Responsible Alcohol Service: How and When to Ask an Intoxicated Patron to Leave

Alcohol service is extremely profitable for restaurants, and a great extension of the menu's creativity. But, like the rest of this business, the art we love comes with a few things we don't. While specific laws vary from state to state, you are responsible for the guests you serve. In order to maintain a responsible alcohol service, chances are that you may have to ask a patron to leave at one point or another.

Knowing the Laws

Serving a highly intoxicated patron can be a serious offense, and it's important to educate yourself on the realities of this situation and then spread awareness to your staff. Dram shop laws establish the liability of businesses for serving overly intoxicated patrons. The specifics will vary depending on which state or municipality you live in, but 30 US states allow for restaurants to be held liable for serving alcohol to an individual who causes injuries or death due to their intoxication. In other words, this is serious stuff, and it's important to know when to ask a customer to leave your establishment.

Implementing Responsible Alcohol Service Training

Make safe service part of the culture at your restaurant. When training staff members, make sure they understand their responsibility to serve guests safely. Document your procedures for handling intoxicated patrons, and give every staff member a copy. Make sure to include signs that your bartenders or waitresses should watch for when serving customers. For instance, if a patron has slow speech, can't keep their balance, or is struggling to complete simple tasks, a red flag should go up.

Asking a Patron to Leave

If any red flags go up, it's time to stop serving the customer. If the situation escalates to the worst-case scenario of needing to ask the guest to leave, follow these four steps:

  1. Immediately inform all staff members and management that the patron can no longer be served, and that you will be asking them to leave.
  2. Before approaching the guest, determine if you will need police assistance. If so, call for help immediately (better safe than sorry), and if not, make sure you have a witness, such as a server or bartender, with you when you ask the guest to leave.
  3. Approach the guest and simply inform them that for their own safety, and for the safety of those around them, it would be best if they left your establishment. A straight-to-the-point, polite but worried approach works best. Your confidence will be your biggest asset. This is also a great time to find out how the guest will be getting home. If they don't have a safe ride, call them a taxi or ride-share service.
  4. Immediately document the situation in great detail. Include the guest's name (if you have it), a physical description, conversations you had, observations, and offers you made to ensure their safety.

Chances are that at some point or another, you're going to have to ask a patron to leave your restaurant because they are too intoxicated. By following these tips, you'll know the signs to look for and how to make the process go as smoothly as possible.