The In's And Out's of Alcohol Server Training in Bars and Restaurants

By: Kayla Hekimian-Williams

6 Minute Read

Feb 12, 2019

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Alcohol server training is a vital part of training for businesses in the hospitality industry.

While everyone knows that on-the-job training is extremely important, failing to include alcohol server training in your new employee onboarding and staff training systems does a disservice to the hard work you've put into growing your restaurant and and could potentially leave you vulnerable to some pretty costly repercussions. 

What is alcohol server training? 

Alcohol server training is designed to educate your employees about local alcohol laws and safe serving techniques should their job require the sale or serving of alcohol. The goal of the training is to ensure that servers, bartenders, managers, and anyone else who handles alcoholic beverages has the knowledge to sell and serve legally and responsibly.

Many cities and states across the U.S. require a license or certification before someone can legally sell or serve alcohol; in some states, like Massachusetts, there is also an age requirement.  Although the specific requirements will vary from state to state, alcohol server training generally includes educating staff members about the following:

  • Specific laws that regulate selling or serving to minors, intoxicated people, and non-members of a private club.

  • The effects of alcohol on customers.

  • The correct way to check IDs and prevent the sale of alcohol to minors or individuals with expired identification.

  • How and why to refuse the sale of alcohol in specific situations.

  • How to protect themselves and their employer from liability.   

Although one of the top benefits of having staff who underwent alcohol server training is that they will be able to prevent rowdy customers from ruining the dining experience for all, the biggest benefit by far is the preservation of public safety.

When your staff knows how to identify when to stop or refuse serving a customer alcohol, they have the power to save lives. Ultimately, your staff are the ones who can stop a customer from getting into their car and driving while under the influence or stop a guest from drinking to excess and risk hurting themselves or another either in your establishment or after they leave. 

This is one of the big reasons why alcohol policy exists -- to minimize alcohol-related harm and promote public health.

The risks of not requiring alcohol server training in your restaurant

Holding a liquor license is key to the success of most bars and restaurants. Losing your bar license – especially if you also have to pay fines, too – can be enough to wreck the restaurant or bar that truly embodies your lifelong passion realized. 

As you can see with this interactive Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) calculator, it doesn’t take many alcoholic beverages to increase the risk of a crash on the road. According to the World Health Organization, there are about two billion people worldwide who consume alcoholic beverages. The vast majority of the people who consume alcohol are light to moderate drinkers who occasionally drink at what would be considered a high-risk level. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines high-risk drinking – sometimes referred to as 'binge drinking' – as five or more drinks in one session for men or four or more drinks in one session for women regardless of the visible impact on the drinker. 

By over-serving a guest or serving a minor, your restaurant could risk encountering the following legal repercussions:

  • Hefty fines,
  • A suspended or revoked liquor license, 
  • A suspended or revoked foodservice license,
  • A suspended or revoked business license,
  • The forced closing of your restaurant or bar, and/or,
  • Jail time. 

Most states have either voluntary or mandatory alcohol seller-server training requirements. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are 19 states that have mandatory beverage service training requirements, while 16 additional states offer mitigation of penalties for businesses who voluntarily decided to have their staff complete training.

In states that don’t have alcohol server education requirements, many owners and operators will still opt to voluntarily have their employees complete training to prevent the above mentioned safety and legal repercussions. 

Here are a few examples of alcohol service related laws and mandates you may encounter as a restaurant or bar who serves alcohol. Given the discrepancies from state to state, it's important to check out the local laws in your area to make sure your business is compliant. 

1. Dram Shop Laws

Dram Shop Laws are some of the most common alcohol related statutes – sometimes referred to as a "blue law" –  that you’ll find across the United States.

A Dram Shop is a commercial establishment, such as a bar or tavern, where alcoholic beverages are sold. A Dram Shop Law makes the business or server liable in the event that an over-served customer causes another individual bodily harm; Dram Shop Laws can also put additional liability on servers and businesses who are caught serving alcohol to underage customers. 

To learn more about Dram Shop Laws and find out about the laws specific to your city or state, check out this resource page from The National Conference of State Legislatures. 

2. The TABC Safe Harbor Rule

In Texas, the TABC Safe Harbor Rule protects restaurants, bars, and private clubs who do their due diligence by training their staff about safe serving protocol from repercussions should a staff member over serve a guest or serve a minor. A violation would be issued to the employee but administrative action wouldn’t be taken against the business’ selling license.

If an alcohol related incident occurs involving a guest, in order for a restaurant, bar, or private club in Texas to qualify for protection under the TABC Safe Harbor Rule they would need to prove:

  • The business owner requires alcohol server training for new hires within 30 days of their first day,
  • The employee accused attended/participated in said alcohol server training course, and,
  • The employer can prove they had not encouraged the staff member to violate Texas law.

If you are a Texas based restaurant and would like to learn more about The TABC Safe Harbor Rule, check out The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission's website

3. Mitigation Benefits in Florida

Another state that offers businesses a benefit for voluntarily participating in alcohol server training is Florida.  

Any business owner who voluntarily participates in the state’s “Responsible Vendor Program” may have their penalty for violations reduced based on their status as a responsible vendor. 

If you are a Florida based restaurant and would like to learn more about The Responsible Vendor Program, click here

Helpful resources to start alcohol server training in your restaurant 

There are a variety of companies and organizations who offer or host alcohol server training tailored to your city or state's legal requirements. 

Some restaurants opt to host a course on-site once a year in order to ensure their entire staff is complying with local safe serving protocol, while others encourage new and existing staff to take courses recommended by their local restaurant association. Whatever method you choose, make sure to get a copy of each staff member's certificate of completion after attending or participating in an alcohol server training course. 

It's worth noting that safe-serving certifications often expire in a one to two year time frame, so existing staff members will likely have to retake their chosen alcohol server training course during their tenure at your restaurant.  

Serve Safely Every Time

Alcohol server training is a smart business decision. Not only will it protect your restaurant from potentially disastrous consequences but it also tells your community that you care about the safety and well-being of all – not just your guests. 

 

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