Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009
For many years before this whole cocktail thing really took off, I worked in dive bars. Really crappy dive bars where people would visit – often nightly – for what appeared to be the sole purpose of getting very, very drunk. These bars were loud, they were obnoxious, and at times they could be very dangerous.
We could cut people off as an act of self-preservation. Sometimes it was because we didn’t want to fined by the state liquor control board. Sometimes it was because we didn’t want a particularly drunk patron scaring away other, big-spending customers. And sometimes it was because we were genuinely concerned for our safety.
Which could backfire. I remember one night in college when, after refusing to serve an especially drunk redneck, he announced, “I’m getting in my truck, going home, grabbing my shotgun, and coming back here to blow your head off.” I locked the door and called the cops, who greeted him outside the bar about a half hour later.
And there came a breaking point, when I didn’t want to do that anymore. So I made the conscious decision to try to get jobs in better bars, where people didn’t behave like that as much. Which might be why you’re reading this now, because I devoted myself to learning how to make good drinks and do something more than sling cheap beer and cut people off. Starting this website was part of that process.
But just because now I’m charging eight bucks for a drink doesn’t mean that I’ve found a magic clientele paradise where everyone orders expensive cocktails and nobody gets drunk. It does mean, however, that I’ve had to take a different attitude to service that doesn’t include drawing a line across my throat with my forefinger to indicate that a guest was no longer allowed access to the alcohol.
But as I was trying to illustrate with my earlier story, telling someone “No more” can lead to an uncomfortable situation. So that’s why I now try to approach the denial of alcohol from a hospitality-centric perspective: I’m the one who helped get you into this mess, and now I’m going to be the one who helps you get out of it – a bartender in every sense of the word.
So you have to inform your guest that you can’t serve them any more liquor. It’s a delicate situation, but the most crucial part of the rest of your time together. There are a few points that you need to convey:
- You’re not comfortable serving them any more alcohol. This is important because it places the weight of the decision on you. Why are you uncomfortable? Because you’re concerned about their safety. Because you want to make sure they get home safely. Because they’re your guest and you genuinely care about the direction the rest of their night takes.
- You want your guest to continue enjoying their time at your bar. Offer them a coffee, offer them water, and if you can swing it, some food from the kitchen on the house. It makes such a big difference and shows that you actually care about their time spent at your bar.
- You want them to come back. It’s embarrassing to get cut off at a bar, it makes you reconsider visiting again. I like to tell people that their first drink on their next visit will be on me. It’s a hospitable way of saying, “This isn’t a personal issue, and I look forward to spending more time with you in the future.”
- You need them to get home safely. Offer to pay for a taxi home. Help find a ride from a sober friend. I’ve even known bartenders who have personally driven people home while the other bartender covered the bar in their absence. This is the very definition of hospitality.
This is merely a primer and my hope is that all of you will chime in to the comments section and share your thoughts on how best to handle a delicate situation. Personally, I plan on not getting to the point of being cut off this Repeal Day, but if I do, I hope I’m in the competent hands of a caring bartender at the time.