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Distinguishing between merry and intoxicated, in hospitality.

Sam Coffey


In short, a person is intoxicated if: their speech, balance, behaviour or coordination is noticeably affected by the consumption of liquor.

‘Noticeably’ is the key word here, as therein lies the rub. Noticeably basically means that it’s obvious, which can require an experienced eye to discern*.

On a scale where the bottom is complete sobriety, and top is paralytic drunk, in hospital getting one’s stomach pumped kind of thing, the definition of intoxication is just a few rungs down from the top notch.

Below the level of intoxication, you find merry, where patrons are having a great time. They’re no doubt feeling the effects of the alcohol, but are not exhibiting any clear, noticeable signs, as per the definition of the law.

This is the point where the right psychological and physiological management of patrons can help them stay in that zone, without them going further in the wrong direction, towards intoxication.

We seek to do this because, firstly it’s the law to not allow patrons to reach intoxication, but secondly, because it’s generally bad business to do so.

Why bad business? A number of reasons:

  • It makes the venue and surrounds less safe
  • Anti-social behaviour leads to increased scrutiny from authorities and community
  • Personal regret by the individual, potentially reducing future patronage

The goal is to assist patrons in not crossing into intoxication, without them complaining of over-bearing behaviour or swinging nanny state accusations. With the right knowledge and tools this is relatively easy.

In truth, the vast majority of patrons appreciate the assistance. You can tell this because they say ‘thank you’ and directly compliment the venue for providing it. The handful that don’t appreciate it usually get managed by their friends or colleagues, who often instruct them to take heed.

Patron management requires being mindful of their physiology: alcohol is dehydrating them, and the effects that has on body and decision-making. And of their psychology: we can control their mood through how we interact with them.


*Examples of “noticeably affected”

SPEECH: slurred words, talk in rambling or unintelligible sentences, incoherent or muddled

BALANCE: unsteady on their feet, stumble or bump into people or objects, sway uncontrollably or cannot stand or walk straight

BEHAVIOUR: become rude, aggressive, or offensive, unable to concentrate or follow instructions, become boisterous or pester others

COORDINATION: fumble to light a cigarette, difficulty in counting money or paying, spill or drop drink, difficulty in opening or closing doors


Article contributed by Sam Coffey.

Sam Coffey operates Specialist Alcohol Management Services through Three Cheers Training.