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Refusing a Patron's Request for Alcohol - Server Strategies

August 30, 2022

If you are a bartender, you have probably been asked to serve alcohol to a patron who is not of legal drinking age. You may feel like the most important thing that you need to know is how to refuse this request properly and without offending the guest. However, there are several strategies for dealing with this type of situation that can help ensure your safety as well as keep customers happy and satisfied with their experience at your bar or restaurant.

In recent years, various laws have been passed in many states to regulate or prohibit the selling or serving of alcoholic beverages on premises (such as restaurants, bars, and nightclubs). These laws were created to protect the public and protect minors, or those not old enough to drink legally under their jurisdiction. But just how far can these laws go? In the case of a patron requesting that you serve them alcohol, what should your response be? Should you oblige? Or is that even legal?

There are many ways to refuse a patron's request for alcohol. Here are some strategies for starting down this request in a diplomatic manner.

Strategies to Prevent a Patron from Drinking Alcohol

If you are a bartender or alcohol server and have been asked to serve alcohol, there are some things you can do to prevent the patron from drinking when necessary. Remember that you are required to follow the laws relating to alcohol sales or service. That's why it's important that you know how to refuse service.

Here is the list of best strategies you can use to refuse the service or sale of alcohol.

1.  Know the Law

You must know the law for your state, county, city, and type of establishment. Since each state has different laws, it's important to familiarize yourself with these beforehand. For instance, in most states, it is illegal to serve alcohol to a patron who is already intoxicated.

If you are in a state that has a 21-year-old drinking age or higher, you should never serve or sell alcohol to a patron who cannot provide an acceptable ID showing they are 21 years of age or older.

You need to learn and abide by these laws prior to your first day on the job. While some owners or managers may tell you that they do not care if their patrons are underage, you can be held liable for your own actions so never serve an underage or intoxicated person.

2.  Don't be afraid to say 'No'

Do not be afraid to say no when an underage or intoxicated patron asks for alcohol. If a patron is belligerent or threatening, call the police immediately and ask for assistance from security or management.

If you are asked to do something that is against the law, don't do it. That’s a big no-no! If you feel uncomfortable with what someone asks of you, say No politely but firmly.

3.  Ask for their ID

You must ask for ID if you are not sure the person is of legal drinking age. This may be a state-issued driver's license, state-issued ID, military ID or passport.

You may also want to consider asking them if they have another form of identification, such as a credit card or student ID card. Keep a record of the ID and ask them to sign your proof of age document if you have any concerns.

If they refuse, then do not serve them any alcohol!

4.  Be Polite, Don't argue with the guest.

You must be polite, but don't argue with the guest. Don't get into a confrontation. If they are drunk or high, they may try to talk to you in an aggressive manner. They may also become emotional or physical in their attempt to get what they want; this can lead to an argument between you and your patron that could be very damaging for both parties involved.

Call your manager for assistance if you find yourself in a situation you don't know how to handle. Be sure to document the incident so that if there are legal repercussions, you have proof of what happened.

5.  Be firm but Kind and Professional.

When refusing a patron's request for alcohol, be firm but professional. Do not argue with the Patron; instead, offer them a non-alcoholic drink or check their well-being.

It is vital to stay calm and in control when dealing with intoxicated patrons because if you lose your temper or act irrationally, then it will only make things worse (and possibly get you fired).

6.  Offer a Non-Alcoholic Drink

If your establishment or bar has a non-alcoholic drink option, you should offer one to the patron.

Nobody wants to sit in a bar with nothing in their hand, and if they are being cut off, the patron may feel frustrated simply being denied a drink. Instead, offer the patron a soda, juice, water, or coffee.

7.  Check for the guest's well-being.

If you think that the patron is intoxicated, ask them to leave or, if driving, offer a safe ride home such as a taxi or Uber. If they refuse and intend on driving while intoxicated, call the police immediately. You can't just kick them out or throw them out of your establishment; you have to ensure they're safe when they leave and won't hurt themselves or anyone else on their way home.

If you think the patron is not intoxicated but still poses a danger to themselves or others, call security or police and have them removed from your establishment.

8.  Document behavior if the Patron becomes Disruptive.

If a patron becomes disruptive, document their behavior. Keep a record of the time and date. Who was involved? What happened, and how did they handle it? (i.e., Did they apologize or get angry?).

  • Document when you cut off service or asked them to leave.
  • Document when they left; this can help if you need to file a complaint later with your manager or law enforcement.