Keep drinking safe. A good practice guide for dealing with vulnerable people


Those working in the night time economy contribute to a fun, lively environment, and no two nights in their town or city are ever the same. Along with this, however, those on the frontline also regularly have to deal with situations involving vulnerable people. From alcohol-related illness to safety concerns, staff in licensed premises need to have their eye on the ball at all times.

To help you provide a safe drinking environment for all, Jo Cox-Brown, Director of Night Time Economy Solutions provides her top tips on dealing with vulnerable people.

Safely tackling vulnerabilities

At Night Time Economy Solutions we work regularly with licensed premises and the emergency services to improve safety and help create an environment that’s social and enjoyable for all. Below we’ve listed the vulnerability issues licensed premises deal with most often, together with effective ways to handle them.

1) Drunk people trying to enter your venue
All staff should recognise signs of drunk behaviour, so ensure training is given to anyone needing it. A drunk person should never be allowed entry to your premises, not only because serving them is illegal and could you land you a fine of up to £20,000, but because it’s irresponsible and unsafe.

Instead, offer to call them a taxi or ask if a friend can bring them home. Letting them wait while their transport arrives and providing water and some simple food will help them sober up and this show of kindness can also help relieve their embarrassment over being refused entry. Remain friendly and calm at all times, explaining the risk of a fine or venue closure if you were to grant access.

2) Vulnerable people leaving your premises
If there is a lone person leaving your venue, check in with them by asking how they are, where their friends are and how they’re getting home. This can be enough to tell you whether or not they need additional help and if they are safe on their own. If they do need help, talk to them to create a safe plan to get home, partnering with other agencies if needed such as a licensed taxi company.

If you see someone leaving your venue with a different person than they came in with, approach them and ask if they are ok. Don’t be afraid to check if they know the person they are leaving with and if their friends know where they are going. Look out for signs of intoxication or date rape drugs and assess their ability to hold a conversation. If you discover they don’t know the person or suspect they’ve been spiked, engage them in a separate conversation and clearly state you’ll remain with them until they’re reunited with their friends. If the situation escalates, contact the police.

3) Lost or stolen property
Losing personal items, particularly a wallet or house keys can be very distressing. Help the person remain calm as they search for their belongings. Escort them around the venue if necessary, and if they can’t locate their things, support them to get home safely by offering them use of a phone or engaging a voluntary group such as Street Angels to help them. Don’t let them wander off alone without a phone or money for transport.

4) Anger or aggression
If a customer becomes angry, for whatever reason, display non-threatening body language such as having your hands loosely by your side with palms forward, stand back to give the customer space and use a calm voice to try and deescalate the situation. Don’t attempt to manage it alone, and always keep your safety and the safety of other-staff paramount. In some instances, it may help if a staff member who would be considered unthreatening offers an incentive to leave, such as a free drink next time the customer comes in.

In any instance of aggression, always utilise services available to you like the police or appropriate volunteers, who can support with looking after the customer until he or she is calm and sober.

5) Distress, illness or upset
Our instincts when faced with sickness or upset are often to either turn away or rush straight in. However, it’s best to step back and assess first, and always ask the person’s permission before doing anything – whether that’s collecting their things or holding their hair as they vomit.

Letting them leave the premises alone will make them vulnerable to predators, so try and establish who the best person is to care for them – whether that’s their friends within your venue or a voluntary service like Street Angels.

In the case of severe illness or unconsciousness, call an ambulance immediately and stay with the person at all times. If they are conscious, encourage them to sit up and give them something suitable to vomit in if needed. If they are unconscious, put them in the recovery position and monitor their breathing and body temperature. Talk to the person but never try to force them into consciousness by pouring cold water over them as the shock and sudden temperature change can be very dangerous.

Also ensure all staff members understand signs of alcohol poisoning, which are:
● Hyperthermia or low body temperature
● Being conscious but unresponsive
● Irregular breathing
● Seizures
● Confusion
● Vomiting
● Poor coordination
● Fainting or passing out

If you suspect alcohol poisoning or are concerned about symptoms someone is displaying, always dial 999.

As well as following the above five points for safe drinking practice, it’s also essential to keep in mind the following when involved in a situation:

Protect your own safety
Work alongside another staff member to help a customer, as alone you are vulnerable too. Always keep firm boundaries in place and never offer lifts home or do anything that could put your own safety at risk.

Intoxicated people can be volatile, have lowered inhibitions and can have hazy memories the next day, all of which can put you at risk of danger or accusation.

Make use of CCTV and radio communications.

By communicating with other venues, you can arrange joint monitoring of lone, vulnerable or aggressive people to improve their safety and that of others. We recently asked CCTV to monitor a lone woman from a venue back to her hotel, which is something that can be easily arranged thanks to most town and city centres having excellent CCTV networks.

Work with other agencies
It’s your responsibility to ensure any vulnerable patrons leave your venue safely, and there are other agencies who can support you.

We advise:
● Creating a link with a local taxi company who are happy to pick up those at risk of being vulnerable.
● Connecting with volunteer organisations such as Street Pastors and Street Angels. They can offer invaluable help to those who find themselves vulnerable in the night time economy. Groups like these can support people in various ways as they exit your venue into the city at large.
● If someone genuinely can’t get home and there are no volunteers available, work with your local policing team to see if they can help, even by letting the person spend a few hours waiting at the local station’s front counter until they can be picked up or make their way home safely.

Working with other agencies can remove some of the worry of dealing with vulnerable people, as well as helping your whole town or city’s night time economy be as safe, fun and prosperous as possible.

Make it official
It’s important that all staff feel confident in practically dealing with vulnerability, as scenarios covered in this guide are liable to crop up regularly. However, practical knowledge must be accompanied by an airtight Vulnerable Persons Policy, together with staff training. We’ll cover how to create and implement this in our next article!

If you have any questions relating to your licensed premises, you can contact Jo or Sylvia at and we’ll be happy to support.

A big thanks to Police Sergeant Mike Urwin and Paul Blakey from Street Angels (CNI) for sharing their tips and recommendations for supporting vulnerable people in the night time economy.