Server Tip: How to Slow Alcohol Service

Cartoon with drunk Christmas elves and Santa asking a server to slow their alcohol service

Drinking alcohol can be a fun way to celebrate, connect with friends, and relieve stress. When that alcohol buzz kicks in, though, it can be hard to decide when enough is enough. Intoxication tends to impair a person’s judgment. That poor judgment can lead to disaster, especially when someone drives away.

That’s where you come in. Businesses rely on smart, dedicated alcohol servers like you to slow service to prevent intoxication. Your decisions may save lives.

Preventing drunk driving

In 2018, more than 10,000 people died in crashes caused by drunk driving in the United States. Deadly collisions have led states across the nation to limit the amount of alcohol that a driver may have in their bloodstream.

In most states, it’s illegal to drive with blood alcohol content (BAC) at or above 0.08%. With a BAC of 0.08%, a person’s reaction time slows, and their coordination may suffer. These conditions make car accidents much more likely.

Some states have unique BAC requirements. In Utah, for example, it is illegal to drive with a BAC of 0.05% or higher. In Arizona, drivers don’t have to meet a specific blood alcohol content threshold. If their driving is impaired and there is alcohol in their system, they may be charged with driving under the influence. In states like these, servers may need to slow alcohol service earlier to protect customers.

If you’re not sure what the BAC legal limit is in your state, be sure to check with your manager.

Recognizing when you should slow down service

Unlike highway patrol officers, most servers can’t use technology to test a person’s BAC. So how can you tell when to slow down service?

Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) table

Counting drinks

To start, keep track of the number of drinks you serve to each guest. With each drink they consume, their BAC will rise. How quickly their BAC rises depends on factors like the person’s size. Consider using a BAC table to estimate someone’s blood alcohol content based on how many drinks they’ve had.

Remember, you should start slowing service before a customer’s BAC reaches 0.08%. Once they are intoxicated, you should not serve them any more alcohol.

Keep in mind that the liver takes about an hour to metabolize the alcohol in a single standard drink. If a person has multiple drinks in an hour, the liver will take a few hours to catch up.

Common signs of intoxication

Counting drinks alone may not be enough to estimate customers’ levels of impairment. Watch out for pub crawlers! Sometimes, people move from bar to bar during a night out, drinking alcohol at each place they visit. Someone may arrive at your establishment approaching (or well past) the point of being intoxicated.

You need to be able to recognize common physical and behavioral signs of being drunk:

  • Loud or slurred speech
  • Clumsiness
  • Sudden mood or behavior changes
  • Drowsiness
  • Delayed reactions
  • Overconfidence or friendliness
  • Sloppy appearance

Remember, though, that some people may show these characteristics without drinking alcohol. It’s up to you to make a careful judgment call. Watch for these signs and keep an eye on how many drinks someone has been served.

How to slow down service

So let’s say you suspect that a customer may be approaching intoxication. What’s next? Slowing down service can be tricky. Obviously, you need to look out for your customer’s well-being, but you don’t want to sabotage your chance at a good tip. Here are some tips to slow service without alienating a customer.

Offer food and water

Offering the customer food and water is a great way to slow down service. Food helps to slow the absorption of alcohol into the body. If you can tempt a guest to eat something, they can satisfy hunger and keep their BAC reasonable at the same time.

Offering a complimentary glass of water with an alcoholic beverage is another courteous, subtle way to slow service. That way, you’re less likely to have thirsty guests ordering back-to-back drinks. Keep in mind, though, that drinking coffee does not lower a person’s BAC.

Pass the table less often

You can also take a more passive approach and avoid passing the guest’s table too often. This way, you can be warm and helpful when a guest has your attention without being constantly available for drink orders.

This may go without saying, but you should also avoid encouraging guests to order more drinks. Generally, people don’t need much encouragement to have a good time. Instead, focus on protecting yourself, your guests, and your employer with responsible alcohol service.

Interested in more tips on safe alcohol service? Check out StateFoodSafety’s alcohol service certification courses. Happy holidays!

— Katie Heil

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Updated: January 12, 2021 — 9:32 pm
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