Bars are places to go when you need to relax and unwind, socialize with friends, and enjoy a beautiful cocktail.
But where there’s alcohol involved, people are bound to get rowdy or act out of line at times. Bartenders have the tough job of monitoring these situations and taking action when a patron is misbehaving and creating an uncomfortable environment for other guests. And it isn’t just about making patrons feel comfortable—it’s also necessary to create a work environment where your employees feel safe.
“Every employee should feel empowered to make the choices they see fit when serving alcohol to a guest,” says Justin Ware, bar manager at Johnny’s Gold Brick and regional winner of Heaven Hill’s Bartender of the Year. “There have been several instances when a guest was making a female bartender uncomfortable in which I have stepped in and explained that they were doing so, and if it continued, I would ask them to leave. I personally have dealt with female guests making me feel uncomfortable and had to ask them to stop or they would be asked to leave. Safety and comfort in the bar should extend to guests and employees alike.”
We chatted with Ware, as well as Davos Brand Ambassador Fernanda Rossano, about how they create safe spaces in their bars for both patrons and employees alike. These Chilled 100 members share their insight on how to deescalate a situation and the telltale signs to look for to avoid overserving a customer.
What type of action do you take if you notice someone is receiving unwanted attention in your bar?
Justin Ware: This situation is a tough one for everyone involved. To start, my approach is always to make eye contact with the guest who I feel might be uncomfortable and ask them very straightforwardly, “Are you okay?” and “If you need anything, let me know.” Depending on the answer, the next step I take is to start a conversation with them and hope the person giving unwanted attention will get the hint. If the situation persists, I politely ask the guest to leave the person being bothered alone. If they refuse, we reserve the right to stop serving them and politely ask them to leave.
Fernanda Rossano: I definitely watch closely, approach the person, and make sure they are okay. I’ve had all kinds of situations where I can either tell they are uncomfortable, or they will come to me [and tell me so]. I usually take the person in question outside to talk to them and figure out what going on.
How do you deal with rowdy customers who are making the drinking experience unpleasant for other patrons?
JW: Much like any situation that causes an issue, starting with a calm and very direct way of asking the rowdy guest to calm down or stop what they are doing is always the first step—being firm yet empathetic to their good time, while explaining that their good time might be affecting another’s good time. If the problem persists, a firm warning about the consequences that will follow is the next step. Finally, strike three and you’re out. Usually it’s time to refuse service and/or ask them to leave. No one person’s “good time” is more important than another’s.
FR: Cutting people off has never been a problem. Usually where I’ve worked, there are other bars around. So closing tabs and suggesting elsewhere is easy. If I think there will be pushback, I usually make sure the door staff is prepared. If it’s a personality issue, I like to just give the patron a heads-up [that they’re annoying other customers].
Some people are pros at hiding how much they’re actually drinking. What are some telltale signs to look for to avoid overserving a customer?
JW: Intoxicated guests are part of our careers. No matter how hard we try, someone will get intoxicated and eventually need to be cut off. Signs we look for at my bar are the physical: blushed face, glazed eyes, slurred speech. We listen to how people ask for things. Are they demanding? Are they answering with a full, “Yes, I will have …” or are they just pointing at their empty glass and asking for “another”? Are they waiting their turn or are they shouting over people? Do they remember if they have a tab open or if they closed out? Are they taking over other people’s personal space without knowing they are doing so? Is their volume appropriate for the people and space around them? These are all telltale signs we look for.
FR: This is tough, but knowing the effects of alcohol on your own body really helps. Usually for pros, it’s hard to tell audibly, but eyes shaking and repeating of oneself is obvious. Anyone ordering their third cocktail from me gets watched. I learned that from my wife’s restaurant—if you order a fourth drink with your dinner, a manager has walked by your table and approved it. I like that rule. I make mental notes. If a person starts sending people to order for them, I usually mention they can only order a drink for themselves. Being responsible is super important. So staying sober behind the bar also gives you an edge on being responsible.