Gallery: Ask a Bartender: How Do You Cut Someone Off?

  • Avoid or Confront?

    "I've been in various positions ranging from where it's best for the management to handle it, to dealing with the 'dirty' job myself, to occupying myself with other tasks in order to thwart an unnecessary escalation. I've noticed in the past 10 years behind the bar that it doesn't happen as often as it used to..." — Sara Morgan Strom (Coast Beach Cafe & Bar)

    Treat Them Nicely

    "Ideally, you have created a rapport with this person, and you can talk to them like an adult and they would understand. However, that usually doesn’t work. You just have to be firm and be honest with the guest. This situation arises too much, with myself included..." — Nate Howell (Cusp Dining & Drinks)

    'Vodka Soda,' No Vodka

    "Well, normally they are too drunk to even realize they are being cut off, so it tends to not be too much of an issue. Otherwise, I serve them a "Vodka Soda" which happens to leave out the vodka and tell them it's on the house. This tends to happen about once every one or two weeks." — Pamela Wiznitzer (Dead Rabbit)

    Avoid Confrontation

    "Cutting people off is my least favorite thing to do. Avoiding confrontation while managing the situation is my first step. Slowing the service for more drinks, filling up water often. If it comes down to it, finding the most sober friend of the subject to discuss with is a good idea. If you can get the group on your side often the situation takes care of itself. There will of course be times when things get out of hand, and that’s what makes this job one of a kind!" — Vincent Stipo (Vernick Food & Drink)


    "It happens. When you work at a busy bar in a relatively touristy area with strong drinks it definitely happens. Generally we use a rather indirect approach, deflecting the guest's desire for more alcohol with water, conversation with their friends, etc.; when someone is over-served they tend to be rather unreasonable, so using logic to say, you're hammered, go home, is not always the best tactic." —Mike Ryan (Sable)

    Be Careful

    "Cutting off a guest can easily create an awkward and sour situation, not only for the bartender and guest, but for all the other bar patrons. It must be done carefully. Reading the guest is very important here, sometimes telling them directly and discretely is the easiest way. However, people get upset easily when they think that they are capable of having a few more drinks, and you are the one to tell them otherwise. In this instance, it may be wise to confront a member of their party and explain how you cannot serve that person as a precautionary measure."— Griffin Elliott (Sepia)

    Depends On The Person

    "Fortunately we don't have to deal with extremely intoxicated guests very often. When somebody does get to the point the way I handle it depends on the person, and the relationship we've developed. My first response is always to make sure they have plenty of water in front of them." — Sarah Mengoni (South Water Kitchen)

    Read the Situation

    "I have to say I am pretty adept at cutting guests off. You have to read the situation, you should use the tactic which is most appropriate and effective. If someone is with a bunch of their friends and someone in the group is sober, I usually approach them. People take it better when a friend says you've had enough. Sometimes i'll just keep offering water or soda until they get the hint. Most people pick up on it the 3rd time. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and call security." — Chino Lee (Departure Restaurant)


    "I do it delicately, and elicit other members of their party. My job is not to be the bad guy. I try to help guide the individual to the understanding that it's time to go home, and that they're very welcome here tomorrow." — John McCarthy (Greenwich Project)

    Try Not To Embarrass

    "Cutting a customer off depends on the situation. If the person is part of a group, it's pretty easy. I just single out the most reasonable-seeming member of the group, quietly take him into my confidence, and ask him to take on the responsibility of handling his friend. If the person is alone, it's much trickier. I want to do the responsible thing—not serve him—without embarrassing him. Usually I'll offer him coffee or water, then see how he reacts. In extreme cases—meaning, when the customer has made an ass of himself—I'll deliberately ignore his requests. He'll either a) forget he ordered, in which case the problem takes care of itself, or b) throw a tantrum, in which case I have no problem handing him the check and wishing him a good night." — Chad Musick (Sip Tasting Room and Rooftop Lounge)

    Stall, But Tell Them

    "I will usually tell them directly, but do it in a subtle manner. I'll try to stall for a bit, get them food and hopefully have them drink a couple glasses of water. If they're with a large group, I will let someone know in the party that their friend may be getting out of hand and to keep an eye on them as well." — Brian Means (Fifth Floor)

    Hand Over The Check

    "This situation does not arise very often at my establishments, but when it does my first plan is always just to slide the guest their check and give them a little nod. They usually get it and close out their bill. If that doesn’t work, I ask the guest to come over to one side of the bar and quietly tell them I will not serve them anymore – it keeps from embarrassing the guest in front of their friends and other guests at the bar." — Carlos Yturria (E&O Asian Kitchen)

    Be Direct

    "I always believe that being direct and communicating clearly with a guest works best. That said, I seldom have to refuse service because a guest is intoxicated." — David Welch (Lincoln Restaurant & Sunshine Tavern)

    Drink Some Water, Come Back Tomorrow

    "Depends. Sometimes I will politely suggest that they should hang out and have some water instead. If they're getting crazy, I'll take their drink away. If they get start protesting, I will say something like 'Look, today's not your day. Drink some water. Come back tomorrow.'" — Michael Lay (Restaurant 1833)

    Approach With Empathy

    "I think you need to approach it with empathy. I always try to acknowledge that I myself have probably, at one time or another, been overserved...I mean haven't we all? I don't judge an inebriated patron. I have used the "tell their friends" policy if the person in question is with other people. The goal is to allow the rest of the group to still have a good time, but to just help me or our establishment by leveling with the intoxicated friend. This has been a very good approach. As for how often, it isn't as common as you may think. I have seen it on the other end of the spectrum as well. A bartender who is too quick to cut someone off can be more trouble than it is helpful." — Roger Bailey (Filini Bar and Restaurant)

    Slide Them Water

    "To be honest with you, in my 6 years as a bartender and 2 years as a manager since, I've only had to cut off a small handful of people. Most of the time I would just slide them a glass of water instead of another drink. I would imagine I got pretty lucky though because only 1 person I cut off got angry about it, and that's another story in and of itself." — Chris Mann (Distrito)

    All In The Eyes

    "In passing, I generally place big glass of water in front of a guest before they try to place an order I will have to refuse. Sometimes they get the hint and realize they don't need any more alcohol. If that doesn't work, I will calmly explain that they don't actually want another shot, tap their more sober friends for backup, or when all else fails and the guest becomes rowdy, a sidelong glance and a waving index finger, as you would scold a child. It's all in the eyes, and it works every time." — John Henderson (Scholars, Tavern Road)

    Treat Them Respectfully

    "ou will eventually have to address the issue directly, because this person can become a nuisance to you and, more importantly, your other customers. Try and be succinct and treat them respectfully, but make it clear that you will only be serving them water. Hopefully, this person does have more sober friends to take care of them. It happens, but part of the job is to realize when someone has been over-served. It's very tricky, because you don't really know what they were up to before and that one drink might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back!" — Bryan Ranere (Foreign Cinema)

    With A Nice Word

    "With a smile, glass of water and a nice word. A shot of Malort would help as well! :) If you don't know the person, you want to inform the rest of the staff, manager and security. If guest is with a group , I'm trying to get help from his friends. If I go directly, it’s always private and non-confrontational, expressing concerns on his well-being." — Milan Mijatovic (Little Market Brasserie)

    Be Firm And Direct

    "The best way to cut a customer off is to be firm and direct with them—I’ll say I can’t serve them for the time being—but I’ll usually offer a water as an alternative. Situations like this arise more frequently on weekends but each time is a different experience and you learn how to handle it better."— Miri Kolici (Upstairs at the Kimberly Hotel)

    Be Polite

    "Usually, I try to be polite, firm, and moderately direct. I'll tend to tell people that I simply don't feel comfortable serving them another alcoholic drink, but would be more than happy to serve them something else. I try to avoid addressing their friends as I wouldn't want to create an uncomfortable situation between the individual and their friends." — Elizabeth Powell (Liberty Bar)

    Find the Reasonable Person

    "If the person’s in a group I’ll usually approach the person that seems the most reasonable and least intoxicated and ask them to monitor their friend for me. I’ll always offer excessive amounts of water to overly intoxicated guests." — Justin Fairweather (Evelyn Drinkery)

    Offer Food and Water

    "Many factors on this one. I typically let the guest know that I won't be serving them any alcohol for a bit. Offer food and water to buffer it. They usually get the idea after a while and move on." —Kevin Diedrich (Jasper's Corner Tap & Kitchen)

    Joke About Slowing Down

    "Depends on the person, but I start by putting a glass of water in front of them and joking around with them about slowing it down. If it escalates from there, I politely say I can't serve them anymore." — Blake Landis (Cinco)

    Don't Scold

    Friendly Staff, Good Jukebox

    Friendly Staff, Good Jukebox

    "Pitcher House Upper Deck in Redondo Beach (CA)... It definitely has a little something for everyone! Karaoke (Wednesdays), pool tables, ping pong, an extensive jukebox, even arcade games! They have a great draft selection, impressively-stocked bar, better-than-average menu, and the friendliest staff in the South Bay." — Sara Morgan Strom (Coast Beach Cafe & Bar)