Spotting Intoxicated Patrons

I was working in an establishment recently that was having some issues with their Staffers ejecting Patrons on too regular a basis. What does that mean, exactly? Well, in this particular instance, the Staffers were told to watch out for over-intoxicated individuals and escort them out of the building. The problem was that the Staffers did not have the experience necessary to accurately gauge many of the Patrons’ sobriety levels. Hence, many Patrons were being asked to leave when they were not overly intoxicated. This, in turn, caused problems at the Front Door as the freshly ejected Patrons were angry at being ejected, wanted their money back (having paid cover), or wanted to speak to a Manager to discuss their “early departure”.

How does one gauge intoxication levels? Is it possible to do with any accuracy? And how does a Staffer make the decision as to when a Patron should leave? Difficult questions to answer in an environment where the primary goal is to get people intoxicated!

First off, Staff and Management need to come to an understanding about what is considered an “acceptable” level of intoxication. In most establishments, the general rule is: “If you can’t stand, you need to leave.” Now, this can cause an number of issues since by the time most people have drank enough to not be able to stand, they are WAY past being overly-intoxicated. But having a baseline for acceptable conduct (both in terms of intoxication and general behavior) is a good place to start. I would suggest a discussion with your Manager or Head of Security to sort out your baseline.

Next let’s look at some signs of intoxication:

1. Loud speech.
2. Bravado, boasting.
3. Overly animated or entertaining.
4. Boisterous.
5. Overly friendly to other guests and employees.
6. Drinking alone.
7. Drinking too fast.
8. Ordering doubles.
9. Careless with money.
10. Urging other people to have another drink.
11. Annoying other guests and servers.
12. Complaining about drink prices.
13. Complaining about drink strength or preparation.
14. Argumentative.
15. Aggressive or belligerent.
16. Obnoxious or mean.
17. Making inappropriate comments about others.
18. Crude behavior.
19. Inappropriate sexual advances.
20. Foul language.
21. Making irrational statements.
22. Depressed or sullen.
23. Crying or moody.
24. Radical changes in behavior.
25. Speaking loudly, then quietly.
26. Drowsy.
27. Bloodshot, glassy eyes.
28. Slurred speech.
29. Difficulty remembering.
30. Slow response to questions.
31. Spilling drinks.
32. Rambling conversation, loss of train of thought.
33. Trouble making change.
34. Difficulty handling money, picking up change.
35. Lack of focus and eye contact.
36. Difficulty lighting a cigarette.
37. Lighting more than one cigarette at a time.
38. Letting a cigarette burn without smoking.
39. Clumsy, uncoordinated.
40. Difficulty standing up.
41. Unusual gait.
42. Stumbling.
43. Bumping into things.
44. Swaying, staggering.
45. Unable to sit straight in chair or on bar stool.
46. Can’t find mouth with glass.
47. Falling down.
48. Mussed hair.
49. Disheveled clothing.
50. Falling asleep.

I’ve included this loooooong list to point out how difficult it can be to spot intoxication. Because while it does include some behaviors that undeniably point to over-imbibing, there are a bunch of items on the list that can be caused by a lot of things BESIDES drinking too much. Being overly loud? Kind of hard to whisper in a dance club. Disheveled hair? Maybe that’s the current style. Complaining about drink prices? Maybe the Patron is a cheapskate.

I prefer to boil down the list to three basics: WALK, REFLEXES/COORDINATION, TALK

WALK

An easy test at the Front Door is to have them take a few steps and turn around. If they are reaching out for balance or unsteady on their feet, you have at least an inkling of whether you should procede with a mini-intoxication test. If you are watching an individual walk through a club, see if they are unsteady, running into things/people, or stumbling. That being said, some women are not used to walking in high heels. You should be watching to see if they are just unable to walk correctly (sometimes displayed by stomping or shuffling of the feet) or if they are actually swaying/stumbling.

REFLEXES/COORDINATION

Lack of reflexes and coordination are the easiest things to spot when it comes to over-intoxication. Excessive swaying, whether standing or seated, is a dead giveaway as is holding onto objects or other people for balance. At the Front Door, an easy test is to ask individuals for their ID. Are they having a hard time finding it or getting it out of their wallet/purse? Do they drop it? And if they do, can they pick it up? Once you have their ID in hand, hold it for a few seconds. Is the Patron swaying? If you are unsure of the Patron’s sobriety level, you can purposefully drop their ID, see if they reach to pick it up, and whether or not they can.

Indoors, watch for people leaning on objects and constantly shifting to maintain their balance. Keep an eye on couples. Is one partner supporting the other or actively holding them up? Are people moving exceptionally slow or knocking things over? Are Patrons holding theirs heads in their hands or nodding off? When you talk to them, are their eyes focused on you or wandering?

TALK

If you do approach an individual to talk to them, start with simple questions. Many people equate having a conversation with an intoxicated individual to speaking with a 5-year old. You should keep sentences short and direct. It is counterproductive to argue with or bully an intoxicated individual. Period.

An easy first question to ask is, “How are you doing tonight?” The general responses are in the affirmative “Great!”, confused “What?”, or argumentative/dismissive. If the answer is in the affirmative, have a basic conversation while watching for swaying, focus, etc. You can then make a judgement call on how to proceed. If the answer is slow, deliberate, confused or argumentative, it is a sign that the person may be intoxicated. Again, watch for swaying, focus, coordination but also keep an eye on their general demeanor.

If a Patron becomes defensive, your goal is to put them at ease. It is VERY important to NOT tell an individual that they are drunk. They WILL argue with you. You can say that you “…noticed them swaying and wanted to check that they were ok.”, or they where “…getting a little loud and we’ve had some complaints.”, or you noticed them falling asleep. You need an “in” to figure out up close and personal if this individual is sober, intoxicated, or over-intoxicated.

Take time to watch people throughout the night. How do they behave as the evening progresses and the drinks start flowing? One great way to train new Staffers is to “assign” them an individual or a couple to watch for the night. Ask the Staffer to let you know when he/she thinks the Patron(s) are intoxicated and why. Spotting and dealing with different levels of intoxication takes a lot of practice. The better your Staff is at seeing a situation before it becomes a problem, the safer your establishment becomes. And that is the ultimate goal.

Until next time…

What’s in a name?

Last week I had the pleasure of attending ICON Services Corporation’s security course: Celebrity & VIP Protection. Why? First off, here at Coast Executive Services we do more than just Nightclub Security Consulting. And second, anyone working in field of Security (or any other industry) should constantly strive to expand their knowledge base across all subjects.

On the first day of training, the course instructor (Elijah Shaw) asked a great question:

“How do you define yourself?”

In this particular case, he was talking about Executive Protection Specialists. And that got me thinking about how many in the field of Nightclub Security view and define themselves. For the most of the general public, anyone working in a security role in an entertainment venue is a “Bouncer”. And most individuals working in the field would consider themselves “Bouncers”.

Why?

Is “bouncer” the term people are most accustomed to? Is it the term they are most comfortable using? Or is it just what “bouncers” want to be called? I think that all off these are correct to a certain degree. I also believe that by using the term “bouncer”, we have a tendency to lock ourselves into the stereotype. You know: big, muscle-bound guys who like to be rude and get into fights. If you’ve taken any time to read this blog, you know that I go to great pains to refer to “bouncers” as Security Staffers.

I do this because it is important for us as Security Staffers to get out of the “bouncer” mentality. If you are a somewhat mature, semi-intelligent individual you realize that not only is getting into fights stupid from a self-preservation perspective, but it is also incredibly foolish in terms of litigation (getting sued). Second, I think it is equally important to try and change the way society as a whole views the profession of nightclub security. If people think of you as a bouncer, they will expect you to act as one. It is your job to show them the aspects of the job that they may not always see: customer service, cleaning, assisting with the over-intoxicated, etc.

We define ourselves to others by our titles. And others define us by the names they make up. So when people ask you what you do, what do you want your answer to be? Do you “provide night club security”? Are you a “guest relations specialist”? Do you work in “conflict management”?

Or are you just a bouncer?

Think about it.

Until next time…