Dealing with Aggressive Drunks (and, to some extent, everyone else) Part 1of a Series

One of the less-than-wholly-awesome upshots of alcohol’s disinhibiting effect is that it makes people who are angry on the inside angry on the outside, too, and one of the lesser joys of the mixological craft is that you’re going to have to deal with those people face-to-face.  I’ll give you an example.  This happened to me last night.

A fellow came in and sat at the bar near the end of the dinner rush.  The other bartender (a woman) got him water and a menu.  She ID’d him, as I’ve taught her to (see here for why).  I was in the main well filling server orders when she came up to me.  She told me he vibed a little weird to her, and showed me what he’d given us for ID, which, while it had his picture and date of birth on it, was not one of the six forms of ID that Washington state liquor law says we can accept (it was, in fact, issued by the Department of Corrections, for what that’s worth).  I told her to follow her intuition and refuse him service, on the grounds we can’t accept his ID, and she did, quite graciously, I later gathered.  From what she said, he was gracious in turn, and declined a seat in the dining room, where we would serve him food but not alcohol.

On his way out he stopped by my well, fixed me with a rage-filled let’s-fight glare, and exchanged the following words with me (as close to verbatim as I can remember, and not edited for content):

Him: You really think I’m not 21?!?

Me: Hey man.  Washington State Liquor Law says we can only accept six forms of ID.  They’re-”

Him: Fuck you!  You wanna be a hater, go back to New York.  FUCK YOU!

Me (turning away): Have a good night, man. (Angry guy leaves.)

So, let’s break it down.  Upon being refused service, this guy was immediately mad enough to fight me.  Now, most of the people I refuse service to, even people I physically eject from the premises, do not want to fight me.  As a bartender, it’s important to know the difference.  Now, imagine this guy with a couple of drinks in him (or, possibly, a couple more; for what it’s worth, I think he was sober).  He starts acting out, and has to be dealt with.  Now the physical confrontation is that much more likely, because the restraints on his behavior have been loosened by alcohol (in vino veritas, as it were).  If nothing else, he’s going to yell louder and longer and make more of a scene, which means everyone else in the house’s mellow gets harshed.

(Protecting and enabling your guests’ good time is what you’re there to do.  It’s the cause you agree to serve when you clock in and tuck that towel into your back pocket.  It’s why people pay money to come hang out and dig your shit.)

So this guy we spotted right away, and because sketchballs generally don’t have their shit together, we had a lovely, airtight, totally impersonal reason to refuse him service.  It’s the impersonal part that’s most helpful, because you shift the cause of refusal away from yourself and onto a non-present (yet oddly ubiquitous) authority.  The law is the law, the consequences for bartenders breaking them and the houses they work for are dire, and that’s fucking that.  It’s harder for the refusee to make it about you and him, one person to another, which would give him a much handier target to fix his anger on.  Not that they won’t try, but it tilts the odds in your direction, gives you an articulable reason to refuse them other than ‘You sketch me out and I don’t want you in my bar.’  No one wants to hear that, especially when it’s the truth.  And you only want to break out that kind of truth when your judgement tells you you want to alienate this person enough that they will never come back.  Which you have to do sometimes, regrettably.

So, angry as it makes him, we’ve got a reason to refuse that Mr. Sketchy Guy has to accept, and so he’s going to leave.  But as so often happens in bars, he needs to do a little therapy on the way out, hence the rage-filled eyes and the cursing at me.  That’s fine.  I have a thick skin, and a strong center, and I don’t begrudge him his say, misguided though it might be.  The important thing is we saw him coming, we shut him down, and he didn’t do much harm on his way out the door to see if he could find what he wanted somewhere else.  It’s always best to nip people like that in the bud, instead of waiting for them to become a worse problem.  There’s a certain ruthlessness to it, to be sure, but my experience is people almost never get less sketchy when they get a few drinks in them.

Here’s the thing: if you can’t handle some asshole spitting bile at you because you’re refusing to enable their assholishness, then you’ve got no business being behind a bar in the first place.  One of the secrets of bartending is knowing in your heart of hearts that you are the biggest badass in the room.  Even if it isn’t true, and there will be plenty of situations where it won’t be, you have to believe that it is, because it will give you the courage and clear-headedness to deal with the problem people who show up in bars and manage them out the door so that everybody can get back to having a good time, including you.

[Look out for the next installment, currently under construction, in which I dig down into the details and the mechanics involved.  Coming soon to a blogpost near you.]

One thought on “Dealing with Aggressive Drunks (and, to some extent, everyone else) Part 1of a Series

  1. Yeah, that’s exactly it! And I have no doubt that you are the biggest badass in the room and somehow also the nicest badass in the room. Not that this guy will ever know it…

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