A guest waves you over to get your attention. They point to their drink and tell you it’s been tampered with, or spiked. Yikes.

What do you do next?
You probably have a dozen things going through your head:

  • Are they just faking it because they want a new drink?
  • Is there some creep in my bar tampering with drinks?
  • Is he / she just trying to get attention?
  • Has he / she been drugged and need medical attention?

It’s a tough situation that happens – and it’s something you should be prepared to deal with if / when it does.

Don’t Pass Judgment:

First and foremost, it may be tempting to judge the situation based on your own perceptions of the situation.


“She’s just had too many to drink and she’s trying to deflect the blame”

“He’s already drank half of it and just wants me to replace it for free”

You might be right. But you might be wrong. Unless you have been scrutinizing the drink since the moment it left your hand, it’s not your place to make that call. If there’s even the smallest chance the customer is right, you need to believe them and take the situation very seriously. Ignoring them could not only put them in danger, but open you and your bar up to liability and lawsuits as well!

Customer Safety:

Your first priority is customer safety. Start by making sure the guest is safe. Ask the customer if they consumed any of the drink, and ask if they saw who tampered with it.

Assess for Symptoms:

Then, find out whether they drank any of it. Ask the customer and / or look at the level of the glass. Then asses the customer for common symptoms of being drugged:

  • Dizziness, extreme sleepiness
  • Nausea
  • Passing out / experiencing blackouts

Sound familiar?  Yes, these symptoms are very similar to the symptoms of intoxication.

But again, it’s not your place to make that call. Your guest may be in serious danger, either from the drug itself or from the risk of being attacked by the person who drugged them.

Confiscate the Drink

This should be obvious: confiscate the drink. Don’t pour it out, but put it aside and make absolutely sure it will not be consumed by the guest or anyone else. It may need to be tested later for contamination.

Escalate to your manager & Law Enforcement:

The next step is to hand off the situation to your manager. 

You probably still have a busy bar to serve, and this is a situation that absolutely requires escalation. Tell them what you know, including whether the customer potentially consumed any of the tampered drink and if they know who is the culprit.

If you are the manager (or nobody else is there to help), here’s what to do next:

Get them to a Safe Place

The last thing you want is a drugged guest wandering out of your bar alone! Find trusted friends, or if possible, ask if you can use their phone to call someone to pick them up. They may need to stay nearby until the police arrive, but ideally they would be in the presence of someone sober and trusted who can keep an eye on them.

Do. Not. Let. Them. Drive.

They may feel capable of driving because they “haven’t had much to drink” but it’s also possible the effects of the drug hasn’t hit them yet. It’s extremely important that they do not get behind the wheel.

Call the Police

Drugging someone is a very serious offense and should be taken very seriously. Not only could the guest be in danger of rape or robbery, but the drugs themselves can be dangerous. Furthermore, if the guest saw who tampered with the drink, law enforcement needs to know so they can appropriately escalate.

The last step is to call the police. They will advise you on what to do next, in terms of:

  • Keeping the victim on premises for questioning
  • What to do with the drink in question
  • Whether the victim needs further medical attention.
Note: if the guest was faking it or just trying to get attention, this is usually the point when they admit it. They may try to stop you from calling, or laugh it off as being “a joke”. It’s your call whether you want to continue to escalate. “Sorry, sir. It’s our policy to take these allegations seriously and we need to call the police.” Escalating to the police is a pretty good way to make sure they won’t pull this prank again.

But what if they’re just drunk or faking it?

Question: You see a customer drinking way too much at your bar, and you strongly suspect their claim is false – you think they’ve just had too much to drink. Then what?

Answer: Treat it just as seriously as if you hadn’t seen them drink at all.

Why? First of all, on the small chance they are right, you don’t want to be the reason they didn’t get medical attention and / or the reason your bar gets sued. Secondly, if you take it seriously every time, escalate, and call the cops, then it’ll quickly become obvious to guests that this isn’t a good way to get attention OR free drinks.

Believe Them!

Is all of this a huge nuisance? Yeah.

Could it totally ruin the mood in the bar that night? Definitely.

Might you save someone’s life? Yeah, that too.

If this ever happens, it’s going to be VERY tempting to dismiss it as someone who’s just drunk or being a drama queen. But you are NOT law enforcement and you can’t be the one to make that call. Protect your customer, yourself, and your bar: take it seriously. Every time.

Julia Tunstall

Julia Tunstall is the co-founder of A Bar Above and Chief Cocktail Taster. She's in charge of keeping things running smoothly around here, but you'll also find her stopping by on the Mixology Talk Podcast or hanging around the Craft Cocktail Club.