Don’t (Let Them) Drink and Drive

1467450_10102866756713397_1893859367_nOn Thursday, December 7th, 2013, a young bartender by the name of Mallory Rae Dies was crossing the street. She was struck by a driver who fled the scene. He was apprehended a few blocks away after crashing his car into a tree. Mallory was taken to the hospital.

On Wednesday, December 11th, 2013, Mallory Rae Dies succumbed to the injuries that she sustained in the accident. She was 27 years old.

When the driver of the vehicle was apprehended, his blood alcohol level was .17 – twice the legal limit for the state of California. This was his third DUI offense.

REALITY

The reality is that bars and nightclubs thrive on people having a good time. The reality is that some of these people will get drunk. The reality is that some of these people will have too much to drink. The reality is that a percentage of these people – both slightly buzzed and heavily intoxicated – will get into vehicles and drive. The tragic reality is that a percentage of these drivers will injure, maim, or kill someone else.

Does this mean that bar, restaurants, lounges, and nightclubs should stop serving alcohol?

No.

But the reality is that keeping your Patrons safe and trying to keep them from driving drunk or getting into trouble is something that should be emphasized as much as possible.

LEGAL LIABILITY & SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

Most businesses want to reduced their liability as much as possible. In the litigious world we live in, you can be sued for almost anything. Slips, falls, fights, injuries – you name it, your establishment can be sued for it. As such, businesses like mine are called to help reduce the liabilities and keep businesses like yours in business. When it comes to over-intoxication and drunk driving, many states are now enacting laws that state, “Social hosts and business establishments may be held statutorily liable for the actions of a drunk driver according to the law in the jurisdiction where the accident took place.”

What does this mean? In short, your establishment can be sued for the damage that an intoxicated individual causes. I can already see business owners sweating and fretting over “yet another thing I have to worry about”. Well, at the risk of sounding a bit callous, maybe this is something you should really be thinking about and not just for the simple reason that you “might get sued”.

Regardless of your legal liability, I think it is important that we look at how we handle the issues of over-intoxication and drunk driving as SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITIES. I want your Patrons to have fun. You want your Patrons to drink. Everyone wants to have a good time. But we owe it to each other as human beings to look out for one another. And we must realize that sometimes that means extending yourself beyond the reach of the Front Door of your establishment.

HOW CAN MY STAFF AND I BE MORE RESPONSIBLE?

First and foremost, every individual on your Staff should undergo some type of Alcohol Awareness Training. In some states and countries this is mandatory and in my opinion it should be that way everywhere. Your Staff might grumble and gripe, but invariably seminar attendees walk out with useful information and many times learn things that they did not know before.

Teach your Staffers to be aware of levels of intoxication and know how to spot Intoxicated Individuals. Make sure that they know how to deal with over-intoxication and mitigate its effects. Tell your Staff to communicate any issues with possible over-intoxication. That means that EVERY member of your team – from Management to Busboys – be on the lookout for issues and be willing to speak up if they spot a problem. Servers and bartenders should know that they ALWAYS have the power to stop serving alcohol if they believe an individual has had too much to drink.

Anyone working the Front Door should be assessing both arriving and departing Patrons for their intoxication levels. Refuse entry to those too drunk to enter and ALWAYS offer assistance to those leaving intoxicated. Call taxis (and pay for them!), offer to call the Patrons’ friends, flag down a Police Officer – just make sure that you are not letting someone stumble off into the night with no idea of what will happen to them. These aren’t just Patrons, they are someone’s sister, brother, cousin, aunt, uncle, mother, or father. I would hope that someone would look out for my loved ones if they were in trouble. And I would be eternally grateful if I found out that an employee from your bar was the one who helped to keep them safe.

PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH

Finally, if you are going to enforce rules at your bar, make sure you enforce them at your parties, at your friend’s parties, and when you are out on the town. Offer your fellow human beings assistance and let’s make sure that we all get home to enjoy the holidays with our loved ones. The few moments that you spend getting someone (maybe yourself!) into a cab or calling their roommate to come pick them up could literally save a life. Sometimes a little inconvenience on your part can save a lifetime of tragedy.

Stay safe. Keep each other safe. We’ll all be better off for it.

Until next time…

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…