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Signs of Intoxication

In Pennsylvania, it is against the law to serve alcohol to a "visibly intoxicated person," but what is visible intoxication?  Visible intoxication is a level of impairment that is evident upon common observation such as a person's behavior or appearance.  This is the standard servers should use to decide whether or not to serve a customer.

While servers are not expected to know a customer's Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), as determined by a breathalyzer test, they are expected to recognize visible intoxication. 

Some common signs of intoxication are:  Loud speech, boasting, crude behavior, drinking alone, drinking too fast, slurred speech, ordering doubles, buying rounds and stumbling.

There is no single indicator that will specifically identify visible intoxication.  One of these signs alone might not mean very much, but if a customer is showing several, he or she might be visibly intoxicated. Servers should use their skills and experience to determine if that is the case. Once it is determined that a customer is visibly intoxicated, alcohol service must be stopped immediately.

Preventing Intoxication

Here are a few helpful hints to prevent intoxication: 

  • Size up your customer - gender, size, mood, etc.
  • Measure and monitor the strength of the drinks. 
  • Have food available, either free or to order from a menu. 
  • Before serving a co-worker's customer, find out how much they've already drank. 
  • Keep water glasses full. 
  • Slow down service when the customer is drinking or ordering rapidly. 
  • "Last call" should mean "last drink." Don't stack drinks. 

Refusing Service 

Even with the best intentions and most responsible serving practices, you may occasionally encounter a customer who shows signs of visible intoxication.  When this occurs, service of alcoholic beverages to that customer must be stopped immediately.  This may occur with a customer who just entered your establishment who you haven't served.  As a server, you have the right to refuse alcohol to anyone, as long as you don't violate the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.  If you refuse alcohol service to a guest, you should do whatever you can to prevent the guest from driving.  This may include asking a sober friend or spouse to intervene, calling a cab, or on occasion, calling the police.

You can learn more about protecting your business and running a responsible business by becoming RAMP-certified.

Contact RAMP via email to or call 866.275.8237.