Every employee working in the hospitality industry needs to understand the simple mechanics of screening a guest's identification, and the disastrous consequences of mistakes.
In 2010 I asked 48 state beverage control inspectors from 18 states for the single most common reason employees failed a minor decoy compliance check. Twenty nine out of the 48 inspectors said that the employee simply didn’t check the ID.
Think about that. As the drink was ordered, the employee had the chance to ask a youthful-appearing person for their ID, but they just didn't do it!
Checking the ID seems easy enough, doesn’t it? Get it in your hand, look at the photo and the date of birth and do the math. A simple and extremely important task, but there's just one problem. The person has to actually check the ID.
In California, I asked 32 bartenders and servers who failed a minor decoy compliance check why they didn’t check the ID. The number one answer they told me -- get this now -- was that they forgot. The bar was busy, they had other things on their mind, and they just forgot.
That's not acceptable.
What follows are some simple and proven tips to help any employee better screen identification, whether you have strong written policies in your venue or not!
If They Look Young, Ask for ID
Screen anyone who appears under the age of 30. Practice this point and follow it to the letter. It’s actually really easy, and with time and practice it becomes even easier. As a side point, I believe that policies that say the staff must check everyone’s ID coming into the bar are being violated every night. Trust me owners, if this is your policy, it’s not being followed.
Hold the ID in Your Hand
Get the ID of the person you think is under the age of 30 in your hand to screen it. Don’t look at the ID though the plastic of the wallet or from across the bar. Politely ask the guest to remove the ID from its holder and get it in your hand. If it’s in your hand, you can feel it, rub it, touch it and feel any large or small imperfections from when that minor changed something.
Know Your Dates
Know what the date is, and what the year for someone to be 21. This year is 2021, which makes things easy. Just remember 2000 (take the current year, and subtract 21). Then, know the current date. So, if I’m behind the bar and a guest who appears to be under the age of 30 walks up to me, I just think of 2000 and ask for their ID. If the birthdate says September 5, 2002, I know the person isn't of age yet. Ask your beer distributor for a changeable date sign to keep behind the bar, that's a simple tool to help employees remember.
Look at the Photo. Really, Look at It
You’ve asked for the guest's ID, you have it in your hand and you’ve done the math – great! Now shift your entire focus over to the photo on the ID. Remember this: the number one method used by underage persons to get you to sell them a drink is to use a borrowed ID of someone over 21. They won’t pick just anyone to borrow an ID from, no, they’ll get someone they actually look like and whose general physical description is close to them. Again, with time and practice, you’ll be able to notice subtle photo differences in the hairline, the ears, the nostrils and the smile. If you just don’t trust that the person in front of you is actually the person in the photo ask for other verifiable ID or ask another employee to help you. Never be afraid to ask for help.
It's also important to ask questions when screening the ID. If something just isn't right - maybe you're not sure about the photograph, or the legitimacy of the ID, you can ask questions. You can ask the normal questions the underage person might have already memorized, such as the address on the ID or the zip code of the ID. Or, have a couple of 'go to' questions they might not expect. You don’t have to know the correct answer. You just want the person who is using a borrowed ID to stop and think about your question, mainly because the question has surprised them and they don’t know the answer. So, pick a question that most people would automatically know the answer to such as, like “What’s your zodiac sign?” or “What high school did you go to?” Again, you don’t have to know the answer but you need to understand their answer.
Typically an underage person will start their answer with; “Uhh” or will be very silent. Try this with another employee or friend you know. If they have a brother or sister or a real close friend, just quickly ask them, “What’s your sister’s zodiac sign?”. Yes, it’s funny but you will automatically see the response you’re looking for when you ask an underage person using a borrowed ID.
Finally, understand that with any skill, and checking the ID is absolutely a learned skill, with time and practice, you will become better at it. Don’t talk yourself out of screening someone and even practice re-checking guests other employees may have already screened.
This information was provided by the author. Acting on this information can have legal, financial, business, personal, and other consequences. Bar & Restaurant and its parent company Questex are not a law firm and this post does not constitute legal or accounting advice.
This post was updated in October, 2021.