Responsible serving guide
Dealing with a difficult or intoxicated customer can be a tricky situation that often leaves waiters, barmen and serving staff in a predicament. It may seem that there is no right way to handle this situation, but if done with tact and within the law, both the customer and the staff member can walk away without being embarrassed and prevent the situation from getting out of control.
There is increasing concern about the dangers of drink spiking on licensed premises.
Staff can help by:
- Getting any affected person to a safe, quiet place and stay with them.
- Call an ambulance if they become unconscious.
- Ensure that the person who is assisting them home is indeed a friend.
Drink spiking is not necessarily placing illicit drugs into a drink. It may well be ordering drinks for people with extra shots of alcohol. This has direct implications in the responsible serving of alcohol.
Server liability cases
Server liability cases have been relatively common in the USA since the 1840’s. In fourteen (14) American States (including California, New York State and Florida) legal defences have been set down to protect licensees from such an action.
Whilst no such legislation exists in South Africa, the following practices can act as a useful guide to managers of licensed premises.
- Discourage intoxication.
- Promote non-alcoholic beverages and food.
- Promote safe transport alternatives.
- Market responsible serving practices.
- Train staff.
- Maintain adequate staff numbers.
- Written policies and procedures for staff that are enforced.
Refusing service to customers should be viewed as a last resort. Servers should be thinking about managing their bar from the time a customer enters until the time they leave.
Below are useful guidelines for servers of licensed establishments when dealing with customers to prevent a situation from getting uncomfortable, particularly if service has to be refused:
If the server is alert, they may be able to detect those in the early stages of intoxication and take steps to prevent the situation from worsening.
Such steps include:
- Slowing service.
- Suggesting food or low alcohol alternatives.
- Warning the customer.
Don’t be judgmental:
- Don’t say things like “you’re drunk” or “you’ve had too much”.
- Don’t reprimand the customer.
- Don’t appear to be blaming them.
Customer service demands that staff respect their customers.
Be polite use “I” statements like:
- I’m sorry, if I serve you another drink I’d be breaking the law.
- I’m sorry, if I serve you another drink I’d lose my job.
- I’m concerned about your safety.
- The boss is funny about these things.
- There's been a police crackdown, we could lose our licence.
Ask “what if”:
- What if you have something to eat and we see how you’re going after that?
- What if your first drink’s on me tomorrow?
- What if I call you a cab?
- Your tone of voice is very important.
- You need to have a firm voice without sounding aggressive.
- Do not raise your voice.
- Behaviour breeds behaviour.
- You can calm them down if you remain calm yourself.
- Explain why service is being refused.
- Remember to focus on the behaviour, not the individual.
- Sometimes a customer may think they are being barred from the premises.
- Explain that they are welcome back another time.
- Offer to call a taxi.
- Suggest customers try low or non-alcoholic drinks.
- A discreet warning that this will be the last drink for a while may allow them to “save face” in front of their friends.
- Make sure all staff are aware of what has happened.
- Keep an incident log book near the bar and record the incident.
- If the customer injures themselves or a third party, after leaving the premises, the record of events may be of assistance.
- If they are a regular customer, staff can quietly reinforce the message when they return.
- They will usually be in a more receptive state to hear and understand why the action was taken.
- The customer may even thank staff for looking after them.
Some other good tips
- Never touch the customer
- Speak to them away from others as a face saving measure
- Don’t be afraid to involve management
Wolmarans P., Langenhoven M., Faber M. 1993 pp. Food facts and figures, Cape Town. Oxford University Press