Anyone who serves alcohol in any capacity should take this issue seriously. If the worst happens and someone becomes injured (or even worse) as a result of being over served or served underage, the impact could be devastating to all involved. Even the smaller restaurant or bar business owner may think they have little chance of being impacted by this, but the reality is that no one would want to see their life’s dream shuttered over something that could have been prevented with training and awareness.
Bar & Restaurant spoke to several experts – including Robert Pomplun, the founder of Serving Alcohol, Carrie A. Christofes, the executive director for the National Liquor Law Enforcement Association, and Greg Provance, a restaurant operator and the owner and principal of GP Hospitality Partners LLC – about serving alcohol, checking IDs properly and training staff in this area.
Take Your Time When Checking IDs
Serving Alcohol’s Rober Pomplun – who has more than three decades of experience in the hospitality industry as an alcohol certification consultant, instructor, manager, and coordinator – said not taking their time is the biggest reason that younger staff members or busy workers fail to comply.
“A lot of police do their compliance checks when you're busy, to make sure that you're doing your due diligence to card the IDs,” said Pomplun, who offers online education, training and state alcohol courses at Serving Alcohol. “The most important thing is you have to take your time when you check the ID. I've had people misread passports as an example, and if somebody's using a passport, that's not the same way that you read an ID for the state. We're the only country in the world that does the month, day and year. It depends on the document and the appearance.”
If it's a situation where a minor drives intoxicated and kills someone on the road, the states have different penalties. Ohio, for example, is trying to get felony charges for adults that get or give alcohol to underage drunk drivers who injure others. “Bartenders and wait staff are sort of protected in that they're selling it,” explained Pomplun. “Owners down the road are going to have a lot more exposure as well as underage kids going out with their friends and drinking and supplying or buying the alcohol and buying rounds on credit cards. The criminal liability of them inducing a minor to enter for an illegal purpose is going to be increasing with the increased amount of people that are killed on highways.”
For operators who serve minors who commit crimes, the fine can be anywhere from $500 to $1,000, depending on the state; they could also lose their license. Each state has different penalties for people that break the law. Intent is a great issue there. “If they knew the person was underage and there's a serious incident, they have a lot more criminal exposure than they would if it was a compliance check and nobody got hurt,” said Pomplun. “So what crime was committed and what was the result of the minor getting access to the alcohol? It can be criminal. If they acted outside the scope of their employment, it creates a greater opportunity for them to get sued as well as the establishment.”
Bar staff have to be educated enough to understand that any act that they do is an act on the owner's behalf, and they have to understand what the statute is. “They have to understand the wording in the statute, and they have to understand exactly what the statute says,” noted Pomplun. “The only IDs that you can accept are IDs that are listed in this statute. Sometimes the state statutes aren't clear as to what IDs you can or cannot accept. Then you go to your house policies and your house policies are saving grace because they can be stricter than state law, as long as they don't discriminate for race, creed, religion, sexual preference, marital status or a pregnancy now.”
Training Staff to Card Guests
Pomplun advises that staff ask, “May I please have your valid ID?” You don't want to see it; you want to have it, he said. “The language that you use just to start out means that you're now in possession of the document and you now can investigate it," explained Pomplun. "If you asked to see it, you never had a right to check it really. You're asking for a valid ID, not one that's not admissible.”
An example is the consulate IDs from Mexico, which the U.S. Treasury department allows for people to open U.S. bank accounts. However, the FBI doesn't like them and advises businesses not to accept them, as they’re considered unreliable forms of ID and possibly vulnerable to fraud. Some states accept Mexican consulate IDs and some states don't.
Another issue is what your state is going to let you accept. So, proof of age may be your choice when you're checking that ID. Minnesota law is proof of age, which means it's your choice. “If you don't think it's that person, you have a right to refuse service, because you found that ID to be not satisfactory,” said Pomplun. “You didn't say it wasn't valid. You said it wasn't satisfactory. Knowing what your policies are on a gray area with IDs is very important; your house policies can set policies that are stricter, but they have to be enforced equally so there's no discrimination. The ID that we instruct people to accept in the state of Minnesota, as an example, is a valid driver's license from any state or province, including a photograph and date of birth.”
Younger Staff May Require More Training
GP Hospitality Partners’ Greg Provance said while some of the operations he is involved with have bartenders who are well-versed in checking IDs and recognizing guests who may have consumed too much, other operations with younger staff require more training.
“Our general rule of thumb is anyone who looks under the age of 30 should be questioned and asked for proper ID,” said Provance. “There are many programs available for restaurant owners and managers to take advantage of for training. In the state of California, it is becoming mandatory that anyone serving alcohol complete a state approved training program within 30 days of employment. Even in states where it is not mandatory, programs are accessible through online courses and even local police departments.”
Provance said he insists that staff call for management whenever they are unsure of whether to ID someone or if they feel someone may have had too much to drink. He never wants a staff member to feel that they have to handle an uncomfortable situation on their own. “When someone has become intoxicated and needs to be cut off, I will often seek out someone in their party to assist with the conversation and to ensure that they have a safe ride home,” he said. “We always want to avoid an unnecessary confrontation with someone intoxicated as they can – but don’t often – become aggressive. Staying calm and keeping things low-key and polite is a good rule of thumb.”
Responsible Beverage Service Training Is Also Important
The National Liquor Law Enforcement Association’s (NLLEA) Carrie A. Christofes said NLLEA is committed to ensuring that alcoholic beverages are promoted, distributed and consumed in a legal fashion. This includes training and education of fake ID detection.
“The NLLEA encourages anyone in a position to serve, sale and deliver alcohol to receive Responsible Beverage Service [RBS] training,” said Christofes. “Training will help to ensure that servers of alcoholic beverages are educated on the dangers of serving alcohol to minors and over-serving alcohol to patrons with the intention of reducing alcohol-related harm to local communities.”
Christofes explained that whether your business serves alcohol to be consumed on-premise (restaurant, bar, nightclub, etc.), off-premise (grocery store, convenience store, liquor store, etc.) or for delivery from an on-premise or off-premise licensed alcohol establishment, servers, sellers and delivery drivers should be trained to properly check identification to ensure that alcohol is not being provided to a minor.
According to Christofes, the NLLEA encourages licensed alcohol establishments to not become complacent in their responsibility to keep alcohol from being served, sold or delivered to minors and to those overly intoxicated.
”The NLLEA advocates for high standards of alcohol service through training and education of their employees and recommends a working relationship with their alcohol regulatory and enforcement agencies, to receive the proper approved training on identification verification and authentication when serving alcohol,” said Christofes. “It is also very important to know and understand the laws and penalties associated with serving alcohol to a minor as both the licensed establishment and the person serving the alcohol could be held liable for a violation.”
Disclaimer: This article does not constitute legal advice from Questex, Bar & Restaurant or the author in any way. Always consult an attorney for any legal questions you may have. Also, keep up to date with the laws, rules and regulations of the state, county and town in which you operate, and get the proper training when needed.
Erin Flynn Jay is a reporter and publicist based in Philadelphia. She’s a Bar & Restaurant contributor, and some of her other writing credits include Next Avenue and Woman’s World, among many others.
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