Alcohol Accountability Behind the Bar

Bar and nightclub operators often overlook one of the most important components in ensuring long term success and growth; limiting liability and eliminating exposure to potential lawsuits and violations. Owners are frequent targets of lawsuits involving claims of over-serving alcohol. It’s a risky business and controlling your liabilities is critical to your success.  

The challenges surrounding alcohol service have increased dramatically. All staff members must understand their liability regarding alcohol service. So, how do you make sure that you staff is compliant and responsible when it comes to alcohol? Internal policies and procedures to avoid liability, when serving alcohol is a must for every owner and there are some basic principles you can implement in order to keep your operation and your customers safe.


Reducing Your Risk
All 50 states have set a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.08 BAC as the legal limit for driving under the influence. For commercial drivers, a BAC of 0.04 is the legal limit and there is a zero policy for individuals under the age of 21. Law enforcement and investigators have little sympathy for liquor licensees and their employees who are negligent and fail to institute adequate measures to mitigate their liability. One of the best defenses is to enforce a clear set of policies regarding alcohol service and back it with consistent and ongoing training.

Two critical mistakes that bartenders and servers make is excessive service and over-pouring liquor in mixed drinks. The use of jiggers, precision pour spouts or similar devices can be used to ensure the amount of alcohol is consistent and not in excess.  If you are under an investigation or on trial the use of these devices will convey the attempt to prevent over-pouring.  

Some best practices to think about when examining your responsible service policy are as follows:

  • Certification of all servers through a state-sanctioned alcohol-awareness program that is in accordance with the Alcoholic Beverage Commission rules and regulations.
  • Procedure for refusing a guest service.
  • Management cannot undermine the procedures put in place – lead by example.
  • Notify your insurance immediately after an incident occurs.
  • Make responsible service part of the culture – a culture of responsibility to the safety of customers.
  • Program random POS System pop-up messages reminding bartenders and servers of the policies and procedures.  
  • Require management approval of continued service after a specific number of drinks is served to a single customer.
  • Make sure to train all your staff (i.e. hosts, valet, bussers, etc.) not just the bartenders and servers.
  • Implement inventory control systems.
  • Create standard recipes for bartenders and servers to follow.
  • Strictly prohibiting staff members from coming to work under the influence or consuming alcohol before, during or after a shift.
  • Obligation to serve responsibly even when a group has a designated driver.
  • Communication between management and other servers when someone seems to have over consumed.
  • Implementing closing procedures including “last call,” evaluate customers’ intoxication level and providing alternative forms of transportation.

Keeping a chart behind the bar that gives estimates of a person’s BAC based on height, weight, duration and amount of alcohol consumed can help bartenders determine whether or not to serve a customer. You should also incorporate some of the innovative products that help to guarantee every guest is of legal drinking age with the best practices that you set fourth behind the bar. ID checking guidelines are posted annually to help guide owners and operators.

Most important to reducing your risk, is to enforce, without exception, the service standards you put in place. Create an alcohol beverage service document listing the required procedures and have each staff member sign it. If one of you staff members violates these standards, swift and immediate action needs to be taken to correct the problem, or terminate the employee.

Think about it. What would a sting cost your operation? What can bad publicity for underage service do? You don’t want to jeopardize your livelihood or that of your hard-working staff. Be proactive and reward success. Responsible service, proper staff training and set procedures are required to ensure liabilities are avoided at all costs.


Ignition Interlock

Ignition Interlock is also looming over the horizon and you need to make sure that as an owner you know about it.  Can a relatively small piece of technology hurt your business? In this case, the answer is absolutely yes! Ignition Interlock is gaining some serious momentum in Washington and has already been implemented in some form in all 50 states for drunk driving offenders. But how does this affect your business?

There is a push to make Ignition Interlock standard in all cars. The impact of this policy will have a dramatic effect on drink sales. This could mean that patrons enjoying dinner would opt out of having that one beer or glass of wine, dropping average check amounts dramatically. Therefore, you need to think about what you can do to protect your business. Breathalyzers in all cars, think it can’t happen?  Well think again. Five states have already considered legislation to mandate interlocks on all vehicles. Currently, interlocks are calibrated at around 0.02 BAC, far below the legal limit. The result would be a de facto Prohibition on responsible adults. 

Source: Interlock Facts

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