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Apr 6, 2011 01:44 PM

Getting Flagged at a Bar

I sat by myself at the bar in a restarant reading a book and playing scrabble on my iphone. I had three martini's in about an hour and a half. I ordered my fourth and the bartender said "haven't you had enough?" Somewhat embrassed I then asked for a Coor's light. She said "that really isn't much better." So I paid and left.

Now keep in mind, I was alone and had not moved (except for the bathroom) and did not utter a single word to anyone the enitre time I was there. So my behavior was not the issue. The bartender just thought that three was enough. They do not a drink limit policy.

BTW, my wife was picking me up which of course the bartender did not know.

Should she have minded her own business?

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  1. Yes...and gotten a nice tip too, I would guess. How does that go..."cutting off your nose to..."

    1. Absolutely she should have! I'm kind of taken aback by reading this. I can't even begin to count the number of times I've had more than 3 drinks in a bar (I live in the bar district, so I'm not driving like this) and nobody has said a word to me. You were far more polite than I would have been. I think my answer would have been "No I have not, so if you will kindly fix me another...".
      Anyone's amount of alcohol consumption at a bar is their business alone if they are not acting sloppy.

      2 Replies
      1. re: alliegator

        It's really not, though. The bartender is completely liable for overserving patrons. You could've asked for another drink, but the bartender has the right to shut anyone off, with the blessing of the establishment's owners.

        This is coming from someone who has worked in bars and restaurants for 15 years and taken many alcohol service classes. If a bartender doesn't want to serve a customer anymore, for any reason, it's basically tough shit.

        1. re: invinotheresverde

          Painful, but true.

          In France I have been quizzed . when I have asked a bottle of wine to go with my meal .

          Us English..

          The Kitchen staff looked on with amusement, until my Anglo Saxon comments speared them.

      2. For better or for worse, a bar can be held liable for your actions as a result of overservice. Maybe the bar was recently sued and is overcompensating as a result.

        34 Replies
        1. re: lavaca

          After 3 drinks in an hour and a half, though? What bars have you ever been to that even think of cutting someone off at that point?

          A bar can't afford to be so worried about being sued that they won't serve more than 3 drinks to a well-behaved individual. That is how they make their money in the first place.

          I'm wondering if the bartender mistook the OP for someone she's had problems with before, or for some other reason just didn't like him. Or maybe he looked like he was dozing off or something.

          1. re: cowboyardee

            Three martinis in the day and age of fishbowl-sized glasses could easily be 12 shots of hard booze in an hour and a half, or more. It's not like it was just three beers.

            1. re: invinotheresverde

              Fair enough, though ~6 shots for 3 martinis would be more standard.

              Anyway, I've never seen a bartender cut off a patron who is calm and not visibly (or audibly) drunk - I'm assuming the OP was not. In absence of more information, I'm giving benefit of the doubt to the OP.

              1. re: cowboyardee

                Martini glasses range in size from 4 to 12 oz. Going with the low end of 4 - hell, let's say it's only filled 3/4 of the way - you're still looking at 9 shots in 1 1/2 hours. Or something equal to 5 beers and 4 shots of... Gin? Vodka? I'm a big guy (250 lbs) and am not a lightweight drinker but, 3 martinis in 1 1/2 hours? I'm pretty buzzed and probably legally drunk. I don't think the bartender, when taking the witness stand, will get far with the defense that the "intoxicated" patron promised he would not be driving.
                I remember quite vividly, 30 years ago tending bar in NY. Served several drinks to a woman who appeared to be handling it quite well (she "did not utter a single word to anyone the enitre time "she" was there. So "her" behavior was not the issue". She left for the bathroom. Next I heard of her was from the manager asking me what I knew about the woman on the bathroom floor with no pants on who had "soiled" herself and was calling my name. After 2 martinis, drink a soda or water before having the third. After the third, stop drinking for a while altogether. The bartender was doing her job and doing it well

                1. re: bobbert

                  A shot is 1.5 ounces. By your reckoning and mine, the OP conservatively had 9 ounces. Or 6 shots.

                  I suspect some of you guys are intentionally being a little obtuse. I haven't drank in every corner of this country, but I have been around, and I have yet to find a bar scene where everyone goes home clear headed and sober, where no one is served to excess, where everyone blows below 0.8 on the breathalyzer before walking out the door. Must be a nice, clean little scene you guys where you guys drink.

                  Likewise, while I know that bartenders CAN legally be held responsible for serving someone to excess, I know quite a few bartenders and none have EVER been cited, much less prosecuted (unless the person served was also a minor). It doesn't happen as often as you'd have others believe.

                  Finally, I haven't attacked the bartender - it is her prerogative to cut someone off. I just said it was odd, given what the OP has told us. Maybe it makes more sense in your clean, sober, responsible bar scene. Even the bar scene I'm used to (where patrons sometimes drink to excess and bars make money) has a line beyond which they'll cut you off, hazy though that line may be. By the OP's description, he hadn't crossed that line.

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    If the OP had been part of a group having drinks and dinner the bartender would have had no idea who much each person is drinking and that's often true when a bar is crowded and busy. But when one person is sitting at the bar ordering stiff drinks by themselves without ever speaking to anyone, well that might be noticeable. If that bartender got puled into court--or even got pulled in by the owner of the place--to explain why she made him that 4th martini, she'd be hard pressed to plead ignorance of how much he drank. Just a thought.

                    1. re: cowboyardee

                      Just for giggles, I just poured 2 shots into a small martini glass - I'd probably send itt back so, even though a shot might be 1 1/2 oz, I'll stick with about 9 shots in an hour and a half as conservative. I have been served hundreds of times in my life where legally I shouldn"t have been served and I served thousands in night clubs that I should not have (30 years ago) but, these days we live in are different. Thousands and thousands are killed each year in DUI accidents. If they got drunk in a bar, there will be a lawsuit. Period.
                      Only time in my life that I was cut off? A hotel restaurant after several martinis (yeah, we were pretty trashed). Telling the server that we were only driving an elevator didn't help. Maybe the bartender could have been more tactful and she might not have noticed if it was a crowded party night but, in the end, she and the bar are responsible and when one's livelyhood might be at stake, you play it safe.

                      1. re: bobbert

                        You're still miscalculating. Vermouth is 18% alcohol, not 40%. Then you have water melted from the ice (strained out of the drink before serving). Maybe a little bit of olive brine. Oh, and the olive itself - all of that adds volume. A small, 4 ounce martini glass filled pretty much to the very top will have 2 shots. So I'll stick with 6 shots.

                        "these days we live in are different. Thousands and thousands are killed each year in DUI accidents."
                        This was always the case. Am I supposed to believe that back in the good ol days people really knew how to keep a car in their own lane with 15 drinks in their bloodstream?

                        "If they got drunk in a bar, there will be a lawsuit. Period."
                        No. Not so. Again you overstate your case. Go talk to some bartenders and see how many of them have been named in a lawsuit. It happens rarely at most. And I'm talking about bartenders who think nothing much of serving an average sized male 6-12 drinks or more (or 3+ martinis).

                        1. re: cowboyardee

                          I stand corrected yet again. The "splash" of vermouth and the water that melted off the ice cubes in 15 seconds really does turn a 4 (6, 8, 10?) Oz martini into a glass of Hawaiin Punch. You miss the point. Three average size martinis in 90 minutes is a good amount of alcohol and, although many, if not most, bartenders would serve the 4th, cutting someone off is probably not unreasonable.
                          As for lawsuits, maybe you should limit the questioning of whether or not they've been named in a lawsuit to those bartenders who had customers who then went out and killed themself or someone else. I'm willing to bet that percentage would be pretty high. Of course, such bartenders would be difficult to find as they are most likely not working in the business any more. Just google something about lawsuits and oui's and see how really rare they are.

                          1. re: bobbert

                            "The "splash" of vermouth and the water that melted off the ice cubes in 15 seconds really does turn a 4 (6, 8, 10?) Oz martini into a glass of Hawaiin Punch."
                            Look, here are two perfectly good reasons a 4 ounce martini doesn't have 3 shots:
                            A) Filled two the brim, a 4 oz martini with 2 shots in it would be 3/4 hard liquor. That last 1/4 would be reserved for space taken by water, olive brine, the olive[s] themselves which are often fairly large. 1 ounce. We're still talkin a respectably stiff martini. Not Hawaiian punch.
                            B) Even if a martini was 100% unadulterated hard liquor, 3 shots is 4.5 ounces.

                            You stand corrected again because you keep on correcting me incorrectly. At this point, I should probably just let it go - it's really not that important. But dude- it's frustrating.

                            As for the rest:
                            Bobbert: "You miss the point.... although many, if not most, bartenders would serve the 4th, cutting someone off is probably not unreasonable."

                            Me, in a post right above you: "I haven't attacked the bartender - it is her prerogative to cut someone off. I just said it was odd, given what the OP has told us."

                            1. re: cowboyardee

                              We appear to suffer from the same "unable to let it go" illness. I promise to after this post. I don’t think we’re far off on the meat of this – we’ve gotten stuck on semantics. Even if we're talking 2 shots per martini (and we don't know if they're being served in a 4 or an 8? oz glass), we're still averaging 4 shots of stiff alcohol per hour so, by the most conservative estimate, I "think" we could agree that we're talking about a pretty good amount of booze. That's all I've been trying to say with the caveat that it could have been even more alcohol.

                              As far as numbers of lawsuits are concerned, I'll stick with my vague answer of "a lot". It's interesting that with any Google search regarding DUI's and deaths, almost every ad that pops up is from a law firm soliciting business. I don't believe it's coincidence. Certainly the fear of a lawsuit has influenced the way bars act. Can you give me that one?

                              For those posters who say that the whole bar scene would change if establishments adopted these type of policies, my response is that the bar scene has changed a great deal already. I worked in bars through college and for a couple of years after (1977-1982) - some were dives with a couple of nice places thrown in. I now go out a couple of times a month with friends and I don't restrict myself to "old people" places (no, I'm not bumping and grinding on the dance floor but it's not unusual to tip a pint with people half my age). Most of these places are tame in comparison to what they might have been 30 years ago. Some can still get pretty wild, but generally speaking, the times have already changed. It's definitely not only the threat of lawsuits - education (yes, it works) and fear of getting busted play a huge role. My kids and their friends switch off as designated driver (the phrase didn’t exist 30 years ago) and there are taxi’s lined up in the bar district each night.

                              Back to the OP. I think the biggest, most legit part is the lack of tactfulness on the part of the bartender. I've cut off hundreds in the day and yes, depending on venue and individual, I might have just run my hand across my neck as a signal but, when I was working in a nicer place with someone just hanging out peacefully having a few cocktails, the conversation would have been way more diplomatic and discreet like " know, I've been making those pretty stiff, maybe a soda before the next one so I don't get in trouble with my boss…". There’s no excuse for serving someone who’s minding his own business and then, without warning or reason, to become offensive. Reminds me of someone I was once married to. Done :)

                              1. re: bobbert

                                Paragraph 1: Agreed.

                                Paragraph 2: disagreed, generally. Or maybe just disagreed on the extent to which lawsuits have/should alter[ed] the bar scene.

                                Paragraph 3: I'll take your word for it. As long as you'll cede that people still get drunk in bars.

                                Paragraph 4: agreed

                                Have a good one.

                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                  Paragraph 3: Agreed as well. Adios.

                        2. re: bobbert

                          Did the bartender send someone up to padlock the minibar just in case you decided to have a few more and go joyriding, bobbert?

                          1. re: buttertart

                            Actually, we got a bottle of champagne delivered by room service

                            1. re: bobbert

                              Good on you, I would expect nothing less. ;-)

                      2. re: cowboyardee

                        Just because you've never seen it doesn't mean it's not the correct thing to do.

                        I'm one of those drunks that you'd never suspect was hammered. I'm polite, don't get loud, my mannerisms don't change much, don't get emotional, etc., even when I'm waaaaasted. People who know me well have a hard time telling I'm even buzzed when I'm totally schnockered. Just because I don't act drunk doesn't mean I'm not. It's a bartender's job to err on the side of caution. Would you really want someone who's drank 4 martinis in two hours behind the wheel? No, the OP wasn't going to be driving, but the bartender has no way of knowing that.

                        I've been bartending/managing/etc. for a looooong time. I may have served the OP one more drink, as sometimes I'm a bit more lax than I should be, but I would've kept an eye on him the whole time, and he certainly wouldn't have received a fifth.

                        1. re: invinotheresverde

                          I'm not arguing correct vs incorrect (except where math/# of drinks is concerned). I'm arguing usual vs unusual.

                          If everyone did the safe, responsible, correct thing, the bar scene as we know it wouldn't exist.

                          1. re: cowboyardee

                            With the advent of .08 and lower DUI laws, the bar scene as we know it IS changing.

                            1. re: invinotheresverde

                              The legal limit has been .08 for some time in a lot of places. The bar scene has already had time to adjust. People still get drunk at bars.

                              1. re: invinotheresverde

                                It's been .08 in some places for a while, sure, but come on. You have to admit the drunk driving laws are getting tougher. Perhaps my acquaintances and patrons are especially cautious, but I've noticed a huge change in behavior due to it. YMMV.

                            2. re: invinotheresverde

                              the OP should have told the bartender that he wasnt driving

                              1. re: thew

                                Probably true, though unless the OP was unusually small or the martinis unusually big, I'm still surprised it came up as an issue in the first place.

                              2. re: invinotheresverde

                                You've described most of the alcoholics and problem drinkers I know. They can drink way more than the rest of us while appearing not to be drunk. But they're still impaired and I make sure I leave the party before they do, because I don't want to be on the road with them. I never have more than one drink if I'm driving because I'm a lightweight.

                                I don't know what the bartender was thinking, but maybe her logic ran like this: "hey, it's a lone drinker drinking sequential martinis, wonder if he's got a problem, if he doesn't look hammered now, maybe he was hammered when he came in, I'm not taking a chance that he'll drive off and kill someone and the victim's family will name me in their suit....."

                                I'm not saying she was correct, or that the OP has a drinking problem, only that she erred on the side of caution. Drinking is usually regarded as a social activity in most cultures, so a person unwinding with 3 drinks after work does cause a person to look twice.

                                In any case, I probably wouldn't want to go back to that bar again.

                                1. re: Isolda

                                  I particularly agree with your third paragraph.

                                    1. re: Isolda

                                      If a bartender's intent though was to stop someone before they were over the limit to drive, would they not have stopped the OP long before their third martini ? (particularly if the drinks were as large as described in this thread)

                                      1. re: im_nomad

                                        I sure would have, but I'm not a bartender. In any case, she was concerned enough to refuse him a 4th martini.

                                      2. re: Isolda

                                        I'll say that I'm imagining a scene in which the OP (I assume a large man if he claims to be lucid and not utterly trolleyed after 3 martinis in 1.5 hours) sits at the end of a bar, methodically putting away drink after drink, breathing heavily and staring intently at his mobile. It may also be that in his walk to the toilet, he bumped up against chairs, swayed, or what have you. The OP may not have noticed what with the drink in him, or what with his being a large man-- many of whom are unaware of the space they take in a room.

                                        In response, I see a bartender trying to check in on what could be someone readying himself for a rage or for a vomit. Perhaps a pause and some water were the recommendations-- and yes, leaping for a Coors Light makes me question the taste of the OP not to mention what exactly is going on: seems a search for a drunk more than a savouring of an experience. Not that there's anything wrong with a search for drunk but it is something more alarming than someone who happens to get there whilst enjoying leisurely drinks and a game, a book, or a conversation with friends.

                                        (Also, not to be a dick, but as a solo drinker/reader I have never been cut off or questioned, possibly because there is a personal limit that comes with the third drink, but also perhaps due to my occasional social interaction with a bartender-- even if it's to thank him/her for stopping others from interrupting me with a 'It looks like you're really into that book, now I'm going to stop you from reading it by asking a bunch of questions that you don't seem to want to answer'. That is, I'm not completely isolated even if enjoying alone time so the bartender can check that I'm ok in a more casual way.)

                                2. re: cowboyardee

                                  "Overcompensating" is the key word here. I don't think most bars or bartenders are going to care about a well-behaved tipsy patron, but I also know that the fear of lawsuits gets bigger as pockets get deeper. My previous employer, for example, adopted very strict overservice policies in response to having to pay out $25M to the family of a girl paralyzed in a car accident.

                                  I am also aware of several smaller places that were temporarily or permanently shut down after patrons were involved in drunken accidents on the way home. That isn't to say that it's common for bars to get in trouble for this (I can think of plenty examples to the contrary), just that it has happened.

                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                    Well, there are many aspects, to which we are not privy.

                                    Considering liability, the servers should have the option to at least question. We do not know how the OP was acting, or interacting. There could be many other aspects, that we just do not know about.

                                    And, a bar CAN mostly certainly be worried about being sued. That is life today, and if you are not aware, maybe you should be. It kind of cuts into the lunch traffic, if one has a picket from MADD, plus lawyers, three-deep, outside the restaurant/bar. Throw in a few local TV news crews, and things can get very ugly, and in a big hurry.


                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                      I said above (long ago, btw), in absence of more information, I'm giving the benefit of the doubt to the OP's account. If he looked or acted like he was smashed, then that changes things. But I see no reason to automatically make that assumption.

                                      A bar CAN have just about any policy it wants. I just question the wisdom of that policy. And I hold that such a policy is far from common. As I've said many times in this thread, I've seen countless people be served more than 3 (standard sized) martinis in a bar, and unless they've appeared quite drunk or belligerent or made obvious overtures about their intention to drive a car, I've never seen someone cut off that early.

                                      But thanks for 'splaining the ways of the modern world to me.

                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                        Well, the policy is being dictated by social conventions, as well as legal ones.

                                        Glad that you are starting to pick up on how things work.


                                3. The only understandable explanation for the bartender's attitude/behavior, was that she wanted your seat at the bar vacated, and for you to be replaced by a more interactive patron. Some bars, despite how much you might spend on a tab, may consider a quiet patron, with their head down in a book or device, as a poor posterchild for a vibe-conscious environment. In other words, with too many bookish or quiet types populating the bar, other possibly fun-seeking patrons who pop their head in and perceive a lack of energy rippling thru the bar, might just make a hasty retreat and search for an environment where someone will chat them up and engage in more superficial (but energized) banter... Maybe I'm misreading the scenario, but I think that your reading and scrabble playing relegated you to the stereotyped siberia of public solitude. If it's any comfort, I used to enjoy a good book and martini at a chill bar myself. Keep representing the thoughtful bookish inebriates, you are not alone :-)

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: silence9

                                    I like this explanation, finally signed up for chowhound to say so. (I realize this is an old post.)

                                    1. re: VanCityGrrl

                                      Welcome to Chowhound. Happy posting....

                                  2. To play devil's advocate, maybe the bartender was trying to look out for your best interest (and the bar's liability, of course). People are equating 3 martinis with 3 "drinks," but it should be pointed out that EACH martini is typically equivalent to 3 drinks (i.e., has 3 shots of alcohol). Out of curiosity, I entered 3 martinis in 90 minutes into a BAC calculator online and came up with .178...this is very, very drunk--over twice the legal limit for DUI in my state (in contrast, 3 beers would be a mere .051). You may not have thought your behavior was an issue, but you have no idea how slurred your speech may have been when you asked for that 4th drink, or what your walking looked like during those trips to the bathroom. So I wouldn't be so quick to judge the bartender, she may not have been out of line.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Nicole

                                      I agree with Nicole kind of. Most martinis now adays are huge and three in an hour and a half might be more than the bartender was comfortable with or maybe the owner has set a limit on how much to serve a person within a given length of time. And since you were alone, she couldn't assume you wouldn't be driving. And as to the idea that the bar doesn't have a "drink limit policy" well I would bet every bar in the US sometimes limits how many drinks people can have if they want to avoid lawsuits, but it's not something they have to post since it varies from drinker to drinker.