Refusing service to unduly intoxicated patrons

At some point all licensees, permit holders and their employees will have to decide whether to refuse to serve alcohol to a patron, or prevent a patron from drinking alcohol.

Before refusing to supply a person with an alcoholic drink, or stopping a person from drinking, we recommend that your staff member engages in a conversation with the person suspected of being unduly intoxicated.

Speaking to a person helps to identify possible causes for signs of intoxication, which is important in meeting your obligations under the Liquor Act. It also ensures that a patron is not being unlawfully discriminated against (based on mental or physical impairment, for example).

Licensees, as part of their risk-assessed management plan, may have a written policy that deals with 'refusal of service'. This gives staff a clear understanding of their responsibilities and the steps to take when refusing to serve patrons. It is important for staff to deliver a consistent message that all patrons understand.

The following are some suggested 'do's and don'ts' of service refusal.

Do's of service refusal

  • Do be polite and avoid value judgements. Use tact – politely inform the patron you will not serve them any more alcohol.
  • Do point to posters/signs behind the liquor service point to reinforce your decision.
  • Do explain the reason for refusal of service (e.g. showing signs of being unduly intoxicated).
  • Do offer (if appropriate) non-alcoholic beverages instead, or to phone a taxi or a friend to drive them home. It is harder to get angry with someone offering to do something for you.
  • Do make sure that they leave the premises safely and that they do not hang around outside.
  • Do enter incidents relating to refusal of service in a log book, especially those involving threats or aggression.
  • Do advise management and other bar staff that the person has been refused service to ensure they are not served liquor by someone else.

Don'ts of service refusal

  • Don't call your patron a 'drunk' – warn them politely that their behaviour is unacceptable.
  • Don't be persuaded to give them 'one last drink' after you have stated that they have had enough.
  • Don't agree to let the person finish their drinks (it is an offence under the Liquor Act to allow a minor or unduly intoxicated or disorderly person to consume liquor on licensed premises).
  • Don't raise your voice. If they raise theirs, lower yours.
  • Don't put off refusal hoping that the patron will leave after the next drink - act while the patron can still be reasoned with.
  • Don't judge other people.
  • Don't think the matter is over because you have verbally addressed it.

When an unduly intoxicated patron remains on premises

While licensees are responsible for preventing a patron from becoming unduly intoxicated, it is not an offence against a licensee if an unduly intoxicated person remains on the licensed premises, provided they are closely monitored.

As the licensee is responsible for maintaining a safe environment in and around their venue, they should ensure that an unduly intoxicated patron is closely monitored and carefully managed so that the patron:

  • has no further access to alcohol
  • does not adversely affect the amenity of the nearby area.

Managing unduly intoxicated patrons on premises

Managers should always support the decision of their staff in refusing service to a patron they believe is unduly intoxicated. Overruling a staff member's decision in one situation increases chances of an unduly intoxicated person being served or drinking alcohol in the future. This can increase the risk of significant penalties for the staff and licensee, permit holder or approved manager.

Managing unduly intoxicated patrons must be done assertively and respectfully. If you identify an unduly intoxicated patron is with a friend, consider engaging with that friend to:

  • advise that their friend is not going to be served any more alcoholic drinks
  • explain why
  • seek their assistance in getting the unduly intoxicated patron home safely.

Licensees are afforded some discretion when dealing with intoxicated patrons. For example, you may be concerned that by evicting an intoxicated patron they may not be capable of getting themselves home safely. In situations like this you may choose to:

  • allow the patron to wait for friends to finish their drinks before taking them home
  • allow the patron to wait for a spouse or friend to collect them, or for a staff member to finish duty before taking the patron home
  • provide them with water, coffee, food and time to sober up before tackling public transport.
  • Caring for a patron after service is refused does not 'balance out' the harm in serving a person to a state of undue intoxication.

Removing unduly intoxicated patrons from the venue

A licensee or permit holders and/or their staff or agent can refuse entry or ask a person to leave if they are unduly intoxicated. If you ask a patron to leave the licensed premises, because they are unduly intoxicated, they must do so immediately. It is an offence for a drunk person to be on a licensed premises.

It is an offence for a patron to fail to leave the premises after being asked to leave, or to enter the premises after being refused entry. In this case, the licensee or permit holders and/or their staff or agent may use necessary and reasonable force to remove the patron.

When OLGR or police identify unduly intoxicated patrons in a licensed venue

If an unduly intoxicated person is found in a venue, police or Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation (OLGR) investigators will ask:

  • why the patron is there
  • how they reached their current state
  • what action is being taken.

A police officer or OLGR investigator may form the view that the circumstances, and the intoxication level of the patron, may warrant further action.

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