At an event during a highly attended industry conference in New York City, Kristine Bocchino’s drink was drugged. She left the venue shortly after taking her last sip, still unaware, only beginning to feel the effects once she’d arrived safely back at her hotel. It was a bullet narrowly dodged, though not all victims of drink spiking are so lucky.
“Predators can be around us unsuspected, and those people can be disguised as friends and co-workers,” Bocchino wrote in a blog post titled “An Open Letter to the Hospitality Industry” published on Healthy Hospo’s website. “I say this not to encourage you to constantly live with an accusatory eye but just to be vigilant and responsible, try and stay with friends and most importantly take care of each other.”
It goes without saying that the same standard should be applied when it comes to the guests of your bar. But it takes vigilance and strategy to train a team to notice the signs of date rape and how to act when they see them.
Bar veteran Kate Gerwin’s 2016 initiative at Bismarck, N.D., bar Lüft is a prime example of this. “Bismarck has a really big drink-drugging problem,” says Gerwin. The community had been dealing with numerous cases of drug-facilitated sexual assault, so Gerwin’s team took action by placing a “Friends”-themed sign in the bathroom instructing patrons to ask for Rachel at the bar if they were feeling uncomfortable or found themselves in danger. The idea was inspired by Bartenders Against Sexual Assault, a community organization formed to help protect the industry and its patrons from date rape and other related crimes through resources and education.
Opening the dialogue between guest and bartender is a great place to start. The truth is once a person’s drink is drugged, it’s often up to those behind the bar to take action. So what should we be on the lookout for?
According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), symptoms of date rape drugs include difficulty breathing, appearing intoxicated after consuming small amounts of alcohol (or none at all), loss of bowel or bladder control, nausea, sudden body temperature changes (sweating or chattering teeth are common signs of this), or if a guest seems dizzy or disoriented, possibly also appearing to not be able to see correctly. If you pick up on any of these symptoms, it’s time to act.
“Make an excuse to take the drink away from the guest—‘Oops, looks like you’ve got a little fruit fly in there; let me make you another one’—and set it aside in case it needs to be tested later,” says Jenn Tosatto, the bar manager at Mission Taco Joint in Kansas City, Mo. “That way, [you’ll have] time to investigate, and if it was truly nothing, no harm, no foul. But if it was something, the drink is out of their hands.”
The investigative period should involve alerting a manager and fellow bar staff, making sure someone has eyes on the suspected perpetrator and victim at all times and checking the cameras as quickly as possible. It’s also important to have testing supplies on hand for emergency situations. Products like Drink Safe’s What’s in Your Glass testing sheets are readily available on Amazon.
If the drink has indeed been drugged, it’s best to discreetly call the police versus engaging in a confrontation. If possible, try to isolate the victim from the perpetrator in order to protect them from further harm. Things won’t always go according to plan, but no matter what, do not let the two leave your bar together. If you’re still not sure what to do in a situation like this, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) to speak with a trained professional who can provide guidance.
Thankfully, there are a few products out there that are designed to prevent this situation from ever happening. These are worth keeping in your rotation, if only to make a statement that this kind of behavior won’t be tolerated in your space and that guests’ safety is a main priority for your staff.
While not necessarily a sustainable option, DrinkLock Reverse Coaster is a universal drink seal that serves as a physical barrier on top of a guest’s glass, preventing any substances from being added once the drink is handed off to its consumer. Unused, it works as a coaster, giving guests the option to use it whenever they see fit. This product is slated for official launch in 2020; it will be available on DrinkLock’s website and will be initially carried by a handful of bars in the Washington, D.C., area.
Beyond this first line of defense, discreet testing materials such as KnoNap (a cocktail napkin that changes color in a designated testing spot if rape drugs are detected in a few drops of a drink) can be useful to both bartender and guest, depending on the scenario.
If you ever wind up in a situation where you believe your drink has been tampered with, alert a staff member immediately. If they have any of the aforementioned protocols in place, they’ll be able to act swiftly. If not, hopefully their instincts will kick in, but it’s a good idea to also keep testing supplies on you just in case. Hopefully, you’ll never have to use them, but here’s to being prepared and looking out for ourselves, our colleagues and our guests, just in case.