How bartenders relate to intoxicated customers

Kristin Buvik


Buvik, K. (2013). How bartenders relate to intoxicated customers. International Journal of Alcohol and Drug Research, 2(2), 1-6. doi: 10.7895/ijadr.v2i2.120 (

Aims: In many studies, the extent of over-serving has been registered, but few attempts have been made to understand what happens in these situations when alcohol is ordered. The present study was designed to address two questions: How can we understand and explain why bartenders over-serve customers who are clearly intoxicated? What influences the interactions between bartenders and customers in situations in which alcohol is served?

Design: Observation of 32 purchase attempts with pseudo-patrons, and in-depth interviews with seven bartenders. The bartenders interviewed were not those who were involved in the test purchasing.

Findings: In the majority of cases, the pseudo-patrons were served without the bartender showing any sign of evaluating the customer’s level of intoxication. Three factors affect the bartenders’ interactions with intoxicated customers: a working situation not adapted for responsible serving; a drinking culture with a collective acceptance of intoxication; and opposition to the Alcohol Act, which is seen as too strict and ineptly enforced. Bartenders blamed their serving of intoxicated patrons on hectic working conditions as well as on wanting to maintain a good atmosphere in the bar and avoid conflicts. Observation at the premises showed a liberal drinking culture that legitimizes a high level of intoxication.

Conclusions: As long as the customer appears pleasant and not confrontational, they can have another beer. Serving is the rule, and denial of service is the exception.


alcohol, over-serving, bartender, pseudo patrons, qualitative methods

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