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How to Cut Someone Off -Tips on How a Bartender Can Cut Off a Drunk

Updated on July 9, 2011

When and How to Cut Someone Off

Cutting off a drunk can be a nuance. For some reason cutting someone off - telling them they can not be served another drink - is tough for bartenders. Even if the customer is unliked, it's still not easy. In fact, it can be worse. These are usually the guys that are going to argue.

Some bartenders have trouble cutting people off because they are intimidated by the customer, they may not know how to tell them properly, afraid of the customer's response (especially a regular customer), don't want lower bar sales, or repercussions from the owners (which should never happen but does).

The reality is that none of the above matters. Countries around the world are adopting stricter liquor laws. In Canada, it is illegal to serve someone past the point of visible intoxication. If you over-serve a customer and they have any sort of accident; falls, trips, slips, caught driving drunk, or, heaven forbid, hits and kills someone while driving drunk, YOU, the bartender, are held responsible. And if you don't live in a country with strict liquor laws, you still have a moral responsibility.

Here's a compilation of 15 signs of visible intoxication. Make notes of all of these.

  • Slurred speech
  • Swaying, staggering or stumbling
  • Drinking too fast
  • Over-generous with money
  • Crude or inappropriate behaviour towards others
  • Extreme or sudden change in behaviour
  • Overly loud, boisterous, animated or entertaining
  • Nodding off at the table or bar
  • Rambling train of thought
  • Slow response to questions
  • Spilling drinks or can't find their mouth with the glass
  • Bravado or boasting
  • Overly friendly to staff or other guests
  • Mussed hair or disheveled clothing
  • Crying, moody, overly depressed or sullen

Cutting off the drunk may just be the best thing that you can do for him. No one wants to be cut off; but when done correctly, it can end up saving people's dignity and lives. Note, often the person you cut off will apologize for their behaviour the next time they come into your bar.

That being said, here are a few of the more tactful and professional ways you can cut a customer off. Choose one that works for you and change it to fit your style.


Using the Law: "Sorry buddy, by law, I have to tell you that I can't serve you any more. It's clear to me that you are visibly intoxicated and therefore, I have to cut you off. Here, take this bottle of water, go enjoy the rest of the night. Don't let me catch you trying to order another drink or you'll be asked to leave."


Deflecting Blame Upwards: "Sorry, but my boss / owner thinks that you've had enough and told me I can not serve you another drink. Here's a bottle of water on the house - you don't have to stop enjoying your evening, but we can't serve you anymore."


On Your Own: "Listen, I think you've had enough to drink already. I can't serve you another one or I'll lose my job. Here, take a bottle of water and go enjoy the rest of the night with your friends, just don't let me catch you sneaking drinks."


Straight Talk: "Sorry man but I think you're at your limit. We have two options from here. I can give you a bottle of water and you cant have any more drinks. This way you can stay and enjoy the rest of the night. Or, if you choose to argue with me about it, you'll be asked to leave immediately."


Keep in mind that no approach works perfectly. You are going to get some people that just don't want to be told what to do, don't think they are drunk, or are too drunk to know what's good. If there are any further problems with cutting off a customer, immediately get the owner or the manager to handle it - that's what they're there for. They will get better results and it'll free up your time to continue providing outstanding service. Plus, hopefully you'll be recognized for your responsibility and keen eye.

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