I know a lot of bartenders and servers. None of them go to work hoping to be able to deny service to a guest. And yet it happens frequently. It’s never good, and it’s never fun, but some occasional situations call for it.
In Kentucky, regulations called dram shop laws assign potential liability to servers who provide alcohol to a customer “when a reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances would know that they are already intoxicated.” So if you over-serve some numbskull who then gets in the car and injures or kills themself or others, the sale or service of alcohol can be considered a factor in the accident. But it’s a tough call. How much alcohol is one drink over the line? Where else and how much has the patron had to drink before he entered your establishment? Are they surreptitiously hitting a flask in between the glasses of wine they’re ordering? Are they otherwise intoxicated by drugs? Have they neglected to take medicine prescribed for another condition that may be exacerbated by alcohol?
You don’t know, can’t know, won’t know until their behavior gives them away. Let’s say you’ve served a few rounds to a patron who carries the drinks back to a table, so you haven’t noticed how drunk one of his friends is until she suddenly falls off her high top bar stool. Embarrassed, she approaches the bar to get a refill. This is the moment of truth. You could just go ahead and serve her — surely her friends won’t let her drive, right? But, even if she doesn’t drive, she might stumble into the street when leaving and get hit by a car. She might destroy the ladies’ room by getting indiscriminately sick in there. She might pass out in there, requiring staff to force the lock or break down the door to get her out.
So, you decline to serve her. Sometimes this causes a scene; nobody likes to be told they’re too drunk to buy another drink. Especially drunk people. No bartender does this lightly. You’re likely to get stiffed for drinks and almost certain to get stiffed on the tip. Chances are good that the party will then shuffle along to another bar or restaurant and play the same game. But it’s the right thing to do, morally and legally. Some bartenders even call — and pay for — a ride-share service to pick up the patron and take them home. This may seem like a happy ending, but remember, the server is still suffering the loss of pay, and now they’re out an Uber fee, too.
Then, there’s the one you refuse to serve simply due to a reputation for drinking and dashing. One man in our community is so infamous for drinking/dining and dashing that when he goes out several times a week, restaurant workers pile on social media. A line of posts follows him from one establishment to another as he’s either denied service immediately upon entry or asked to leave when the debit card he pretends to use for payment comes up short. I have seen so many photos of this man, I’m sure I’d recognize him on the street. Security camera photos. Mug shots. Snapshots from servers’ phones. He’s been arrested many times for this behavior, too — yet he always manages to get bailed out and goes right back to the same scheme. Sometimes he brings along a girlfriend and her kids as camouflage.
You might think that establishments should be able to take this hit once in a while, and many do. But some bars and restaurants hold their employees responsible for dine- or drink-and-dashers. A server, making $2.13 an hour before tips, might be asked to pay the tab when a table leaves without settling up. So, if they walk out on a $35 bill, that might eat up a big portion of her pay for the day. It is not legal for the establishment to require the server pay the bill, but some places do it anyway. Keep an eye out for your friends when you’re out drinking together. Most people would much rather have a friend tell them “oh hell no, Blanche — you’re getting a coffee this round!” than have the bartender, likely a stranger, cut her off.
So, give an extra big tip to your bartender or server this week. Almost all of them have experienced these situations at one time or another, so slip them a little hazard pay. If you do, they’ll remember you next time!
Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, Café Lou Lou, Marketplace @ Theater Square, Fontleroy’s and Harvest.