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…

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2 thoughts on “Spotting Intoxicated Patrons

  1. Hi
    I’ve just discovered your blog and find it very fascinating and informative. I do not work in security but I am young, I live in the City (London) and often visit nightclubs. I saw your women’s defence class affiliation which is fantastic! In relation to this article, do you have any information on differentiating an over-intoxicated woman to a woman whose drink has been spiked? Also wondered in the States whether you have different rules when ejecting women from clubs? Ie Do they have to be with a friend/family member – If the woman is drunk, will you find their friends? Over in the UK i’m unsure of policies and often find certain experiences regarding women leaving clubs disconcerting at best.
    Best Wishes, L

    1. 1) It is hard to differentiate between over-intoxication and possible drug intoxication. This is especially true if the drug in question is Rohypnol or GHB. Trying to ascertain how many drinks an intoxicated individual has consumed can at least give you an idea of their “expected” level of intoxication. IF someone is stumbling around and they’ve only had 1 drink, there is a good chance that it was spiked.

      2) We have the same rules for ejections regardless of the sex of the Patron, including making sure that they are safe once they are ejected. This can include anything from calling a cab to calling Law Enforcement/Medics if necessary.

      Hope this helps!

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