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From Behind the Bar: When It's Time to Go Home

About the Author: You may have seen Michael Neff behind the bar at New York's Ward III and The Rum House. He stops by on Wednesdays to share insights on cocktails and the life of a barman.

20111130michaelneffkickingout.jpg

[Photograph: Alice Gao]

What I'm Drinking:
Templeton Rye Old Fashioned
Water (no ice)

The other night, we had a customer in the bar making out with a fire extinguisher.

Our fire-extinguisher usually doesn't see much action, and it wasn't complaining, so we left the man to his courtship until things started to get out of hand. When he began fondling the more intimate regions of that life-saving device, a member of the staff had to delicately remind him that he was in public, and displays of that nature make other patrons uncomfortable. Then he was asked to leave. To his credit, he left off his romance and, after placing a business card on the extinguisher, paid his tab. One of us walked him to a cab and he left the bar quietly, probably remembering nothing of what he had done nor why he had been escorted out.

Ejecting people who are over their limit is one of the hardest parts of a bartender's job. Ideally, it happens without losing a customer, alienating an entire room, or getting anyone punched in the face. There is a big step between asking someone to go and getting them to actually do it.

The process is delicate, and requires diplomacy, tact, and compassion...until it doesn't. Sometimes all of the velvet gloves in the world are not enough to deal with a patron who has had too much to drink, and refuses to leave. Handled correctly, everyone walks away unscathed, but drunk people are unpredictable and can be belligerent and violent.

I am not proud to say that I have both hit and been hit while working in a bar. I've held back an angry mob of patrons from attacking someone who was foolish enough to take a swing at me, and have had to jump over the bar to intercede in some altercation or another countless times. Violence is never appropriate, but your bartenders have to deal with situations that range from the uncomfortable to the outright dangerous, and the safety of all of our staff, our customers, and ourselves is something we constantly have to keep in mind. Alcohol can compromise even the sweetest of dispositions, and if you are being asked to leave, it's probably because you've done something to deserve it.

While I have a high tolerance for drunken shenanigans, I have to keep the welfare of all of my patrons in mind. Some people simply cannot handle their booze. I have known many people who are sweet as pie when sober, then turn a corner after one too many drinks and begin to cause problems. If it happens once, we might let it slide. Twice, and we'll have a conversation about it the next time you come in. More than that, you have demonstrated that your behavior is detrimental to everyone else's good time, and you will most likely be asked to choose somewhere else to drink.

I, too, have been known to have a drink too many, only to get indignant when some poor bartender has to tell me that it's best if I go home. While I might not appreciate it at the time, I am usually grateful the next day.

This is my usual approach when dealing with people who have reached their limit, and it has worked well for me over the years. When confronted with a patron who has had too much to drink, I will use any phrase except: "You are cut off." That particular phrase is confrontational, and is almost guaranteed to provoke the person who needs to go home. Maybe they'll get a water, and nothing else. Maybe I will "forget" that they asked for something, and occupy myself elsewhere. There are many ways to send the message, and a lot of the time these problems work themselves out.

If we have to have the conversation, I will usually tell the person that, for tonight, it's time for them to go, and they will thank me in the morning.

Then I hope for the best.

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