Dealing with a difficult or intoxicated customer can be a tricky situation that often leaves waiters, barmen and serving staff in a predicament. It may seem that there is no right way to handle this situation, but if done with tact and within the law, both the customer and the staff member can walk away without being embarrassed and prevent the situation from getting out of control.
Adrian Botha, spokesperson for the Industry Association for Responsible Alcohol Use provides the following useful guidelines for managers and waiters of licenced establishments when dealing with customers to prevent a situation from getting uncomfortable, particularly if service has to be refused.
If the waiter or barman is alert, they should be able to detect the early stages of intoxication and take steps to prevent the situation from getting worse. These steps could include slowing down the service, suggesting food or even trying to warn the customer in a polite manner.
Don't be judgmental - when trying to warn the customer, be careful not to be judgmental or reprimand the customer and definitely do not say to the customer "you are drunk" or "you've had too much".
Remain polite when warning the customer using statements like "I'm sorry, but if I serve you another drink I'd be breaking the law". Alternatively, the waiter can shift the blame and say "there"s been a police crackdown and we could lose our licence".
It is important, when dealing with an intoxicated customer, for staff to watch their tone of voice, but at the same time be firm without sounding aggressive. Do not raise your voice as behaviour breeds behaviour. If you raise your voice and become aggressive, the chances are that you will induce the same reaction from the customer and this will not resolve the situation, but only make it worse.
As a diversion to the situation and without being accusatory regarding the client's behaviour, provide alternative solutions such as calling a taxi for the customer, or that they might want to cut back to save face in front of their friends or possibly suggest another drink that you, as the waiter, know is lower in alcoholic content.
Safe-guard yourself and keep management and other staff informed of any incidents or dialogue with customers regarding their behaviour. It is even recommended for the licenced establishment to keep a logbook in order to record such incidents. Should the client injure themselves or a third party after leaving the premises, these records may prove to be of great assistance.
If you are confronted with regular customers, the staff can quietly address the issue with them when they return to the establishment as they might be more receptive to hearing and understanding why any action was taken. If you are lucky, the customer may even thank you.
"Following good business practices and training staff on how to handle these delicate situations, can be very beneficial for all involved," added Botha.
The ARA is an association comprising members that include the major manufacturers of alcohol beverages in South Africa, such as SAB Ltd, members of the SA Liquor Brandowners Association which include amongst others Distell, Brandhouse, KWV, Douglas Green, Bellingham, Pernod-Ricard, E Snell & Co Ltd, members of VinPro and members of Wine Cellars SA. A number of distributors and some retail chains such as Tops and Diamond Liquors have been welcomed as associate members.
The ARA is registered as a non-profit organization (NPO) with the Department of Social Development focusses on the prevention of the negative consequences of alcohol abuse. The association's mission is to reduce alcohol-related harm through combating the misuse and abuse of alcohol beverages and promoting only their responsible use.