I looked up in time to see my coworker get an unfortunate piña colada bath. The guest kept screaming obscenities as security carried them away. It was a busy Saturday night at our very high-volume restaurant. At a venue like ours, it was only a matter of time before the mixture of alcohol, adrenaline, and competition resulted in people making poor behavioral decisions. While not every situation of a guest being cut off ends with a coconut-scented shower, that kind of aggression is an all-too-common experience for bartenders. Part of the problem is we, the bar staff, are educated to understand alcohol, but our guests aren’t.
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It’s a common problem that various establishments approach differently. I surveyed 25 fellow hospitality professionals to better understand why they kick out customers and how they handle the conflict – probably the least fun part of working at a restaurant, next to doing kitchen inventory.
When the bar is full, there’s never an easy way to tell someone they can’t have their booze. Cutting off a guest puts the bartender in an awkward and sometimes dangerous position. With the exception of one time, most guests I’ve confronted usually become aggressive, defensive, and menacing.
Mark Schettler of New Orleans’ Bar Tonique had this to say, “I think that the baseline job of any bartender is to keep everyone, staff included, feeling safe and comfortable. If a guest, or staff member, isn’t able to abide that, they’re gone. Sometimes, a warning and/or redirect is in order and suffices, sometimes the line is crossed so egregiously that the offending party has to be immediately 86’d.”
It’s a bartender’s job to make sure that their customers have a great experience, and are safe in the process. We aren’t looking to kick people out when we cut them off, but that seems to be the assumption by many, and a cut off unfortunately can turn into getting kicked out.
While closing time was the number-one surveyed reason for kicking out a customer, harassment was the most common selection on the first day I released the survey. It was also a main anecdote cited by those who shared stories. One person who took the survey shared this, “[I have] almost too many [stories] to share. I have had bottles thrown at me, been called every name you can possibly imagine, been challenged to countless fights, stepped into the middle of several others, tackled fleeing felons, and even been threatened with a glass that a guest had just broken over the bar.”
If you have to kick someone out, make sure the person who does it is someone with authority and autonomy to make bigger decisions, such as a head bartender or manager. While the law empowers any bartender to refuse service, it’s best to let those above you handle the situation.
Managers should also be trained on how to best handle cut-offs. Keep your cool to avoid triggering an emotional response. Get the story from the guest and be empathetic, but don’t throw your bartenders under the bus. Your responsibility as a manager is to protect your business, which includes your bar staff and your guests.
Whether you’re a bartender or a bar manager handling a situation, document everything so everyone can learn from the experience. It’s good practice to keep a notebook for bartenders to fill out with details on each day. The notebook was incredibly useful in instances where I had to document an event with police.
Communication is key to running a successful bar and bar team, especially in times of conflict. After the event, gather the team together to discuss what happened and document it together. Nobody likes to kick people out, but when you demonstrate solidarity in doing right by the business and each other, the situation will be easier to handle, and you’ll be better prepared for the future.
Well said. Thanks you. I do agree with you 100%. With the festive season right around the corner, Christmas staff events Are usually when most of the hiccups usually accure. When, as bartenders, we are faced with some of the craziest situations. I had a guest throw pieces of chicken wings at me for declining her and already “tipsy” friends from dancing on the bar counter top. Staying cool, keeping professional and having a smooth trustworthy communication to follow bar colleagues to avoid any of these situations from happening or from escalating..
When “cutting someone off” or not serving someone who’s obviously intoxicated I like to say ” How about a water, soda or coffee? “. If they get belligerent then, I ask them to leave. Works about 50% of the time
In theory, all of this make sense and should be common sense to all on the clock. Yes servers both dining and cocktail, and bartenders should and NEED to know the basics. That being said, anytime a customer is about to be cut off or even “slow served” which is another tactic in this situation that is just one of many that can be utilized before a “cut off” or 86ed is
necessary, A or THE manager should be involved or at the very least, brought up to speed! If the servers and or bartenders have to deal with said situation alone, 2 things will happen. 1) they were the ones that cut said guest off and therefore the situation will continue to boil over because the guest will not feel that their thoughts and side of the story is being heard therefore adding to their frustration. AND 2) The other guest’s experience and service will 100% suffer. Ideally you should always remove the problem from the eyes and ears of your customers and other staff that are not directly involved. Depending on the kind of place, get security involved. As the manager, get as much info as you can from the staff and sometimes other guests, be polite and nice until you learn you don’t have to, and at the end of the Day, protect your other guests and property at any cost. On a side note, I will always protect my staff first. The customer isn’t always right. 7 out of 10 times they are fucking assholes. But hey, they are our assholes. This is what we chose to do. That’s what shift drinks and after hour bars are for. We get to lemment and vent. The tip is a privilege! Verbally abusing fuck boys and becky’s is our fucking RITE!
Staying calm, genuine empathy about their welfare and then providing safe transportation. If they are with friends they are you best allies in these situations.