Going out to the bar and indulging in a couple of drinks can be a joyful experience.
But for people who struggle with alcohol abuse, stopping at one or two drinks isn’t so easy. We chatted with Chilled 100 members Chad Berkey and Christian Rodriguez about what happens when alcoholism becomes an issue behind the bar, how you can help a friend in need, and how to responsibly serve your guests so everyone has a good and safe time.
We’ve all heard the catch phrase “Drink Responsibly.” How can bartenders keep alcohol consumption under control when it comes to themselves and their guests?
Chad Berkey: The main thing you have to remember for any bartender or server is that you have a legal obligation to not over serve a guest. If they leave your establishment and get into an accident and injure themselves or others, you can be personally held accountable. A lot of people who struggle with alcohol can’t control when to stop, so it’s incredibly important for the bartender to be sober, focused and alert of how much alcohol their patrons are consuming. I had an experience once where I had to cut off a rather large man who seemed fine—he spoke clearly and really showed no signs of intoxication. The problem was he had consumed seven Jack and Cokes in about 45 minutes. It’s not always easy and you’re sure to lose your tip, but it’s much better than facing a lawsuit and losing your job.
Christian Rodriguez: Drinking behind the bar is a problem to some people. It’s hard to keep that balance between having a few shots during the shift to getting drunk and costing your job, the safety of your guest or your health. It’s a mental thing, and it takes time to learn to control your alcohol while you’re at work or you’re at a bar as a guest. Learn to pace yourself as you drink so you can enjoy your night with the guests, or just don’t drink at all. And learn to read your guests so they are having a good time but not being over served.
Talk to us about alcohol abuse in the industry.
CB: Unfortunately, this is a very real problem that’s not easy to talk about. I’ve had many friends drink their way out of great careers. In 2018, I had two very close friends take their lives after their battle when alcoholism and depression became too much for them to handle. Both were very well respected mixologists and we’re surrounded by a large network of loving friends including me, a close friend who was able to get help and restart my life in sobriety. People don’t understand that it’s a lot of pressure to jump behind the bar and perform at top level. You have be able to knock out complicated cocktails with speed and consistency, all while entertaining people for tips. You juggle a lot of different conversations, often times having someone’s bad day unloaded on to you, and you have to do it all with a smile day after day. That’s where alcohol comes in! It’s no doubt that a shot or two will loosen you up, calm your nerves, and get you feeling a little bit better. Problem is, after you do that for a while, the comfortable feeling takes more and more shots to achieve. Soon if you’re not careful, you find you can’t seem to work without alcohol. That’s when the real trouble starts.
CR: Alcohol abuse is something a lot of people don’t want to speak about. Alcohol abuse can lead to depression, death, sexual abuse and other things. We need to ask for help when we need it. Learn to drink responsibly. Drink to have fun, not to forget, and don’t think that if you drink, your problems will go away. I went through depression for the longest [time], and I had alcohol and drugs to go to when I was down. I asked for help, and a lot of people reached out and helped me, which I really appreciate. But at the end of the day, you need to do this alone and only you will accomplish it. People will always be there for you, but you’re fighting this addiction alone, and only that will make you better and help you overcome alcohol abuse.
What are some tips to follow when trying to imbibe responsibly?
CB: Talk to someone if you feel you were starting to slip! I can’t stress this enough! I was ashamed of my drinking so I hid it, but you can only do that for so long. I was always shaking and pretending to be sick to hide my problem. It wasn’t until I came clean with myself and my friends and family that I was able to stop. I told everyone close to me that I had a problem, and it was like a massive weight was lifted from my shoulders. People in the service industry rallied around me for support like I could never have imagined. Our industry is truly like a family. So I say again, please, please talk to someone if you feel you are slipping!
CR: Never drink and drive, Uber! Make sure you’re always watching your drink at all times so no one takes advantage of you. Take care of your friends as they take care of you. Know when your limit is to stop drinking. Have a good meal before going out to drink. Always drink a lot of water.
How do you know when a fellow bartender or guest may need some serious help with alcohol abuse?
CB: Some of the telltale signs are when they lose interest in things they used to love to do. When they are tired all the time and don’t seem to have a lust for life. Shaky hands and wanting to drink in the morning and always drinking doubles are other signs to look out for. Now don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of friends and guests that hit it hard on the weekends and never touch the stuff through the week, and they are fine. It’s when it calls to you every day that you need to be careful.
CR: You need to learn how to always read people and feel their moods. When a guest comes in your bar, you are reading how that person is acting and ordering drinks. You are not here to judge them as a person or make them feel bad, but to see if they had too many drinks, if they can’t talk or walk, if they are making other guests feel uncomfortable. You always want your guest to have a great time no matter what. As a bartender, if you always see your fellow co-worker drinking too much behind the bar or before or after work and they are never happy when they are drinking, then reach out to them and try to see how they are doing mentally and physically before reaching out to get them some help. Learn to listen and be there for them. We are here in this world to make someone’s day better, always remember that.
What can be done to help someone who has lost control?
CB: The number one thing that helped me was talking to people who have been through what I was going through. It’s hard to understand an alcoholic if you haven’t been there yourself. Communication is the absolute key.
CR: Alcohol abuse can lead to health problems and even [other] drug addictions and depression. You have to find out how they are dealing with it and what they are doing wrong. Next step is finding help for them, and always being there for them and trying to make their day better. Talk to them every day—you are never too busy to reach out to someone who is dealing with alcohol abuse, drug addiction or depression. It’s a hard thing to deal with, and everyone needs help and great vibes to overcome that.
Any tips for dealing with unruly guests who need to be cut off?
CB: We’ve all been there! I always try to kill them with kindness if I can. I politely explain that they are visibly intoxicated and that I legally cannot serve them any more alcohol. If it escalates from there, I explain that I understand the frustration but again I am legally responsible for their safety. If it escalates even more, I point to the video cameras and explain everything happening is being recorded and that this is not a personal attack, but I am politely asking them to leave. You always want to avoid getting police involved, but at this point your safety and your guests’ safety is the most important thing.
CR: It’s hard to cut someone off and be the bad guy because some guests get carried away and they just want to have fun. Most of us have been there, I get it. Never get impatient with them because it will make things worse. You are running a business, and even if the guest is unruly you have to watch out on how you go about it. Cut them off respectfully, and give them a glass of water while you’re doing it. Try to have a conversation with them so they can forget about being cut off, and they will eventually understand and leave. Try talking to them about how they are safely getting home and if they are driving or not, no matter if they are still being rude. We need to make sure everyone is safe at the bar and after they leave the bar.