When to Stop Serving Alcohol & Refuse Service

Restaurants and bars face unique risks and complexities. As an alcohol-serving establishment, your business can be especially vulnerable to legal challenges. Do your bartenders know when to stop serving patrons? Do they know what signs to look for in an intoxicated person?

When Does a Bartender Have the Right to Refuse Service to a Patron?

At some point or another a bartender will likely have to address a belligerent or very intoxicated person. Below are several legitimate reasons to refuse service to a patron:

  • Underage individuals
  • Those who have over-consumed are showing symptoms of intoxication
  • Excessively rowdy or unruly customers
  • A person is harassing staff or other customers
  • Your establishment is at capacity

Right to Refuse Service – Steps

First, a server or bartender should take steps to slow down service and make sure a manager is included in the loop. The manager should keep a close eye on the situation to decide the appropriate next steps. Consider offering food and water. Try to slow down service as much as possible by making yourself less available to the patron. Regardless, always call a manager if you feel someone has been overserved. An intoxicated person should never get behind the wheel, impaired driving carries serious consequences.

What to Say When Refusing Service

Don’t cut anyone off in front of others if you can help it. The manager should request the person to accompany him or her off to the side or a somewhat quieter place to break the news (but never alone. Take a buddy). Keep it calm and state the facts. Do not be accusatory or aggressive. “I think you should call it a night. We are not serving you anymore. Do you have a ride, or can I call you a car?” Instruct your bartenders to not serve the patron anymore. Don’t negotiate.

Potential Signs of an Intoxicated Person

  • Loud or agitated speech
  • Ordering drinks rapidly
  • Slurred speech
  • Stumbling
  • Spilling drinks
  • Appears drowsy
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Blood shot eyes

Learn 4 strategies to help you deal with intoxicated patrons.

Under What Conditions Can a Business Not Refuse Service?

Enforced by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a business cannot refuse service based on:

  • Race or color
  • National origin or citizenship status
  • Religion or creed
  • Sex or Sexual Orientation
  • Age
  • Disability, pregnancy, or genetic information
  • Veteran status

Always review your state laws in addition to this list. Some states offer additional protections that your business must be aware of and adhere to. Your right to refuse service applies to certain criteria.

Consequences of Over-Serving Customers

Bartenders who serve intoxicated customers may be at risk for legal and civil charges as a result. Many states have legislation in place that allows prosecution and civil suits of commercial establishments that serve alcohol to visibly intoxicated individuals or minors.

Restaurants and bars are also at risk of litigation. Dram Shop liability laws govern commercial establishments that sell and serve alcoholic beverages to people who are intoxicated, or to minors, who go on to cause harm or death to themselves or others. Most states have some sort of dram shop law in effect.

Importance of Regular Training for Employees

Safeguard your business, employees and customers by implementing regular and recurring service training, including how to deal with intoxicated patrons. Society Insurance has a partnership in place that provides discounts for Society policyholders to use any service offered by ServSafe – this includes alcohol service training.

View our risk management library for more safety resources for your business. Our bar and restaurant insurance programs are tailored to the unique needs of your business and your local Society agent will help you to determine the insurance coverage necessary to protect your livelihood.


As a mutual insurance company, we operate and exist for the benefit of our policyholders. For more than 100 years, Society has been helping businesses overcome the unexpected with comprehensive coverage packages and outstanding claims handling, underwriting and risk management.

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