Now, I think it’s safe to assume that each and every single one of us out there have had to deal with a customer that’s had too much to drink: it’s part and parcel of the game I’m afraid. Techniques with having to deal with them differ across the globe and amongst different bartenders. I’m going to try and accumulate different ways you can deal with a customer who’s had too much of the good stuff.

Before I get into the nitty gritty, I feel like there’s always three types of customer when it comes to needing to be cut off:

  • Customer 1: there’s the customer who will always outright disagree with you and argue until the cows come home
  • Customer 2: there’s the customer who accepts your decision and vehemently apologizes to you
  • Customer 3:  and then there’s the customer who has the “less drunk” friends who promise to look after them until they’ve had their fun or until they fall asleep on a seat and are removed by the door staff

Obviously you won’t be serving someone who’s had too much, that’s dangerous and also at least a little bit illegal, but sometimes that just isn’t enough to convince people that they need to lay off of the sauce. With that in mind, here’s a few ways to deal with a customer who’s had too much of the good stuff, and the most definitely more than likely responses you will receive.

Flat out say “Sorry buddy, you’ve had too much.”

If there’s one thing I was taught when I was in training, it was to try and avoid telling someone they’ve had too much and work out a more friendly or hospitable approach, but if it suits you and you really just want to tell someone they’re best not drinking anymore, then go ahead. You might be greeted with this:

  • Customer 1: *The response you get from an angry drunk when they’ve been told they can’t have any more is similar to that of a child that is told they can’t have more chocolate, only there’s more swearing and less crying, all of which I can’t write because I’m saving my editor the time of taking it out.*
  • Customer 2: They will argue with you, but in a polite way: “I’m not that drunk, really I’m not. I’m sorry. I really am so so sorry.” To which they will ask for another drink if they try and keep themselves in check, you offer them a pint of water and see how they get on.
  • Customer 3: Tells their friends that the mean bartender won’t serve them. Friends try to argue the case, promise to look after them and then try to buy a drink for them.

Just shake your head and give them a glass of water.

This one’s particularly useful if you aren’t great with confrontation. You don’t have to say anything to them, and you can get your message across straight away.

  • Customer 1: Is offended by the sheer attitude you’ve displayed. Swears once or twice (it’s probably a lot more) and either pushes the glass of water away, knocks it over or throws it in your general direction.
  • Customer 2: Questions what you’ve just put in front of them or ignores it and still asks for a drink. When told the glass is for them, they passive aggressively down the glass of water and then proceed to ask for a drink; defeating the object.
  • Customer 3: Picks the glass up and gives it to one of their friends. Confusion runs amok amongst the group as they try to determine why a glass of water is doing the rounds, use this confusion to walk away from the group.

Ignore the customer, get everyone else to ignore them too.

Ok, this one’s a little bit childish but it has been known to work. Just simply ignore the person who’s obviously had too much to drink and hopefully they will get the message and leave.

  • Customer 1: Shouts at the top of their voice how terrible this bar is and how they hope the bartenders will all die.
  • Customer 2: Gets the message but feels hurt and upset. Walks out with head held low. Makes you feel bad.
  • Customer 3: Eventually gets friends to order, you tell friends that if they buy a drink for the drunk person, everyone is barred, they agree and don’t buy drink. Five minutes later they’ve created a barrier blocking vision from the bar and have given their friend some of their drinks.

Use the “Sorry, we’ve stopped serving” trick.

Yes, even if you’ve only been open for three hours and everyone else is being served. I’m not saying these are perfect reasons I’m just saying they are useful at some points.

  • Customer 1: Looks in confusion, swears. Shouts at the top of their voice that the bar is awful and they hope the bartenders all die.
  • Customer 2: Looks around in confusion and doesn’t quite get it. Walks out with confused look engraved on face.
  • Customer 3: Is obviously brave because: friends. You end up refusing service to everyone because of your panicked lie. You stand by your decision in stubbornness.

Loudly shout “86” whilst pointing at customer.

The chances are, the customer won’t know what you’ve just shouted at them but everyone else who matters does. Just repeatedly tell them “Sorry, mate. You’re 86’d” and confuse them out of the bar. (86 primarily means “Out of stock” but it’s used in a variety of similar situations.)

  • Customer 1: There’s a large of amount of confusion. Leaves the bar after 15 minutes of demanding to be told what 86 means.
  • Customer 2: Has no clue what’s going on, walks out.
  • Customer 3: Tells their friends about the mean bartender who isn’t being nice and is shouting insults at them. Friends try to buy drink.

Just be nice.

You could try and be nice about it and tell the customer you think they might want to just slow down a little bit and you’re “just looking out” for them. Sometimes it works…Sometimes.

  • Customer 1: Swears at you, tells you that they pay your wages and they earn twice as much in a week as you do in a year.
  • Customer 2: Agrees and stands at bar sipping water to prove how much they are agreeing with you.
  • Customer 3: Their friends all agree with you because they don’t want to leave yet. They sit them down with some water against their will, fail to notice when said friend leaves.

Look, I’m not saying they’re perfect solutions. They’re just situations that I know have been used before and sometimes they work. In an ideal world, we would be able to just say “How about slowing down for me? Please?” and everyone would be polite and say:

“Of course, not a worry, thank you for looking out for me,” and the entire world would be a better place.

Got a way that works?

If you’ve got any stories or techniques as to how you deal with drunken customers, then don’t hesitate in sharing them here, we might help humanity.

Steven Poland

Hello. I'm Steven: a mid-20's ex bar manager from England with an ego that is only matched by my opinions. I'm not always right, but sometimes I do apologise if I'm not. I've worked on the bar for over eight years, four of them making cocktails and snarling at customers. You can find me at my website or on twitter @StevenPoland.