Virginia ABC > Licenses > Retail Resources > Intoxicated Patrons

Intoxicated Patrons

It is the responsibility of ABC licensees not to sell alcoholic beverages to an intoxicated person. Sale of alcohol to an intoxicated individual may result in a criminal summons for the individual seller and an administrative violation against the license.

“Intoxicated” means a condition in which a person has drunk enough alcoholic beverages to observably affect his or her manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance or behavior.

A primary way to determine if a person is intoxicated is to engage him or her in conversation. Don’t just ask the person how many drinks they’ve had, ask other questions. This allows the server to better observe the person.

ABC special agents’ primary concern is for public safety. If a person is intoxicated at a licensed establishment, the seller should cut the person off immediately and employ a containment strategy, such as:

  • Offer to call a designated driver or taxi.
  • If the person is with a friend or group whose members are sober, talk to them and figure out how to get the person home safely.
  • Offer the person food or nonalcoholic beverages.
  • If the person presents a danger to themselves or others, call local police.

Do not allow an intoxicated patron to remain indefinitely at your establishment without taking preventative measures.

Helpful Suggestions

  • Keep an informal log of actions taken with intoxicated persons. The log can be used as a reference if a problem arises later and is a good training tool to promote responsible selling and serving.
  • Staff members need to be vigilant and check and recheck whether the person appears intoxicated. When there is a shift change, if there are concerns about any customers, the departing employee/manager needs to share that information with the staff coming on duty.
  • Watch out for intoxicated patrons who have just arrived. It’s not rare for a person to be cut-off at one establishment and then wander in to a nearby restaurant. Especially when the business is very busy, it is a good idea to begin screening for intoxication at the door and have a plan in place for avoiding sales to intoxicated individuals. A customer, whose intoxication is in question, might tell the doorperson that he is only coming in to get something to eat. In this circumstance, the doorperson needs to communicate this information to the service staff—especially since, once inside, the person may resume drinking.
  •  Be careful to control all areas of the establishment, including bathrooms, booths, the parking lot, etc. Plan ahead to prevent a person from being cut off in one area and subsequently purchasing alcohol in another area. It’s a good practice, if an establishment closes down service in one area of the restaurant, to secure that area. It is the responsibility of the licensee to be sure the staff can observe all patrons at all times.


If a patron is cut off in the restaurant can he be served in his room?
No. Alcoholic beverages may not be sold to an intoxicated person.

What will the special agent do if I cut a person off and they are sitting at my bar waiting for a ride or taxi?
You may not serve alcoholic beverages to a patron to the point he or she becomes intoxicated. However, if the patron has been cut off prior to becoming intoxicated and attempts are made to secure him a ride, there would not be a violation.


Revised February 25, 2015

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Need Help?

Special agents are the primary resource for questions related to operating a business with an ABC license. Contact a special agent via your regional ABC office. For step-by-step assistance in banquet licensing, see our Licensing Wizard.


Virginia ABC offers free online training to help managers, sellers and servers to become more responsible and better understand ABC laws, rules and regulations. For more information, contact Community Health & Prevention, (804) 977-7440 or [email protected].

The information on this page is meant for general guidance only. For specific questions, contact your ABC special agent. To view ABC laws and regulations, visit Virginia’s Legislative Information System.