Are You Checking IDs Properly?

Bouncer checking IDs at a bar or nightclub
Image: nullplus / Shutterstock

Checking IDsNOTE: You'll find more up-to-date information about checking IDs in our article "Fighting Fakes: Train Your Staff to Check IDs Properly."

Every employee working in the bar or club should understand the simple mechanics of screening a guests identification and the disastrous consequence of mistakes.

In 2010 I asked 48 state beverage control inspectors from 18 states what was the single biggest reason employees failed when tested with a minor decoy compliance check.  The number one reason, 29 of the 48 inspectors, stated that the employee simply didn’t check the ID.

Think about that.  The bartender or server had the chance to ask a youthful appearing person as they ordered a drink for their ID but just didn’t do it!

Checking the ID?  Sure, it 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 way too often it’s taken for granted.  There appears to be just one problem with that simple task.  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, 25 of the 32, told me, get this now, they actually just forgot.  It was busy, they had other things on their mind and they just forgot.

What follows are some simple and proven tips to help any employee better screen identification.  To offer these points, I have to go with the idea that the employees don’t have strong written policies surrounding checking the ID and if you do you have policies, great!

1.    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, becomes 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.

2.    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.

3.    Know what the date is AND the year for someone to be 21.  As I’m writing this, September 3, 2013, I have to remember the year 1992.  I took the current year and subtracted 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 1992 and ask for their ID.  If the birthdate says September 5, 1992, simple, this person is only 20 but their birthday is in 2 days.  A simple tool to help employees remember is to ask your beer distributor for a changeable date sign for behind the bar.

4.    You’ve asked for the guests 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.  You see, and 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.  Remember, they won’t pick just anyone to borrow an ID, 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.

5.    It’s also importance of asking questions when screening the ID.  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.  But, instead, when you have an ID in your hand, you’ve verified the date but the photo just isn’t right, you should have a couple of “Go To” questions that you know what the response should be.

You don’t have to know the correct answer but instead, you 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; “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?”  It’s funny but you will automatically see the response you’re looking for when you ask the 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.

Disclaimer: The following information was provided by the author. Acting on this information can have legal, financial, business, personal, and other consequences. Nightclub & Bar and its parent company Questex are not a law firm and this post does not constitute legal or accounting advice.

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