As bartenders we deal with a lot of stresses — from long, late night shifts to packed bars full of annoyed customers who want to be served faster. But, one of the hardest things to deal with as a bartender is inappropriate customers.
Do you kick them out?
Do you call over security?
Do you just deal with their bad behavior?
I know first hand how difficult it is. A few years ago, I was working at a live music venue. While the vast majority of my customers were a pleasure to serve, there was a group of rowdy, overly-entitled men who’d come in once a week and make non-stop demands:
“Give me a vodka and soda on the house. We spend so much money in here you should give us some free drinks.”
“Put double vodka in that, your manager isn’t looking.”
“When are you going to stop playing hard to get and give me your phone number?”
Not only were their requests inappropriate, they also made me feel uncomfortable. And from that experience I learned some tips and tricks for how to handle customers like that without involving security.
A Note about Sexual Harassment:
It’s important to note that sexual harassment was deliberately not discussed in this article because it’s my belief that if you feel you’re being sexually harassed in any manner, you need to involve security or your manager immediately. Sexual harassment in the workplace is intolerable, and customers that choose to sexually harass staff or other patrons need to be removed immediately.
Here are 4 suggestions for how you can handle inappropriate customers like a pro:
1) Set Clear Boundaries From The Beginning
The moment a customer starts to make you feel uncomfortable you need to set clear boundaries. This is important because you never know what someone’s background is, or what they’re used to. They may be acting a certain way and be totally unaware that their behavior is coming off as aggressive or offensive.
Tell them what’s off limits — are they helping themselves to bar garnishes? Educate them on why this is unsanitary and about why it’s a health code violation.
Are they arguing with you about politics, religion or some other personal topic? Tell them you don’t discuss personal things at work.
Are they insisting you smile more and entertain them? Tell them you smile when you feel like it, and you’re a bartender, not a performer.
While you may be afraid to come across as unfriendly (after all, your tips are in large part based on your service), a bit of direct language early on is much friendlier than kicking them out.
In my case, I told that group of men that everything I do is recorded, and I’m not willing to risk my job to give them an extra pour of alcohol or freebie. And whatever the case may be for you just remember — you are the bartender so you make the rules. What you say goes. Make sure they’re aware of this.
2) Stand Your Ground
Sometimes even if you set boundaries, customers don’t listen, and they’ll continue to act inappropriately. Perhaps they’re too intoxicated (in which case you should cut them off immediately), or they’re just aggressive, or they’re entitled and feel they’re owed something.
Regardless, stand your ground and don’t budge on the boundaries you’ve set.
The first few times I said “no” (apparently a foreign word to them) to the aggressive group of regulars that frequented my bar, they kept pushing anyways. They’d become insistent and they’d demand to talk to my manager. But I never budged, and eventually they backed off and started to ask my other co-workers for things they knew they wouldn’t get from me.
I know if I had given in — even once — to their demands, they’d learn their badgering works. This bad behavior would continue and possibly even escalate at our bar and others as well.
3) Walk Away if Conversation is Making You Uncomfortable
One thing that used to make me feel so uncomfortable when “those” guys would come in is the tone of the conversations. Even after they stopped asking me for freebies, they’d continue to make remarks about my appearance, and beg for my phone number.
Whenever this would happen, I’d walk away. By walking away, a clear message was sent: inappropriate commentary won’t be tolerated.
Now, I know this isn’t always easy to do (after all, you’re behind a bar and it may be small), but it’s always possible. Find a coworker to talk to. Do side work. Busy yourself with other customers. And above all keep in mind, it’s your job to serve people and create a hospitable experience, but not at the expense of your self-respect so you are free to decide when enough is enough.
4) If All Else Fails, Transfer Ownership or Close Them Out
If things STILL don’t gt better after doing all of the above, then you can either transfer ownership of the tab to another co-worker (if they’re willing to take over) OR close the customer(s) out.
And don’t feel bad about doing this. There were many instances where I closed the guys I was serving out before they requested their tab because I was unwilling to continue dealing with bad behavior. When it comes to inappropriate customers, the customer is NOT always right. You have to follow your gut instinct and act on it.
The Bottom Line
It’s not your job to serve people who are inappropriate and make you feel uncomfortable. Your time and energy are better spent serving customers who are appreciative and respectful — and if your manage disagrees, use this as an opportunity to educate your manager about the laws regarding harassment in the workplace.
And one more thing — don’t ever take inappropriate customers personally. (I know it’s easier said than done.) You never know where they came from, what kind of a day they had or what’s going on in their life. Shake off your interaction, and go have fun crafting cocktails and interacting with pleasant customers!