Q. Why is this lesson important?

A. This lesson is extremely important. With the recent change in many laws, and company policies, bartenders are increasingly being watched – and fired for seemingly simple things such as touching another person. And, serving overly intoxicated bar customers is a huge no-no. I’ll get into this in more detail.

Q. Will the interviewer ask me about Cutting People Off?

A. Very possible. You may get something like, “Ok, Mark. You notice a customer bouncing off the walls on his way to the restroom. What do you do?” Of course, the answer should be something like, “It would appear that this customer is extremely intoxicated and I would follow the house policy regarding matters like this. Generally speaking, I would follow his movements back to his table or bar stool and then inform him that he has probably had too much to drink. I would offer him a cup of coffee and offer to call him a cab because I am unable to serve him any more alcohol this evening.”

There are many variations to this answer, but the key here is that every bar will have their own policies on how to handle these situations.

What about bar fights? We’ll cover that in the very next lesson. This lesson is all about looking for signs of intoxication or objectionable behavior.

I want to be very clear here: When a bar is advertising (or looking to hire), new bartenders, and they indicate “experienced only,” this is what they are referring to. They don’t care how many drinks you have made in the past. They want bartenders that are trustworthy and mature enough to handle situations that we’re about to discuss. Count on it.

Bartenders who have been around for a while know that problems can arise long before they know anything about it. Most of the time. Stick with the answer that I suggested in the opening paragraphs of this lesson, and you’ll be just fine.

Before I get started, let me just say this: Your bar’s house policy will dictate how you are to handle all of these “unfortunate” occurrences. Yes, obviously, the law will take precedence, but every bar has their own way of dealing with adverse situations.

You need to know exactly what these house policies are. Because of recent changes in the law (and public perception), many of your responses/actions to different situations may not be appropriate anymore.

For example, you better think twice before touching someone. Watch your language – be professional. House policy may dictate that you are not allowed to come out from behind the bar. Some bars are very strict on what you can and cannot do. I’ll be discussing these house policies as we move along here.

My Personal Experience:

I have worked at some crazy-busy places. I’d like to say that “I’ve seen it all.” But I know that’s not true, because every time I would say something like that – something new and crazy would happen again. We’re dealing with people here, and anything can happen at any time – especially when there is alcohol involved!

Yes, you can get into plenty of verbal altercations, and may have to step in when someone is being belligerent or bothering someone, but most of the time bar customers are really great, funny people.


I’ve seen drug deals go down. I’ve seen projectile vomiting. I’ve observed Bookies doing a great business. I’ve seen people under the influence of many different types of drugs.

I’ve seen bar “pools” where you can bet on anything from “March Madness” to horse racing. I’ve thrown out (86’d), prostitutes. And drug dealers. And bookies. And, of course, many minors.

You may be thinking Wow! But I thought you said that most bar customers are great people. Well, yes they are. You have to remember here that I’ve been in this business for over 25 years. And in my twenties and early thirties I was working in kick-ass nightclubs. Yep, been around the block, my friends!

Obviously, you can cut people off if they’ve had too much to drink. Or, if someone is being belligerent and looking for trouble – get them out of there! But there’s a whole lot more to it than that.

I have a ton of experience dealing with problem customers, and I’m going to give you some pretty good suggestions here on how to handle them. And, it’s very likely that you could get a question in the job interview about these situations.

I’m going to discuss Two things here:

  • Signs of Intoxication
  • Cutting People Off

First, let’s look at the common signs of intoxication. You’re probably going to go over this in detail if your state requires “Alcohol Awareness Training.” I want to give a shout out to oregon.gov for this list of “50 Signs of Visible Intoxication.” Yes, I know this list a bit long – just give it a quick read because it’s all common sense.

And remember that this list includes drugs other than alcohol. With new marijuana laws (and other drugs), now being legal, you really have to be on your toes.

And let’s not forget that some people are just plain ‘ol jerks. Many of the below items/behaviors are exhibited by people who don’t drink at all. Keep an eye on them, too!

Signs Of Intoxication (Broken Down Into 5 Categories)


  • Bloodshot, glassy, or watery eyes
  • Flushed face
  • Droopy eyelids
  • Blank stare and/or dazed look
  • Disheveled clothing


  • Thick, slurred speech
  • Loud, noisy speech
  • Speaking loudly, then quietly
  • Rambling train of thought
  • Unusually fast or slow talking
  • Slow response to questions or comments
  • Repetitive statements
  • Bravado, boasting
  • Making irrational statements


  • Annoying other guests and employees
  • Argumentative
  • Aggressive or belligerent
  • Obnoxious or mean
  • Inappropriate sexual advances
  • Overly friendly to other guests or employees
  • Boisterous


  • Swaying, staggering, or stumbling
  • Unable to sit straight
  • Careless with money
  • Difficulty making change
  • Restless
  • Depressed or sullen
  • Crying or moody
  • Extreme or sudden change in behavior
  • Overly animated or entertaining
  • Crude, inappropriate speech or gestures
  • Drowsiness or falling asleep
  • Lack of focus and eye contact
  • Difficulty standing up
  • Unusual walk
  • Can’t find mouth with glass
  • Falling down or falling off chair
  • Difficulty lighting cigarettes
  • Lighting more than one cigarette
  • Clumsy
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Spilling drinks
  • Disoriented
  • Agitated, anxious
  • Grinding teeth
  • Vomiting


  • Odor of alcohol, marijuana, or chemicals
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Repeated trips to the restrooms or outside area

So that’s it – 50 signs of over intoxication. I’m sure there’s others, but this should get you started. Believe me – if you stay in this busy for any length of time – you’re going to observe almost all of these intoxication signs.

Cutting People Off

OK – so you have observed some of the behavior above in one of your customers. Or, your customer has become unruly or abusive – or whatever. Time to go. You have two choices: Get them some coffee/soda and let them mellow out a bit before leaving – or ask them to leave immediately. Of course, their behavior will dictate which one of these choices you make.

Personal Experience: I have cut plenty of people off. Believe it or not, I’m more likely to cut off a “jerk” than I am someone who’s getting a little bit too loose.

  • Being obviously intoxicated (See the above list of 50 overly intoxicated sings)
  • They’re hassling me
  • They’re hassling employees
  • They’re hassling other bar customers
  • They’re committing a crime
  • They’re constantly complaining about the drinks and/or food. (Careful here)

I get it. It’s a bar. Putting up with a certain amount of harassment is normal. But, it can get out of hand. Some bar customers just don’t know when to quit.

The Process of Cutting People Off:

  • Politely inform them that you can no longer serve them any more alcohol
  • ALWAYS be kind and professional. “Until it’s time not to be nice!”
  • Offer them a plain soda or coffee. Or food.
  • Inform management and other employees that the customer has been cut off
  • NEVER start serving them again! They’ll have to wait a day.
  • Don’t get physical
  • Call the police if you need to (Better to have management make the call on this)

Again, the bar will have certain procedures in place to handle these situations. Follow House Policy! Pay attention, and as you gain experience you’ll intuitively know how to handle these situations.

If you’re following along in the Basic Bartending Course:

Next Lesson: Bar Fights and Unruly Customers

Previous Lesson: Law Enforcement Visiting Your Bar

Back to the Course Start Page: Basic Bartending Course