Bartenders on the Oxford Square not only serve drinks, they also serve as a safety net. With over 15 bars on the Square, bartenders are expected to make important judgment calls to ensure a safe and welcoming environment.
Popular bars such as the Library Sports Bar, Rafters and Funky’s see crowds ranging from 200 to over 1,000 people on a typical Saturday night. Large crowds call for a hefty amount of security, bartenders and police to ensure a smooth weekend.
Training for bartenders reaches far beyond learning how to mix drinks and focuses mainly on judgment skills that are needed for the job. This includes knowing when to cut someone off from ordering more drinks, when someone at the bar may be causing problems for another customer and what to do when this happens.
A more important skill that bartenders must apply is the ability to read body language. This skill alone could help determine if an individual is at risk of a dangerous situation, including a date-rape drugging or sexual assault.
Josh Christian, long-time bartender and manager at the Library Sports Bar, said that he makes it known that if anything feels off to let someone know while training bartenders.
“We will see if he’s making advancements, and she’s blowing him off, or we watch his hand movements. We see if he’s moving his hands anywhere around her drink trying to distract her,” Christian said. “It’s just little things like that you look for because you can tell in a situation when a girl is uncomfortable.”
Christian also said that there are ways to get women out of situations where they may feel vulnerable, such as simply kicking the harasser out of the bar, or pulling him to another area of the bar because “his card declined.”
Although he helps to train his employees to handle such situations, top priority is to regulate overconsumption of alcohol to avoid these situations before they happen. With bartending to large crowds comes a feeling of responsibility for anything that happens to an individual while in the bar.
“You’re responsible, especially if someone has had too much to drink, or they get themselves into a sticky situation. That’s one big thing we preach on, do not over serve anybody because that just leads to a bad situation,” Christian said. “When you do, that’s when guys take advantage of girls because they know that (the girl) is not in the right state of mind and they can get away with stuff a lot easier.”
Christian said that, oftentimes, when a woman is concerned about another individual in the bar who may be harassing her, she will give her bartender a code word or discrete hand signal to warn them that she is in need of help. This also includes ordering a “secret shot” at the bar, allowing her to get the help she needs without making a scene in front of her harasser. Though situations of this magnitude are not often, Christian says that over his 16 years of bartending at the Library, he has experienced this multiple times.
Joey Little, a previous bartender at multiple bars on the Square and current bartender at Rafter’s, said that kicking people out of the bars for disorderly conduct is a frequent occurrence. Though the main reasons for asking patrons to leave are for stealing, fighting or over consumption, bartenders also find themselves escorting individuals out due to harassment.
“(Kicking people out) is a situational thing. There are times when you can tell a guy is trying to be weird and creepy towards someone, and there are times when you can see a guy is just really drunk and happy. He’s not trying to be weird and creepy, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t kick him out,” Little said.
Little said that, for the most part, women who are harassed at the bar seek the assistance of a bouncer but every now and then will inform a bartender of their concerns. After the harasser has been taken out of the bar, the situation ceases and either the individual goes home, or the police get involved. Police involvement in these situations is often not needed.
“It’s mainly when the bars get packed. When you pack 500 people in the bar, something bad is going to happen,” Little said. “I think that’s just a judgment call on everybody. You’re just trying to look out for everybody.”
Though it seems that male bartenders run the Square, female bartenders play a large role in helping women find comfort while out. A bartender at Rafter’s bar finds that being a female bartender puts women’s safety at a higher priority because girls usually tend to trust other girls first.
“I have a lot of girls come up to me. At the end of the day, (the bartenders) are really the only sober people in the room, so we notice things a lot more than the average patron who is usually drunk,” the Rafter’s bartender said. “Being a girl makes you think of it in a way like, what if that was me or one of my friends?”
The best way to monitor patrons when the bar is overwhelmed is by watching the drinks as they are leaving the bar. One of Rafter’s bartenders said that she watches every person take their drink off the bar to make sure nothing happens to the drink beforehand. Due to the high capacity of patrons at the bar at a single time, it is difficult to keep an eye on drinks after they have left the bar, but bartenders try their best to stop dangerous situations before they happen.
Although bars are equipped with what seems to be an overwhelming amount of security on weekends, this Rafter’s bartender does not feel as though there is enough. She said that because they can not watch everyone at the same time, bartenders are well aware of their surroundings and know when a situation may become negative.
“I think all bartenders feel some sense of responsibility, especially knowing when to stop serving people, because that decision solely falls on the bartender. And they have to be able to recognize those signs and recognize when somebody isn’t able to make good judgment calls anymore, because they’ve had too much to drink,” a Rafter’s bartender said.
Though there are options and precautions such as Oxford Police Department’s drug detecting coasters, the Safe Site and bag searches when entering certain establishments, Christian says that there is always room for more advancements in the fight to keep people safe while out.
He suggested classes for bartenders which could include training on how to recognize potentially negative situations so they can learn the best ways to detect if someone may have been drugged, or how to handle situations where they have been.
Christian says that having someone come talk to bartenders once a year or providing a free class either taught by OPD or Alcohol and Beverage Control state officers could benefit bartenders and ultimately make the bar a safer environment for everyone.
“We would rather be on the side of caution any day of the week. As for classes, that should be one of the top priorities, teaching people that are getting into the business how to distinguish different situations. There is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do that. There are no negatives in teaching something like that,” Christian said.
Although dangerous situations like drink dropping and sexual assault in the bar scene may be infrequent, it does still occur. Between Aug. 2020 and Nov. 2022 OPD has made 11 arrests regarding sexual assault and has compiled 58 reports of sexual assault. There are no current stats on drink-drugging over this time frame.
Reid Bankston, Library Sports Bar bartender says that not only is bartender training important, but safety education for women may be more crucial. He says that it is important for women to also know the signs of when a dangerous situation may be presenting itself and subsequently, how to evade the situation. Bankston says that giving classes through OPD or the university would help women better read these situations and possibly create a safer environment where women can feel more comfortable.
“I’m not quite sure what the university does in terms of letting you know, specifically girls, what to do if they think they are in danger of being (a victim of) date rape, or drugged,” Bankston said. “(Classes) would be something that I think would probably be good for especially incoming freshmen, whether that be going to each sorority house or going to each dorm. That education can be important.”