The Dangers of a “Stiff Drink”

A customer comes in, sits down, says they’ve had a bad day, and orders a “stiff drink.” If red flags aren’t waving around, they should be, because alcohol is a depressant and could make this customer’s lousy day turn worse. The actual red flag should come from the action of ordering a “stiff drink.”


What is a stiff drink?

A stiff drink is an alcoholic beverage containing strong alcohol. Literal definitions find that the term, stiff drink means a firm or potent mixture. It could be a high-proof liquor, beer, or wine at a bar or restaurant. Or it could be a mixture of liquors in a shot or cocktail. 


Common examples include:


The historical usage of the phrase isn’t for the faint of heart, so I’ll leave a link to an article.

Read at your own risk.

The Gruesomely Real Origin Of The Term “Stiff Drink”


Why is it Dangerous?

A common misstep (especially with bartenders just starting) is to count drinks at face value. So one drink is one drink, no matter what is inside. But what they don’t consider is that information uses a maximum alcohol content.

One “drink” per hour is a 12-ounce bottle or can of regular beer (5% alcohol), a 5-ounce glass of wine (12% alcohol), or one and 1/2 ounce of 80-proof distilled spirit (40% alcohol).

bottles of alcohol gif

According to UCLA Police, a Long Island Ice Tea is four standard drinks. But it doesn’t stop there; some unsuspecting drinks like martinis and margaritas can be 1.5 to 2 servings depending on the shot size and the proof of the distilled spirit used. That’s because both factors play a crucial role in drink counting.


It’s Dangerous, Now What?

Knowledge is power. Nothing is keeping you from selling these shots and drinks. Remember to pay attention to the alcohol content of the beer, wine, or liquor and measurements when counting.

five short glasses being filled by a bartender

But you should know that some businesses may have policies (typically called house policies) about not selling them at all, limiting how many, or determining when these types of drinks are sold, like stopping an hour before close. So be sure to respect the policy and offer suggestions when you see fit.

It’s also dangerous when factoring in liability at the state level (precisely where the liability comes back onto the bartender and business). As a bartender, you could get in trouble for over-serving a customer if they leave and get pulled over or cause injury or death. Recently, a Family Awarded $301 Billion From Bar That Overserved Drunk Driver In Largest Penalty Ever.


Learn more about responsible alcohol service in our courses.