Preventing Intoxication

Preventing Intoxication

Slow down service

Try to casually avoid the customer’s table, and delay ordering and serving drinks.

Suggest food

Eating slows down the absorption of alcohol into the body. Also, the time spent eating is time the customer is not drinking. Suggest high-protein foods like nuts, cheese and meats. Avoid salty foods—salt makes people thirstier.

Suggest nonalcoholic drinks

You can suggest a non-alcoholic drink, such as a soft drink, juice or coffee when you think a customer has had too much to drink. There are also many nonalcoholic wines and beers available today. (Don’t compromise by serving a customer a watered-down drink. It is illegal to substitute a drink without the customer’s knowledge. If a customer is intoxicated, it is illegal to serve him or her any alcohol).

Get the customer’s group to back you

Talk to the customer’s friends at the table. You may help them recognize that their friend is in trouble. Also, friends can often be more persuasive.

Refusing service to a customer

Refusing alcohol service can be difficult. The key is to observe your customers carefully. Remember how dangerous an intoxicated customer is behind the wheel of a car. Patrons who aren’t driving may be equally at risk walking, taking a taxi or riding with friends. Your decision not to serve an intoxicated customer could save not only your liquor license, it could also save someone’s life.

When it’s time to cut off service and remove a customer’s drink:

  • Establish and support a policy to back up servers who decide it is necessary to cut someone off. Train servers to notify the manager on duty when they are about to refuse service. Their decision may need back up if the customer gets angry.
  • Be courteous, but firm. Be friendly, but don’t back down on your decision or bargain with the customer. Let the customer know that you want him or her to get home safely.
  • Remain calm and respectful. Avoid arguing. Don’t provoke the customer by embarrassing him or her. Avoid statements like, “You’re drunk” or “You’ve had way too much to drink.”
  • Let the customer know your job or license is at risk. Don’t hesitate to tell the customer you could lose your license or job for overservice.
  • Find transportation. It’s recommended that your business have a policy for getting intoxicated customers home safely. A cab service could be the right move for a customer who isn’t drinking with friends or whose friends are also intoxicated.
  • If the customer refuses to cooperate or becomes disorderly, call the police or sheriff’s department and be willing to sign a complaint. Protect your business license and reputation.

Remember, state law does not prohibit customers who are apparently under the influence from remaining in the establishment as long as they are not consuming or possessing liquor or being disorderly. You may invite them to remain on your premises and encourage them to eat. However, if you decide to permit a patron who is apparently under the influence to remain on your licensed premises, you must then operate under a heightened duty of observation of that patron to make sure that the patron does not order another alcoholic beverage from another server, or does not drink or share alcoholic drinks with another patron who is a member of his or her group. 


In Washington, a person cannot legally drive if his/her blood alcohol concentration is .08 percent or above. Alcohol affects everyone differently.

The actual effect of alcohol on a person may depend on:

  • How much food has been eaten
  • Time of day
  • The person’s mood
  • Mixer used in the drink
  • Drugs in the bloodstream


This article is an excerpt from the Handbook for Excellent Restaurant Operations (HERO), published by the Washington Hospitality Association.  Want a hard copy of the whole manual?  It’s one of the many benefits of becoming a member!  Find out more about joining the Washington Hospitality Association here.

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Categories: HERO