Bartender Tips: Five types of Problem Guests

“The first step in knowing you have a problem is to admit you have a problem.” Or so the saying goes. Pretty accurate quote to use, given it typically applies to substance abuse. At this juncture, you either work in or are attempting to work in an industry where you will regularly deal with people who are intoxicated. There are two exceptions: working somewhere classy, where people come for the experience or family dining. The second is probably as dreaded as dealing with the drunk and disorderly. In my opinion.

These are by far some of the worst offences I have dealt with in my time in no particular order. The late-night or intoxicated guest, drunk drivers, underage drinkers, dine and dashers, or the worst, crazy drunk chicks. Drunk chicks can by far become the most aggressive and elevated situations you will ever deal with when they decide to go totally off the wall. Drunk dudes fighting hold nothing to a drunk woman in a fit of rage.

Master Hint: Trust your gut. Guests who will pose a problem typically begin demonstrating signs early on, if not right off the bat.

Problem Guest #1: The late-night or intoxicated guest. They will come in very close to last call. These guests are usually already inebriated. Either it was a couple of drinks at another establishment, and they were cut off, or they are heading home, and you’re on the way. The first step with any guest where you suspect they have been drinking already, be invested in conversation before serving them. It’s a fabulous trick. It comes across as good service and gives you time to analyse telltale drunk signs such as slurred speech, overly relaxed demeanour, excessive loudness, lack of coordination etc. Not rocket science, but if they are drunk, do not serve them. As soon as you serve someone one beverage, you become the liable party should a legal incident ever occur.

Problem Guest #2: The one who doesn’t pay. Like problem guest #1, you usually will have a pretty good feeling for this type of guest. There is something that will just feel off. If you are lucky, you work in an establishment where this rarely happens or has a dine and dash fund. A dine and dash fund is a small amount every server pays when they work (ex: $1/shift), so when people leave and don’t pay, you’re not left paying out of pocket. It happens, more than not, depending on how attentive you are. That being said, even the best servers get busy and can’t always keep track. The dine and dash guest will wait for when you’re not around or when you’re super busy to make their exit. There are only two ways to avoid this, in my opinion. One, be attentive and in your section, let’s face it, that’s where the money is anyway. Or, when you have a bad feeling, or it’s too busy, you have two options, you can ask them to settle their bill, or you can “cash and carry”.Cash and carry means pay as you go, and it’s way better than having to chase them down the street. Which, by the way, is also not safe for you.

Problem Guest #3: Underage Drinkers. They can ruin your night, cost you your job, your server license, your establishment’s liquor license and your boss a whole bunch of money. Serving underage drinkers definitely creates a world of headaches. Easy answer, if you’re unsure, card them. If they don’t have an I.D., they do not get drinks. I have even turned down people having dinner with their parents because they have no id. Here’s the gist, your job is to provide responsible alcohol service, the guest’s job is to bring two pieces of identification. On that note, if you card someone and you suspect it is fake, ask for a second piece. If you’re still not comfortable, refuse service. People will be upset, but service is, to many guests dismay, always at your discretion. Standing your ground is not easy, but it will be worth it in the long run.

Problem Guest #4: The Drunk Driver. Sometimes this is one of the hardest problems to spot and handle. The majority of people who are going to drink and drive will not turn over their keys easily. They will sometimes become aggressive, or the really determined ones park their car out of sight. Do you think they are walking? Believe it or not, some guests will leave and then come back for their car later. I once saw two buddies get on the local bus and then, twenty minutes later, caught them jumping in their car out front. Talk about bartender rage! Drunk drivers are tricky, but you will find your own approach; mine has always been zero tolerance. You agree, or I call the police. Obviously, I do not start the conversation that aggressive, but I recommend asking a guest who is obviously over drinking how they are getting home. Then gentle persuasion, but if push comes to shove, I am all about police—safety for you and safety for your guest. Not every drunk driver will contest you, but most will. Stand your ground and know even if it feels difficult to do, you could be saving a life.

Last but not least, crazy drunk women. For me, this is the most difficult type of guest to deal with. Drunk women have attempted to spit on me, fight me, assault me and one time, I banned a woman because she was inebriated and consistently trying to entice men in the restaurant to “be with her”. I’m not kidding. I’ve worked some interesting, yet by no means slummy places. Now, why are drunk chicks so crazy? My belief is they think they’re invincible, men won’t deal with them physically for obvious reasons, and when dealing with other women, there is a belief that they can “take them”. Women are also very emotional and territorial, and all emotions are amplified with alcohol.

Don’t get me wrong; problem guests are difficult, they tax your patients, push your boundaries, stress you out, but they also keep it interesting and, unfortunately, come with the job. Your best bet, be on top of a situation before it becomes a situation. Card guests you suspect are underage, and if you think someone is going to dine and dash, have them pay or keep a credit card for the tab. Remember, you are free to deny service for any reason, ask a guest to leave, or call the police if all else fails. The best approach is to be proactive and try and contain situations before they start. Also, you’re never alone. Co-workers, awesome regulars and hopefully, your managers will be there to lend a hand. Even in times when I was the only person working, there was always some form of backup. Problem guests are only a problem for a short period of time. When stressful events happen, remember the money and the fun. Or, the worst-case scenario entices your best work friends to take a trip with you, where you can relax, unwind and sit on the other side of the wood for one night.


Jennie has worked in the bar and restaurant industry for 9 years. She has been a host, expeditor, bartender, server and manager. She still works in the industry today part-time as a server at Milestones. Find her on Twitter @jenniedleaver