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What Bartenders Should Know About Cutting People Off

Last Call – for You…

People sometimes get to the point where more alcohol just isn’t going to do them any good.  They wobble; they lose fine motor control; their speech is slurred.  It may be a question of driving; it may be a question of retaining the ability to stand up; it may be that they become belligerent and or violent when they pass a certain threshold.

In most jurisdictions you’re responsible to cut off people that are “obviously trashed”.  In many locales you can be held liable for harm to a third party by someone you have over-served.  Some may be good at hiding it, so remember how many drinks you have served them.  If they enter the bar drunk because they got kicked out of somewhere else, it’s up to you not to serve them either.

At some point in your career you are going to have to decide when someone has had too much and tell them that they cannot have any more.  None of use likes to do it; it is uncomfortable and can really sour someone’s mood.  Here are some ideas.

How does it go down?

  1. A wobbler comes up to you at the bar and orders a drink. “Okay, pal (honey, buddy, dear, friend).  But make this one last.  It’s your last one for the night.  You’ve already had a great time tonight!”  (Often they’ll agree)
  2. “Gimmee a Whiskey, Bud!” Your reply “Hey, I noticed you smell pretty heavily of alcohol.  I’m gonna make you a Vodka Tonic so you don’t get arrested as soon as you walk out the door.  Don’t worry, it’s on me!”  Drunk:  Hey, thanks, Bud!”  If the drunk is attentive, just use your cheapest vodka and dump it down the drain when you’re at the soda machine.  Straight Tonic is fine, and they can smell the remains of the alcohol if they’re attentive.  If they’re not looking, skip the vodka altogether.
  3. If they say they don’t like Tonic, use soda. Add a Lime.
  4. Another wants a refill. If they’re border-line, serve them but keep an eye who they hang out with.  Pick their least drunk friend and get them to tell their friend they’ve had enough.  If you get enough people on your side, the peer pressure will usually be enough to make them quit.
  5. Deflect them with water. Offer it frequently, and keep glasses full.  “You really need this, Bud, or you’re gonna have a heck of a headache in the morning.”
  6. Do it quietly, directly and discreetly, when possible. There’s no need to ruin the mood of the whole bar, or to embarrass the guest.  If they insist that they’re perfectly fine and demand more liquor, speak to a member of their party and explain that you cannot serve them anymore for their own safety.  Let them handle their friend.
  7. Someone comes back after you told them they’d already had their last one. “Sorry, that’s it for the night.  We agreed, remember?  But don’t forget, you can always come back tomorrow night!  Would you like a free coffee before you go?”
  8. If somehow they got ridiculously hammered and you didn’t cut them off, it’s your responsibility. When they come back to the bar, listen to them order.  If they’re that high they’ll soon forget they ordered and go away.  But you should have cut them off sooner!  If they do remember, tell them they’re done, but slide them a cola and say try this instead.
  9. Keep a bowl of salty snacks ready and place it in front of a drunk you’re not going to serve. Place a glass of water beside it.  Before they start to order “You look like you could use something to eat…” and deflect them.
  10. Present the bill with a subtle nod. They will sometimes get the message all on their own…
  11. “I’m sorry, but I won’t be serving you any alcohol for a while. (Put down a large glass of water)  But the kitchen is open if you need something to eat.”
  12. “You look pretty good right now. Maybe you should wait a bit and see if you really need another one.  You wouldn’t want to upset your husband/wife now would you?”


It actually happens a lot less often than you might think, but it will happen eventually.  Be prepared.  If you cut someone off and see their friends are getting them drinks, their friends must be cut off, too.  You must inform the other bartenders as well so that they don’t get alcohol from someone else.  If you have security, alert them before you cut someone off in case there are repercussions.  Unless they walk in drunk, cut them off after you have served them a round.

We have excellent training available!  We’ll be more than happy to teach you how to “Do it Right!”