Alcohol Accountability: Responsible Service Must be a Cultural Element

We have all seen the recent “Drinkability” ad campaign. It’s catchy. I am hopeful that a campaign for “Accountability” will be just as catchy.

We, the purveyors and servers of spirits, wine and beer, need to hold our employees and ourselves accountable for the responsible service of these beverages.

I still witness or hear about places that are rather flippant when it comes to responsible service of alcohol and holding their employees accountable to that objective.

Accountability starts with the culture of the operation. If managers take it seriously, the staff will take it seriously. If you have 10-ounce Martinis, free-flowing bottle service or managers or employees consuming leisurely, surreptitiously or as part of the job on the premises, then your employees, well, you get the picture — I hope.

A responsible service course is just the beginning for an accountability culture. Yes, you read that right, just the beginning. Four hours or so of training, every couple of years, during which they feed employees the same old information is just not defensible in a courtroom today.

And let’s all realize that training, education, repetition and follow-up coaching are only effective if a culture of responsibility, including accountability, is in place. Such a culture reminds staff every day about responsible service via daily line-ups, POS system pop-up messages, service education that occurs more frequently than the law requires and the development of policies that are enforced.

Many operators have a policy requiring management authorization of continued service after a customer consumes a certain number of drinks. While this is a helpful policy, it ignores the issue of how much alcohol the customer has consumed. In some drinks served today, like larger Martinis, a customer could have consumed 5 to 7 ounces of alcohol with one drink (the equivalent of four to six mixed drinks with a 1.25-ounce pouring). Accordingly, we need policies that focus on the amount of alcohol served and consumed, not just the number of drinks.

Once the right policies are in place, it is imperative that all staff be held accountable for complying with those policies. The culture of accountability begins with the job description. It should clearly explain that all staff members are expected to serve alcohol responsibly and in accordance with responsible training and education.

The next step is to expand the group of staff members who are included in the responsible training pool. We should be inclusive rather than exclusive. Anyone who might interact with a customer who is consuming alcohol should be included in the training. So in addition to the usual managers, bartenders and servers, effective policies on training should also include hosts, hostesses, bussers, bouncers and valets.

In addition to the daily reminders of responsible service, responsible and accountable cultures use mystery shoppers to ensure compliance with the policies and take prompt remedial action when they find gaps in compliance.

It is absolutely crucial that operators clearly demonstrate their commitment to the responsible service of alcohol by implementing strict inventory control programs and ensuring management staff is in strict compliance with the policies.

A final word about manager training in the responsible service of alcohol: I have been involved in several cases recently where managers who were required to be certified had arranged to get the certificate without actually going through the course. That is a one-way ticket to an extra large verdict and a possible jail term for falsifying a government document, assuming it is submitted to the alcohol beverage commission.

Operators, verify that all managers have gone through the courses. It will serve you well, and it demonstrates a commitment to the responsible service of alcohol and accountability. NCB

The Essentials

Some essential policies for creating a culture of responsibility and accountability are:

  1. All servers of alcohol beverages must be trained/certified in accordance with the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission Rules and Regulations.
  2. Proof of certification shall be permanently placed in the employee’s personnel file.
  3. Create a tickler system to maintain training/certifications.
  4. All management and/or supervisors are responsible for keeping track of their particular employees to ensure that recertification occurs on time. If a certification expires, the employee shall not be allowed to work until the recertification course is taken and the employee is recertified.
  5. All policies and procedures established by the training/certification program shall be complied with and enforced by all employees.
  6. No one under the age of 21 shall be served, allowed to consume and/or sold an alcohol beverage. (Note: In some states it is not unlawful for a parent or guardian to order an alcohol beverage for a minor. Should the establishment, at its discretion, choose to allow this service to occur, then it is suggested that the server serve the drink to the parent or guardian. 
  7. Coming to work or working under the influence of alcohol or any illicit drug is strictly prohibited.
  8. Employees of the club (including management) are strictly prohibited from consuming alcohol beverages before, during or after their shift while on the licensed premises.
  9. Removal of alcohol beverages by employees from the licensed premises is strictly forbidden.
  10. All drink recipes must be followed. Over-pouring is strictly prohibited.
  11. Drinks containing spirits shall not contain more than 2 ounces of spirits in the aggregate; including Martinis, Long Island Iced Teas, Hurricanes, etc.
  12. Bottle service is not allowed.
  13. Follow the Designated Driver program rules. Please remember that just because a group has a designated driver does not lessen our obligation to serve alcohol responsibly to the rest of the group.

    For a list of other suggested policy items, please visit


Suggested Articles

Governor Gavin Newsom issued the order earlier this afternoon.

General Counsel, Jessica Shraybman, shares her advice for clients looking to negotiate terms with their landlords.

More than ever, we need Congress to help our independent restaurants which are proven to be a foundation of the U.S. economy.