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Pubs, clubs, restaurants, shops and other businesses that sell alcohol have a legal responsibility not to sell or attempt to sell alcohol to a person who is drunk, and to respond appropriately to individuals who are intoxicated.

The Licensing Act 2003, sets out these four licensing objectives:

  • The prevention of crime and disorder
  • Public safety
  • The prevention of public nuisance
  • The protection of children from harm

Correctly dealing with drunkenness at your premises can help promote all four of these objectives.

Preventing drunkenness when selling alcohol

Drinks promotions must be socially responsible and not encourage excessive drinking. Preventing irresponsible dinks promotions will always be specified in the licence’s mandatory conditions.

Licensing authorities are likely to take issue with special offers that are limited to a short period of time within a single day (e.g. cheaper drinks before 11:00PM), as they may encourage larger quantities of alcohol to be purchased and drunk within a short timeframe. It is also against Government guidance to offer activities that provide rewards or prizes for drinking alcohol.

The Government also advises against promotional marketing that glamorises or encourages intoxication or drunken behaviour. If your social media pages contain photos of people wearing traffic cones for hats, throwing items, or otherwise causing unrest, the authorities may consider this promotion of drunken behaviour and a breach of your licence conditions.

Staff should be trained to recognise the signs of someone beginning to become drunk and be able to confidently refuse sales when someone has had enough. If in doubt, refusal is always safer. The only time refusal might result in a  problem would be if it was solely based on a customers protected characteristic (race, sex, disability, gender, sexual orientation, religion or belief).

It is also necessary to ask customers to not buy any further drinks for another person who is becoming drunk.

Drink Aware posters can be displayed in the premises to remind customers of the unit content in alcoholic drinks and the safe alcohol consumption limit.

Small measures

Providing alcohol in smaller servings can help control the amount your patrons drink. The law also requires on-licences to sell drinks in particular unit measurements.

Download our small measures notice to display this information to your customers.

Free tap water

All licensed premises that sell alcohol must provide free drinking water under the Licensing Act 2003. Drinking water helps to space out drinks and dilute the concentration of alcohol to prevent drunkenness. It can also ease or prevent hangovers, but it will not sober up an already-drunk person.

How to deal with drunk customers

Drunkenness increases the likelihood of fights, aggressive behaviour, vandalism, health emergencies, or drink driving. In fulfilling the Licensing Act objectives, licensed premises operators should take all available measures to prevent this from occurring by intervening before someone has drunk too much.

Refusing alcohol sales

The first step is to prevent any further alcohol from being purchased by refusing sales. It is an offence to sell alcohol to a person that is already drunk. You can also refuse entry to the premises to a drunk person, with door staff able to assist should they be employed.

Download our refusal of alcohol sales log sheet template.

Staff should be trained on their responsibilities under the Licensing Act 2003 and be able to recognise appropriate cut off points for serving drunk customers.

Drunk customers may not always be receptive to being refused, but you should not allow the conversation to escalate into an argument or confrontation. Abuse of staff should be treated with zero tolerance.

Ejecting drunk customers from the premises

If someone’s drunken behaviour has become unacceptable, you should ask them to leave. If they will not leave voluntarily, security staff can remove them. If you do not employ security staff then you should call the police for assistance. Members of staff cannot physically eject customers unless they are SIA trained.

Do not let a drunk person drive home. It may be useful to call a taxi, particularly if you are concerned for their safety. However, taxi drivers may refuse to take someone who is drunk.

Intoxication marshals

Some larger premises, especially nightclubs, assign marshals to the task of patrolling to watch for drunken behaviour, and to intervene where it is occurring. This may involve the use of SIA registered door staff  where necessary.

Drunkenness policy

Implementing a policy to include arrangements for dealing with intoxicated customers can be helpful. The policy should clearly express that every effort will be made by staff to prevent patrons from deteriorating to an uncontrolled intoxicated extent. All staff must be briefed on the policy.

An official company policy on drunkenness and intoxication helps to establish house rules and makes it easier to explain to customers when refusing sales.

The policy can include:

  • The measures the premises takes to prevent customers becoming drunk
  • The actions the staff will take in the event of drunkenness (including refusing sales)
  • A statement of zero tolerance toward aggressive or abusive behaviour
Please note that this information is for general guidance only and should not substitute professional legal advice. If you have specific concerns, we recommend consulting one of our legal experts.


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