Serving a Minor: Who’s at Risk and What’s at Stake?

Serving a minor is a costly mistake—one that can shut down your business entirely.

After spending months of time and thousands of dollars to obtain your liquor license, why risk it all at the hands of busy, stressed staff?

Without the right tools and processes in place, this is exactly what you’re doing every night, even with the best of intentions.

Who is legally responsible?

It is illegal to knowingly serve alcohol to a minor, and anyone who does can be held responsible for any injuries or damages that result from the minor’s impaired state. But it’s not always black and white when it comes to pinpointing the exact person who is responsible.

READ MORE: Are You Checking IDs Properly?

There are several factors that go into determining the exact person, which is oftentimes the reason why separate penalties are given to the person who holds the liquor license (the owner of a bar) and the person who makes the sale (the bartender who serves a minor). Depending on the severity of the situation and state laws, the penalties can range from a fine, to jail time, to a temporary suspension of the liquor license, to the liquor license being completely revoked.

What if someone else checked the ID?

The seller is the one liable for serving the minor. As a bartender or server, you are responsible for checking the IDs of your customers, even if another person has previously checked it. That’s why it’s particularly important for a validating process to be instilled within venues that have a person checking IDs prior to entering the bar. 

What if a minor uses a fake?

When a minor is served, you need to show that you took steps to the best of your ability to avoid purposefully serving that person. That means, in most cases, you’re only liable for selling to a minor if you didn’t ask for identification or if you looked but didn’t use your best abilities to detect the minor. If the guest presents a realistic ID that says he or she is of drinking age, no charges will be filed against the establishment.

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However, if it’s obvious that the ID is fake or if that ID clearly does not belong to the person presenting it, then the establishment and the person who served that minor becomes liable.

What if it’s a planned sting?

When authorities are checking to make sure you’re compliant, they legally cannot do so by using a fake ID or purposefully deceiving you. They’re typically checking to make sure you’re properly asking for identification.

Most sting fails are a result of not asking for identification or asking for identification but incorrectly calculating someone’s age based on their date of birth. When these human errors happen, you’ll fail the sting and both the server and the establishment will be presented with the ramifications.

How to mitigate the risks?

Between human errors, miscommunication, inattention to detail, and simply not checking an ID, there are myriad factors that can put you at risk for being liable for serving a minor. The first place to start is having a policy in place that requires your staff to check the ID of anyone who enters your venue. The second step is to go further by equipping your staff with an ID scanning system.

READ MORE: Fighting Fakes: Train Your Staff to Check IDs Properly

Having an ID scanning system essentially acts as an insurance policy that guarantees you’ll be covered when a minor is accidentally served. The system will reduce the chances of honest human errors, such as incorrectly calculating someone’s age based on the date of birth. It will confirm all IDs are reviewed in the case of planned stings. Such a system will also act as your paper trail to prove you didn’t purposefully serve a guest who presented a realistic fake ID.

It’s one of the most cost effective and worthwhile investments you can make to protect yourself from losing the license you worked so hard to obtain while growing the business you worked tirelessly to build.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute legal advice from Bar & Restaurant or the author in any way. Always consult an attorney for any legal questions you may have. Keep up to date with the laws, rules and regulations of the state, county and town in which you operate.

This article was originally published in 2018.

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