- Cutting off customers who are too drunk is one of the most uncomfortable things bartenders have to do.
- If a bartender cuts someone off from drinking further, they have probably done something egregious to provoke it.
- Here, Emma Witman, a bartender, describes 10 reasons bartenders might have to cut off their customers.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Having to cut off a customer is one of the most uncomfortable aspects of my job as a bartender. Perhaps the most uncomfortable.
Trust me when I say this: Unless your bartender happens to love lording a certain type of authority, the last thing we want to do is cut you off. It almost never goes well.
That means that if we’ve decided No Booze For You, you’ve done some seriously questionable stuff to provoke that consequence.
Mitigating the liability of a customer who’s too drunk is a huge priority of ours. And it’s not because we care about whether or not you’re nursing a hangover the next day – we’re trying to prevent our own legal headaches.
So just understand that if you’ve been cut off, don’t balk. Here are some of the telltale behaviours that will force the bartender to bring an end to your boozing.
You’re staggering or running into things.
I have sympathy for the clumsy, being a member of that tribe myself – I’ve had an up-and-down relationship with gravity for most of my life.
But wobbly walkers who can barely make it to the bar in a straight line, much less pass a field sobriety walking test, are a huge red flag that I look out for. Consequently, at this point I can spot them in my peripheral vision.
Why? Because physical changes are the most obvious indicator of a very high level of inebriation, and for that reason we’re trained to be especially wary of them.
You’re stumbling around in a dicier environment.
But my decision to cut someone off isn’t necessarily as black-and-white as it may seem.
For starters, I try to factor in that some people are rougher around the edges than others. A person may just not be the most spatially aware, or particularly care about looking graceful.
However, I apply strict scrutiny if said person is walking up and down flights of stairs to grab a drink from the bar, as is often the case at the three-story bar where I work.
Nothing will make a bartender cut you off quicker than the heightened probability of a lawsuit, like if, say, a patron were to tumble down a flight of stairs.
We suspect you might try to drive yourself home.
If we’re sceptical of your claim that you’ll be hailing a cab to get home, we might be more inclined to cut you off.
On the other hand, scrutiny might be more lightly applied if we know that you’re going to get home safe – for instance, if you’re staying at the hotel in the very bar where you’re drinking. Worst-case scenario, you might need to be wheeled back to your room, which I have seen happen before. And I did feel awful that I inadvertently served someone to that point. The experience was definitely a stressful one.
But that night was far less stressful than the alternative worst-case scenario: that an over-served guest might sleep in a jail cell after injuring themselves or someone else with their car.
Your personality is different from when I started serving you — very, very different.
If you’ve gone from stoic to slightly talkative to regurgitating your emotions to anyone in earshot, you should probably stop drinking.
And we might have to make you, if you can’t take the hint.
You refuse to drink water.
Speaking of taking a hint, this is where my “passive cutoff” techniques come into play. Because of how poorly it always, always goes, I avoid formally cutting people off like I avoid filing my taxes (one day before the deadline, after submitting an extension).
So while I may rarely cut people off to their face, a passive cutoff is a frequent tactic to delay an otherwise inevitable, awkward, and possibly hostile hard cutoff.
What’s a passive cutoff? For starters, I’m definitely avoiding eye contact with you when you approach the bar. I’ll also hope you catch the hint to please pace yourself when I pass you water in the meantime.
But if you continually say no to water or seem really intent on drinking for the sake of getting hammered, it’s a bright yellow flag that may lead to my pulling a red card on your drinking.
You mentioned you haven’t eaten anything.
I might also passively cut off someone who continually mentions how empty their stomach is.
In my experience – including the one with the aforementioned hotel guest – these are the people who skyrocket from zero to wasted after the next drink, even if their previous cocktails didn’t have much of an effect on their inebriation.
You tell me that you’re drunk.
Where I live, “I’m drunk” are the magic words – or perhaps cursed words, in your case.
If you plainly say that you are inebriated, by law in North Carolina, I can’t serve you.
I’ve found that citing the law is the least uncomfortable way to cut someone off, since it’s so brutally bureaucratic.
You’ve got the trademark thousand-yard stare, or you’re “T. rexing.”
I’ve had patrons with that distant stare still insist on trying to order another drink.
That’s a hard pass from us. These, to me, are the trademark gazes of a person on the verge of being sick. And we definitely don’t want to deal with that mess.
Another of my favourite physical indicators are what I call “T. rex arms” or “T. rexing.” This is when a person is, for balance purposes, keeping their arms curled in tightly to their body, as though their elbows are fused with their torso.
You’re falling asleep.
This is an instance where we’ll probably escalate from cutting you off to actually asking you to leave the bar.
Needless to say, we won’t continue to serve you alcohol once you’ve started putting your head on the bar or are otherwise visibly asleep or nodding off.
You’re being hostile or rude.
No, this isn’t the reason you’ve been cut off. But if you’re on the cusp and I need to make a judgment call about serving or not serving you, niceness will help your cause.
You can start by not saying some of these rude and insulting – but all too common – comments I hear behind the bar.
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