Selling alcohol can be profitable for a restaurant, but the privilege of selling alcohol comes with responsibilities. Irresponsible alcohol service by one of your employees can result in violations, license suspensions, civil penalties, and even license cancellation. If selling alcohol is important to your restaurant’s success, take steps to ensure that it is not jeopardized by the acts or omissions of your staff.
Common violations include serving a minor, serving a visibly intoxicated individual, drinking on duty, and failing to have the proper credentials to serve alcohol.
To avoid common ABC violations, you can start by taking the following four steps:
- Alcohol service education. Properly training your staff can be instrumental in preventing violations. In states that mandate alcohol server education, this is doubly important because permitting an employee to serve alcohol without the proper credentials is a violation itself. In such states, it is also important to understand which of your employees are to be certified. For example, do managers, front desk staff, or bussers need to be certified? In states where alcohol server education is not mandatory, evidence of such proactive steps can also mitigate penalties in certain circumstances.
- Written policies. You should develop written policies regarding alcohol service that your managers and employees are required to read and understand. The policies should be compliant and reflective of the local liquor laws. In addition, they should clearly set out the consequences for noncompliance.
- Creating a culture of compliance. Written policies are valuable only to the extent that they are referenced and enforced. Your policy regarding alcohol service, or a bullet-pointed summary of your policy, should be conspicuously posted in an area visible to your staff. Management should reference the policies during shift meetings, highlight their importance, and discuss real-world situations that may arise. Individual instances of complying with the policies should be rewarded and discussed. Violations of the policies should not be permitted or overlooked absent extenuating circumstances.
- Self-examination. Management should be mindful of how alcohol is being served at all times. Responsible alcohol service should be part of their mental checklist as they walk through the restaurant and check on tables. Hiring secret shoppers (or simply having friends visit the bar with a request to keep their eyes open) can be an important tool in testing your system.
No system is perfect, and even the best-run restaurant may have the occasional violation. Being mindful of the law and taking steps to train your staff can be instrumental in ensuring that it never becomes more than an occasional violation. In the event of a violation, you should promptly take steps to address the violation and to prevent future violations. In many states, penalties dramatically increase for subsequent violations that occur within a certain time period.
One final bonus point: Many states run minor decoy sting operations in which a minor attempts to purchase alcohol from an establishment in cooperation with local enforcement agents. Understanding and being able to recognize a minor decoy sting can be an important skill for bartenders and managers.