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How to Identify an Intoxicated Patron

By Peter Cutforth

July 19, 2012

Responsible Service of Alcohol, responsible service of alcohol course

As a server of alcohol, part of your job is identifying customers who have had too much to drink and to whom service should be refused. For some patrons, it’s easy to spot, while others may be better at masking the true level of their intoxication. As you gain more experience in the industry it will become easier to spot those people, however RSA training will help.


As a rule a person’s body can usually only process one unit of alcohol per hour. So during quieter times it will be easier to spot a person who is drinking more than they should. Generally because body mass affects the process of intoxication, a larger person will take longer to get drunk than a smaller person. However during busy times such as “happy hours” when you cannot keep track of drinkers and the amount of alcohol they are consuming this will be harder to notice. Often the same person may continuously approach the bar, especially when buying in rounds.


Thankfully, intoxication presents itself in a number of visible ways. Everyone, even those not trained in Responsible Service of Alcohol can tell the most common symptoms. These includes slurred speech, swaying and bumping into things, inability to walk, rowdiness, anger, aggression even violence.  In a crowded and noisy bar, however, these could be difficult to notice. Something else to take note of would be a previously timid patron who becomes aggressive, a social person who becomes withdrawn or a quiet person who becomes overtly friendly.


Steps you can follow:


1.       Watch if a person becomes more confident with less inhibition.


If the customer becomes more sociable, talkative and outgoing, beginning to lose some control of knowing how far they can go in a social setting, they are demonstrating the first signs of intoxication. Some of the behavioural indicators include louder speech that normal, mood swings and aggression.


2.       Person begins to demonstrate poor judgement.


As they become increasingly intoxicated the person will begin to show poor judgement. Inappropriate behaviour will be the next display, often not in line with the persons normal behaviour, such as the use of foul language, inappropriate jokes, overly flirtatious behaviour etc. Also as the person becomes more intoxicated instead of cutting down on drinking they usually increase their drinking and participate in drinking games, drinking beyond their capacity.


3.       Stop the person from drinking anymore


As soon as you identify signs of intoxication and physical impairment, don’t serve them anymore and make sure no one else does either. Cut off the source of the alcohol.  Some beginning signs of physical impairment are reactions like glassy, unfocused eyes; slurred speech; or forgetting thoughts in mid-sentence. Talking slowly or moving slowly or in a strange manner. At this stage the person will find it difficult to concentrate, walk a straight line or make coherent sentences.



 4.       Do not leave the intoxicated person alone

If a person shows a loss of motor control or function, or poor coordination, they must not be left alone and they could become a danger to themselves or others. Stumbling or swaying, having difficulty with depth perception and dropping things repeatedly or having difficulty picking them up are signs that the person has progressed to this level.

5.       Don’t ignore people who are not displaying the physical signs but are over the legal limit


It is possible for people to develop a tolerance for alcohol, but that does mean that they are not legally intoxicated. It just means that visual recognition is more difficult. There are things to look for that will help. Look for a heavy smell of alcohol on a person’s breath or if they are sweating profusely when they probably should not be. Redness in the body’s extremities can also be a sign that a person should not be served or red eyes.


Remember as a Server of Alcohol you have a responsibility to yourself, your customers and society to serve in the most responsible manner. Your actions have consequences that reach much further than yourself or your customer but may have serious ramifications on the community and society in general.


Posted by Peter Cutforth



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