What Every Bartender & Cocktail Server Needs To Know About Serving Visibly Intoxicated Patrons

If you are a bartender or cocktail server, there's no doubt you've seen a lot of questionable activity by those you've served alcohol to. However, when it comes time for your patrons to leave the bar, your dealings with them may not be over if they drive drunk and cause an accident. As someone working in a bar, it is very important that you recognize when someone has had too much to drink. Here's why.

Dram shop liability in proximate cause of negligence cases

When it comes to accidents caused by drunk driving, negligence on the part of the drunk driver is a huge factor. However, the proximate cause of the negligence is the fact that they are intoxicated. Their intoxication results in not being able to notice a red light or react to the red light quickly enough to avoid oncoming traffic, for example. Their intoxication can be deemed to be caused by being served too much alcohol at a dram shop.

A dram shop is any establishment that is licensed to serve alcohol. The Dram Shop Act states that establishments with licenses to serve alcohol can be held liable for selling alcohol to people who cause injuries and death due to their intoxication at the establishments. Injured parties and those who've lost loved ones due to accidents caused by intoxication are able to sue the establishment where the intoxication took place.

Most employers of these types of establishments have indemnification clauses with their employees. This means that employees may be protected from these types of lawsuits; however, employers can seek compensation from the employees. Basically, an indemnification clause means that you would cover your employer's losses if you do something to cause them to have a loss—such as serving someone more alcohol when they are already visibly intoxicated and their intoxication results in a lawsuit due to third-party injuries or the loss of life.

One thing that is important to understand is that an intoxicated person cannot sue the establishment if they get arrested for driving while intoxicated or they get into an accident. They hold too much responsibility in their own drinking.

Avoid serving more alcohol to visibly intoxicated customers

It is crucial that you avoid serving liquor to those who are already visibly intoxicated. It's not the amount of alcohol that an individual drinks in a certain time period that results in intoxication, but it is how the alcohol affects them. For example, a petite female weighing 120 pounds may become intoxicated faster than someone twice her size. However, if the petite female drinks heavily on a regular basis, she may have built up a tolerance level high enough to allow her to drink more than anyone else in the bar and still not appear to be intoxicated.

Therefore, it's important to watch for behavior and gait changes when you first serve alcohol to someone after they've entered your establishment. Then, you can have a baseline to judge their intoxication level on. Once they become visibly intoxicated it's time to cut them off and stop serving them alcohol. It's also important to understand that when someone enters your establishment already intoxicated you can, and should, avoid serving them alcohol.

Speak with your employer about minimizing the risks

There are several ways that you can reduce the risks that someone you've served alcohol will get into an accident when they leave your establishment. Offer the patrons other ways to get home or give them incentives to get a ride instead of driving themselves. Give them a gift certificate for a free food item if they leave their vehicle parked overnight and get a ride home.

Perhaps your establishment can purchase a van to take patrons home when they have had too much to drink and cannot drive. If not, perhaps the establishment can contract with a local taxi service to provide rides to those who need it. The most important thing you can do is to keep them from drinking and driving.