is in good mood; not impaired; has had a few or no drinks; is not out to get drunk.

    Customer may be:

    • drinking quickly, but not yet intoxicated.
    • out to celebrate and drink heavily.
    • showing signs of intoxication.
    • pregnant women who drink would be considered in the yellow zone.

    Caution: This person is not intoxicated but you should be alert!

    Customer is likely showing several of the early signs of in intoxication and may be:

    • drinking fast.
    • intent on becoming drunk.
    • aggressive or unreasonable.

    Stop! The person appears intoxicated and should not be served alcohol. Offer food or other alcohol-free alternatives.

    Good rating means constantly assessing the guest and rating by keeping track of drinks and changes in behaviour.

    Responsible Service Procedures

    • Make sure you know the liquor laws, regulations, and house policies on alcohol service.
    • Be well informed of the non-alcoholic, low-alcohol and specialty drinks available for service. Offer non-alcohol beer, wine or alternatives.
    • Take a few moments to talk with your customers throughout their visit to assess their service needs.
    • Serve one drink at a time. Remove glass before serving the next drink.
    • Wait for customers to reorder. Don’t encourage them to reorder when the drink on the table is still part full.
    • Slow the rate of service for borderline (YELLOW ZONE) patrons.
    • For steady customers who tend to drink too much, discuss and set a limit with them personally, with input from your manager.
    • Promote non-salty food and snacks.
    • Do not serve a patron previously served by a coworker without checking with the coworker first.
    • Backup and support the decisions made by staff and managers.
    • Work as a team by relating information about the customer’s drinking situation to other staff.
    • Make sure backup staff is available if needed.
    • Assist coworkers to prevent problem situations from occurring.
    • Be observant of the behaviour of patrons in your establishment.
    • Complete incident reports as needed.
    • The Manager or Owner should have a policy for reporting in place and ensure all staff members know the policy.

    Consider the factors that affect a person’s BAC to adjust and prevent over-service.

    Refusing Service (Red Zone)
    Even with good prevention procedures in place, there will be times when you will have to deal with an intoxicated individual or refuse service. This can be a difficult situation, especially for new staff or with regular customers. It is important that staff and managers make plans and prepare for this situation.

    • Any intoxicated patron is a potential source of risk for you, the other staff, customers and the patrons themselves. Make sure you know the procedure for dealing with such a situation.
    • If you feel a customer is approaching intoxication, remember what is needed most is TIME. Employ stalling tactics.

    Keep in mind that you are trying to get the patron to stop drinking and accept a safe ride home. Don’t try to out argue or put down the patron, or cause any more negative feelings.

    • Alert a backup. You may need help dealing with the customer at the time, and you may need a witness later (don’t forget to note this when you complete the incident report).
    • Talk privately and directly to the customer, using his/her name (when possible) when you have to refuse further service.
    • Express regret. This is not your choice — it’s the law.
    • Explain that you are concerned for his/her safety.
    • Be courteous and avoid words that trigger emotions like ‘drunk’ or ‘loaded’ or ‘cut off’.
    • Do not argue or bargain. Use closed statements and cite a higher authority. Do not reverse your decision.
    • Listen and empathize. Acknowledge his/her anger, frustration and disappointment.
    • Remind him/her that this refusal only applies for the night and you would be happy to serve him/her at another time (provided they are not repeat problem patrons).
    • Ask for help from a friend of the customer. The customer may listen to a friend if not you.
    • Be ready to call the manager or police.
    • Ensure all other staff are notified.

    If the patron is allowed to remain, all staff must be alerted and be responsible to make sure no more alcohol is served. Allowing someone else to buy for an intoxicated person is also illegal. Keep an eye on tables where a customer has been cut off. You can confiscate drinks and ask customers to leave if they are buying for someone who is intoxicated (or under age). You might also want to warn customers of their personal liability.

    When you explain that a customer will not be served any more alcohol, do not allow yourself to be drawn into an argument.

    Try statements like:

    • I can’t serve you another drink.
    • It’s against the law for me to serve you another drink.
    • If I serve you another drink, I’ll lose my job.
    • I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do. It’s out of my hands.

    Get Them Home Safely
    You are responsible for making sure your intoxicated customers get home safely.

    You can be just as responsible for an intoxicated customer who is injured while walking home, as for one who gets into an accident while driving in an intoxicated state.

    In many instances, it will not be practical to allow the patron to remain on the premises while he/she sobers up. Your only option is to get your patron home safely.

    • Know your house policy for taking care of impaired guests.
    • Offer to enlist a sober friend to drive or walk the intoxicated person home. Ask the customer for the phone number of a friend or family member who can come and pick him/her up.
    • Use holiday-specific or other safe-ride programs.
    • Call a cab to take the customer home. This could mean picking up the cab fare depending upon house policy. Arrange for safe storage of the patron’s car.
    • Keep a ‘safe ride home’ fund or a ‘ride jar’ where customers can leave spare change in case the customer does not have cab fare.
    • If the establishment is part of a hotel, arrange for a room for the guest.
    • Promote the use of a ‘designated driver’ program, where one member of the group abstains from drinking alcohol and agrees to drive the others home. The ‘designated driver’ program is used to support your responsible service program. Over service to patrons with a designated driver is still unacceptable.

    If a guest refuses your help, make sure to note it in the incident logbook. If he/she insists on driving while impaired, call the police.

    Reasonable Force
    Sometimes you will have to ask an angry or violent customer to leave. The management must provide a level of safety and protection to the patrons, and the staff. It may be necessary to move the intoxicated person to another location.

    If you need to remove a customer from the premises, or prevent entry of intoxicated or potentially problem patrons, make sure you only use reasonable force. Any unnecessary force, especially that which results in injury, leaves you open to liability.

    Make sure you know the procedure that management wants carried out should you decide to remove a patron. It is important that you understand what to do so you can act quickly and decisively.

    Remember these points:

    • Identify yourself as a person who has the authority to ask a person to leave.
    • Always ask the customer to leave.
    • Give the person reasonable time to leave.

    If the customer does not leave at this stage, he/she may be charged with an offence.

    Refusing to Leave
    It is at this point that the police may be called and a charge laid. Where you cannot guarantee your safety or the safety of your customers, this may be the preferred option.

    If reasonable force is necessary:

    • Be reasonable and calm.
    • Make sure the amount of force is appropriate to the situation.
    • Do not use force intended to injure. Try to hold, rather than hit.
    • Do only what is necessary to subdue a customer who is attacking you or other people.
    • Never use force to ‘teach a lesson’ or ‘send a message’.
    • Never ‘invite’ a fight, e.g. ‘Think you’re tough, let’s get it on’.

    Make sure you follow your house policy when using force and record the incident in the logbook. You may also want to discuss this further with your local police or law enforcement detachment.

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