Providing alcohol server training isn’t just a box to check off. It’s not just a way to minimize risk. Though it does certainly do that.
It’s also a way to make your business welcoming to every customer who enters—and it ensures the safety of your community.
Strangely, not every bar or restaurant gets this. In some U.S. states alcohol server training isn’t required or is required minimally. That means it’s either passed over or not taken seriously. It should be neither of those.
Here’s what alcohol server training is, why it’s important to the health of your business, and how you can implement it.
What Is Alcohol Server Training?
Alcohol server training is the act of educating servers (or any other FOH employees) about applicable alcohol laws and how to serve alcohol safely. The idea is that servers, bartenders, barbacks, and managers (see bar manager duties) are all able to knowledgeably serve alcohol within the law and responsibly.
Every state regulates alcohol sales and service separately, so some states don’t require alcohol server training or certification. But, in general, you can expect alcohol server training to cover the following:
- Applicable state and local laws that regulate selling and serving alcohol to intoxicated people and minors
- Any regulations around selling and serving alcohol in exclusive establishments, like private clubs
- The psychological and physiological effects of alcohol on the human body
- How to spot fake IDs
- How to minimize or eliminate or greatly reduce individual and organizational liability
- When, why, and how to refuse alcohol sales
- When, why, and how a problematic guest can or should be removed from the premises
- Pour counts, free pouring, and standard liquor pours
When every staff member that handles alcohol in your business is trained up on these topics, the positive effects go beyond liability issues. Alcohol server training isn't just for sommeliers and cicerone anymore. Let’s look at why alcohol server training is so impactful.
Why Provide Alcohol Server Training?
There are four primary benefits to providing free and mandatory alcohol server training for your staff. They are liability, safety, customer experience, and career progression.
43 U.S. states have some variety of what’s known as a dram shop law. They’re laws that hold businesses accountable for selling or serving alcohol to minors or intoxicated people who later cause death, injury, or property damage. We’re talking about legal action that can bankrupt businesses.
You can download a comparison of state dram shop laws here. The scope and business liability of each dram shop law varies, which is why businesses must research and verify their local statutes independently.
But regardless of the dram shop law’s specifics, being able to spot underaged and intoxicated people is key to being able to avoid dram shop legal action in every state.
What does liability look like?
- Suspension or revocation of business or liquor license
- Substantial fines (sometimes fines large enough to bankrupt)
- Forced closure
Dram shop laws are about as serious as you can imagine. You should do everything in your power to protect yourself, your business, and your employees from them.
In addition to not being held liable for injury, death, and damage, it’s ideal to prevent injury, death, and damage for the sake of it. Those are bad things. If you can contribute to the general level of sanity in the world through responsible alcohol policies and alcohol server training, you should. You should keep your customers, your community, and the public at large safe. It’s your responsibility as a steward of economic activity in the neighborhood.
Wanna know how to increase customer satisfaction in the restaurant industry? Don’t let your place fill up with obnoxious, and potentially dangerous, people.
Rowdy drunks (be they teenagers or the intoxicated) degrade virtually every aspect of the customer experience. They make people feel unsafe and uncomfortable, and often leave them unable to interact naturally with their party.
Alcohol server training makes sure these bad eggs aren’t polluting the social dynamic of your public business. If your bar has a reputation for relaxed serving guidelines, you may lose a lot of repeat business.
Any time you provide free training, it enhances the career prospects of your staff. That applies to free alcohol server training), too.
Any training on any subject related to the job at hand makes the recipients of that training feel more qualified to do the job. And the more qualified someone feels, the more confidence they have in their career path. Career progression starts with a single step.
It’s also attractive to other managers when hiring bar staff. Knowing that someone has exposure to thorough alcohol server training is a benefit.
How to Implement Alcohol Server Training
Here are a few tips on implementing alcohol server training at your bar or restaurant.
Alcohol Server Certification
The majority of alcohol server certification is mostly tailored by location. That’s because every state’s dram shop laws differ. So the most effective way to mitigate risk is to consider the specifics of the liability in your area. Many alcohol server certification courses can be done online, but that’s more difficult to coordinate with an in-house workforce with no computer access at work.
Your best bet is to contract a company to host in-person workshops periodically. Expiration for safe-serving certificates is typically one year. Mind the expiration date for every certification and make sure the company comes back by then. Most likely, you’ll need to have the contractor come in a few times in a year to make sure no staff goes uncertified.
Start off every staff member’s tenure with alcohol server training during onboarding. This won’t be as substantial as proper alcohol server certification, but it should be useful and supportive of company policies in the bar operations manual or bar staff training manual.
Teach staff to look for physical signs of extreme intoxication: bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, degraded motor control, aggression or lethargy
And, when necessary, cover the basics of cutting someone off or asking them to leave the property. There’s no law for how to do this, so it's a bar or restaurant policy. That’s why it should be in onboarding; it won’t necessarily be covered in rotating alcohol server certification.
Typically, it’s some combination of discretely, quietly, and with minimal embarrassment to the drunken party.
Lead By Example
Servers and bartenders are in the business of pleasing people. Cutting people off or asking them to leave is uncomfortable. In bar management, you should lead by example. Be the one to step up and do this work when necessary and you can count on your staff to follow your lead in the future.
Running a successful bar is, in large part, about making life easier for your staff. Whether that be stepping up to the plate when there’s a rowdy guest or making their lives easier with bar inventory software.
A perpetual inventory system like BinWise Pro makes it easy to track inventory in real-time, spot variance, and purchase and price cocktails strategically.
The more money your bar brings in, the more money your staff makes. Automate your inventory and make everyone happy.