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What is an Angel Shot and When to Order It

A simple, subtle, and effective way for women to ask for help from bartenders and servers.

As lockdowns continue to lift across the country, excited patrons are returning to bars and restaurants, eager to find fun. However, for women who haven’t been in a bar recently, it’s important to never forget basic safety techniques.

drunk guy hitting on girl at bar

Enter the angel shot. It’s a simple, subtle, and effective way for women to ask for help from bartenders and servers. Plus, from a restauranteur perspective, implementing an angel shot policy is easy, affordable, and helps attract customers.

Here’s a complete guide to angel shots, including what they are, how they work, and how you can set them up in your establishment.

What is an Angel Shot?

An angel shot isn’t a drink. Instead, it’s a code. When a woman feels threatened or in distress, she can order an “angel shot,” sending a secret signal to the bartender that she needs help. From there, the staff can take appropriate action to help her get home or otherwise stay safe.  

While the mention of an angel shot is enough to grab the bartender’s attention, many bars and restaurants allow you to modify the order in various ways to convey additional information. The most common options include:

  • Straight Up or Neat – The customer wants an escort to their car
  • On Ice or On the Rocks – The customer wants the bartender to discreetly arrange for a taxi or rideshare
  • With a Twist/Lemon/Lime – The customer feels they’re in immediate danger and want the police called

Of course, as long as the code words are easy for customers to remember, a bar/restaurant can set up whatever system they like. Other concepts a customer might want to express include the following:

  • I think this drink might be spiked
  • I think my friend needs help
  • I’d like you to call someone for me

While customers benefit from some simple method of expressing different levels of distress, keep it simple. Limit the variations to just a few. The basic concept of asking for an angel shot should be enough to alert staff.

The Ask for Angela Variation

The core idea for angel shots started in Lincolnshire, England, in 2016. Bars throughout the area posted signs in both the men’s and women’s bathrooms. They encouraged anyone who felt uncomfortable to go to the bar and “Ask for Angela.”

bad date

The fictional Angela served the same purpose as an angel shot, alerting the staff to a potential problem. The poster posed four questions:

  • Are you on a date that isn’t working out?
  • Is your date not who they said they were in their online profile?
  • Do you feel like you’re in a safe situation?
  • Does it all feel a bit off? `

Aside from directing patrons to the bartenders and servers, the poster also listed a phone number for the Lincolnshire Rape Crisis center.

The idea quickly went viral on Twitter. Soon, bars and restaurants across the world began implementing this strategy, which eventually evolved into the angel shot. Today, anyplace that offers an angel shot will almost certainly understand the ask for Angela strategy, making them two branches within the same basic system.

The Benefits of an Angel Shot

There are several reasons why the angel shot quickly became so popular among both customers and business owners.

It’s Discreet

Angel shots involve subtle actions between staff and the person who feels uncomfortable. Ideally, the harasser won’t even understand what’s happening until their victim is already out the door and safely in a cab. Plus, by minimizing interaction with the harasser, the location’s staff is more likely to avoid any type of physical confrontation.

Harassment between two or more patrons in a bar is classified as street harassment. It’s difficult to stop because bystanders often aren’t sure whether they should get involved — and might not even hear it happening. Plus, victims can often feel embarrassed and unsure how to respond. By setting up a secret signal, many women feel more confident taking action.

It’s Free

While you can’t put a price on safety, every penny counts when running a bar or restaurant. Fortunately, Ask for Angela and angel shot programs have practically non-existent operating costs. At most, you’ll need to print up some posters and pay for an occasional taxi or rideshare.

Staff training is also minimal. In most locations, after the initial outreach from the customer, the situation is handed off to a manager or veteran employee. So, not every staff member needs to understand all the specifics of dealing with the situation, just what code words to watch out for.

It Draws Customers

Women are more likely than men to feel unsafe in a nightclub/bar/restaurant setting, with 40% of women expressing serious concerns about their safety when leaving the location. As a bar or restaurant owner, you want to do everything possible to acknowledge these concerns.

However, if a woman feels safe in a bar or restaurant, she’s likely to stay longer and return more frequently. Ask for Angela, and angel shot programs help show customers you care about their well-being. Even if someone never needs to use the program, just knowing it exists provides welcome peace of mind.

How to Implement Angel Shots in Your Bar or Restaurant

Practically any type of bar or restaurant can easily develop an angel shot system.

Create Signs

First, you want to create clear signs explaining how the program works. The original Ask for Angela text is often used, but you can rewrite it if you prefer.

Keep the messaging simple. Customers should understand what to ask for at a glance. Also, limit the number of extras (like “with a twist,” etc.). Too many options only add confusion.

Some places only put signs up in the women’s restroom, while others put them in the women’s and men’s. Assess your clientele and the types of problems that tend to be common in your restaurant/bar to see what makes the most sense for your location.  

Staff Training

As discussed above, not every employee needs to understand how to handle the details. However, they should know what staff member to turn to when someone orders an angel shot.

Discretion is key. For example, the bartender might arrange for a taxi, then slyly slip the woman a cigarette and a note explaining a ride is ready. The woman can then “step out for a smoke,” get into the waiting car and leave.

Potential Drawbacks

While the angel shot offers an effective and novel way to stay safe, it’s not perfect. Understanding its limitations is important, so you know when to take other measures as necessary. The key drawbacks to the angel shot program include the following:

Limited Visibility

If someone isn’t familiar with the angel shot program, they’ll need to see the sign before they’ll know how to use it. Unfortunately, that leaves out women who don’t use the bathroom in the location.

Additionally, many bars and restaurants decide to avoid putting angel shot posters in the men’s restroom. While this can help women within that bar, it does prevent any man who feels uncomfortable from knowing how to reach out for help.

Increased Popularity

The program’s viral nature is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, more bars now know to implement this policy, which increases safety for more women. However, increased awareness of the program also means more predators know what code words to watch for.

Other Ways to Stay Safe in Bars

Aside from using an angel shot, women are encouraged to follow several other strategies to stay safe:

  • Never leave a drink unattended – If you need to use the restroom or otherwise leave, ask the bartender or trusted friends to watch your drink for you.
  • Travel in groups – A woman alone in a bar presents a far easier target for potential predators. 
  • Always confirm your rideshare – Double-check that the driver and car are the same as what’s presented in the app.
  • Never accept an unknown drink – If you allow someone to buy you a drink, have it delivered directly from the bartender.

Above all, always trust your instincts. If anything feels off about an interaction, or if you start to feel strange after consuming a drink, contact a staff member right away.

Final Thoughts

Even if a bar or restaurant owners do everything right, these locations still pose certain risks for patrons, especially women. Fortunately, simple and effective policies such as the angel shot can help keep customers safe.

What started as a simple idea found in an English pub has transformed into a worldwide phenomenon, helping improve the safety of countless women and men. It’s a winning solution for business owners, staff, and customers!

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Written by Ryan F.

Ryan is a Philadelphia local who enjoys checking out Philly's restaurant scene every chance he can. He grew up in South Jersey and now lives in Philadelphia's Point Breeze neighborhood. Ryan also enjoys traveling and checking out local eateries in every city he visits.