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Stop bar patrons from drinking and driving

Updated: May 27, 2023

Here’s an alarming statistic: in America according to the CDC, 29 people lose their lives daily to motor vehicle accidents caused by alcohol-impaired driving. The annual cost is a staggering $44 billion, but the human cost is immeasurable. In Great Britain, estimates for 2019 show that between 210 and 250 people were killed in accidents where at least one driver was over the drink-drive limit. Including the seriously injured, this figure (KSI adjusted) rises to 2,050. According to European Commission estimates, approximately 6,500 fatalities are caused by drink-drivers, making up 25% of all road deaths across the EU.

In addition, getting a DUI (USA) can impact a person’s life significantly. Additional information on the impact of receiving a DUI can be found here (UK) and here (EU). Offenders can get their license suspended, spend time in jail, and pay thousands in legal costs and fines.

It is also likely that they will be required to undergo online DUI alcohol screening in the USA and the UK. If you are a bartender or bar owner, there are ways you ensure your patrons enjoy themselves and don’t drive intoxicated.


If you want patrons not to drive while intoxicated, it is recommended that you use a diplomatic approach. Start by using a calm tone when talking to them. Make sure you also talk to them privately so you don’t embarrass them in front of the other patrons. When asking for their keys, make sure not to make a scene. Offer them a soft drink or support to get a taxi home.

At all costs, avoid altercations, making a scene, embarrassing someone or getting physical. No one would want to appear weak when there are other people around. That said, allow them to save face. They might thank you later once they have come to their senses. If diplomacy doesn’t work, consider using the bad cop strategy.

The bad cop strategy involves finding out if there is a way you can take away the driver’s keys while they are occupied. You can give the keys to their friends or companions who are not intoxicated so they will be forced to get a ride or join their friends on the way home. If the drunk patron does not listen to you, call the police.

If the drunk person is already on the road, they can be charged with a DWI and will be arrested and booked. A first offence will not require jail time in states like North Carolina. However, a second offence can merit seven days of jail time. They will be given 30 days if it’s the third time. A first offence in the UK will usually result in a 12 month driving ban, however, this is dependent on the impact, and whether or not there were any injuries or casualties. In the most serious cases, this can include up to 14 years of imprisonment, an unlimited fine, and a ban on driving for a minimum of 2 years. The punishment for drink-driving in the EU varies depending on the country, however, the first offence would carry a fine (usually €1000+) and a driving ban. In more serious cases, prison time is issued to the responsible party.


As a bartender or bar owner, ensuring good times stay safe should be one of your primary goals. It is important to remember that the stakes are high: irresponsible servicing might cause you to lose your liquor or alcohol license. In worst-case scenarios, you might be held responsible.

When serving alcohol, it is crucial that the patrons enjoy themselves but don’t become too intoxicated to drive. Understandably, refusing service can be awkward, uncomfortable, and even dangerous. Therefore, do consider offering a designated driver scheme, where the designated driver can have a free soft drink or a scheme where people can leave their keys with you for collection the next day. Train your staff on responsible alcohol sales, vulnerability management or dealing with intoxicated patrons. Keep the following in mind to ensure you or your staff are serving responsibly and safely:


If someone is already in an altered or intoxicated state, it is okay to deny them alcoholic drinks. Don’t jump too quickly to deny anyone, though. Be mindful of laws in your state that may make refusing service discriminatory. If unsure, it is recommended that you talk to the customer first.


Observing when a patron has had too much is part of attentive service. Look for obvious clues like stumbling, slouching, or slurring of speech. Most drunk patrons also order another drink even if they have barely touched the one they currently have. Others also keep repeating themselves when they are too drunk.


If you notice that a patron is too intoxicated, you can subtly modify your behaviour to discourage them from ordering another drink. You can put some distance between you and the patron by polishing glasses, restocking shelves, turning away from the patron, or taking a few steps back from the bar. You can also serve them some water.


As a general rule of thumb, don’t bargain with a drunk patron. When you cut them off, stand your ground. However, always be respectful and make sure you don’t embarrass them. If the drunk patron is with a group, check if there is a designated driver. You can also help the patron by calling a taxi or an Uber.


To ensure your staff is confident and empowered to refuse service, include a role-play in the initial house training where they are taught how to cut off a customer the right way. Training can also help reiterate your values and teach the staff effective ways of dealing with disorderly or drunk customers.


Lastly, always make sure all the staff knows when they can call a manager to step in and take care of the situation. They can do this if they feel threatened or if things are starting to escalate. No staff should feel like they are in a threatening situation. At all times, they should feel like they are fully backed up by management.


About the Author

Lauren Kunis is the Content Marketing Strategist for Stonewall Institute, an outpatient alcohol and drug treatment centre in Phoenix, Arizona that offers online DUI classes, DUI screenings, and a holistic, individualised approach to addiction recovery. She loves reading books, travelling, and going on hiking adventures with her dog, Max.



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