Behind the Bar The Business of the Bar

The Right Way to Do Last Call

Image: Celia Jacobs

By the time last call rolls around, you’ve already put in a long night of hard work. The last thing you want to do is deal with pushing people out the door. It’s the lasting impression you’ll leave on your guests, and playing “Closing Time” on the jukebox probably won’t cut it. While most patrons will go willingly, some might need an extra nudge. These are five tips for doing last call with grace and efficiency.

1. Be Consistent

Last call should have a specific protocol that each staff member follows every time. Repetition is the key to success, says Trip Sandifer, the beverage manager at The Painted Duck and The Painted Pin in Atlanta. “Have policies and procedures in place and follow them every time,” he says.

If there’s a clear regimen for the end of the night, guests will respect you for it. “Pay attention to the time and always do last call at the same time,” says Lisa Copenhaver, the bar manager at Citrus Grove Distillers in Claremont, Calif. “Be friendly, and don’t use a bell or just turn up the lights. Let your guests go lovingly.”

2. Give Plenty of Warning

There’s no easier way to piss off a patron than rushing them to finish a drink—or worse, pouring out a full one. Giving plenty of warning about last call will ensure that your guests will have plenty of time to wrap things up, finish their drinks and figure out what they’re doing next. “We do last call 30 minutes before we close the doors,” says Sandifer. “We stop serving 10 minutes after last call. Lights come up five minutes later. All guests have to be out of the building at close.”

3. Don’t Allow Exceptions

While it might be tempting to serve your friends or colleagues an extra drink while you close up, it’s a surefire way to get into trouble. “If you tell one group of guests that the bar is closed but then you turn around and serve drinks to your industry friends, you will forever lose the trust of your guests,” says Andrew Meltzer, the beverage director at Noosh in San Francisco.

4. Communicate Clearly

When the wee hours approach, our concept of time can become fluid, especially when we’ve been consuming alcohol. Therefore, it’s best to articulate to a guest exactly how many minutes they have to finish their drink. If they’re still annoyed, you can cite your state or city’s laws for last call. “When we have disgruntled customers at the end of the night, we have the law to lean back on,” says Jozlyn Pust, a bartender at Under Current in Salt Lake City. “This way, we aren’t the villain. A lot of people seem to respect that it would create problems for us as well.”

5. Always Be the Host

At the end of even the busiest night, remember that guests are still your guests. “I refill every water around midnight so that it’s ready for them when needed,” says Pust. If a person is reluctant to leave, help them out by giving them suggestions on where to go next or offer the bar’s address if they need to call an Uber.

“Tell them some cool places to go,” says Meltzer. “I love having a few secrets up my sleeve, like great places to enjoy a city view at night (no drinking required) or some late-night clubs that stop serving alcohol but continue to have DJs and dancing.”