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HIRE Education 2023: Alcohol Service Training For Front-of-House Staff

Alcohol Service Training for Restaurants
Alcohol Service Training for Restaurants

Training your servers and other front-of-house staff in the responsible service of alcohol not only helps boost sales, but it protects your customers, the community, your crew, and your business!

Most people who open a restaurant do it because of a love for food and passion for creating an enjoyable atmosphere and experience for their guests. From designing the menu, creating a marketing strategy, and constructing the physical location to hiring staff, handling inventory, and managing the books, running a restaurant is much more than serving delicious food.

Whether you manage a fine dining establishment, a fast food restaurant, or a casual cafe, alcohol is often part of the dining experience. If you're planning to open a bar or restaurant that serves alcoholic beverages, creating an environment that’s both safe and enjoyable for your guests and employees is key. And it all begins with training your servers and other FOH staff in the service of alcohol.

According to a recent survey, only about 53% of restaurants provide training for alcohol service and that can be quite risky. Having your FOH staff trained on all food and alcohol best practices is extremely important for the long-term success of your business. But as important as it is, training staff can be one of the most challenging boxes to check off on a restaurant manager’s to-do list.

We’ve put together this alcohol server training guide to help get you started.

What is Alcohol Service Training?

Alcohol service training is a tool for educating your staff about local alcohol laws, best practices, and safe serving techniques. The goal of this strategy is to ensure that servers, bartenders, managers, hosts, and anyone else who handles alcoholic beverages at your restaurant is equipped with the knowledge and training needed to sell and serve legally, safely, and responsibly.

State-by-State Pouring Laws

Many states require a license or certification before a person can legally sell or serve alcohol. In some states, there’s also an age requirement.

Just like bartending licenses, which may be required depending on the state, bartending age restrictions vary throughout the nation as well. For example, while you only have to be 18 years of age to pour or serve alcohol in Florida, you have to be at least 21 in the state of Mississippi.

Some states have different age restrictions for those who work behind a bar and those who serve alcoholic beverages at a table. And if that’s not complicated enough, some states have legal age limits on serving beer and wine versus serving hard liquor.

Because the legalities can change from year to year, we suggest that you do your own research to find out the most accurate and up-to-date rules and regs in your state.

Though the specific requirements from state to state may vary, alcohol server training generally involves educating employees on the following topics:

  • Laws that regulate selling or serving to minors and intoxicated people

  • Laws that regulate selling to non-members of a private club

  • The effects of alcohol on customers

  • The correct way to check IDs and prevent the sale of alcohol to minors or individuals with expired identification

  • How and why to refuse the sale of alcohol in specific situations

  • How to protect one’s self and employer from liability

Importance of Alcohol Service Training for Front-of-House Staff

There are several benefits to making alcohol service training for front-of-house staff an integral part of your restaurant’s onboarding strategy.

Helps maintain an enjoyable atmosphere: One of the benefits of having employees who have been trained on alcohol service on your team is that they’ll be able to prevent loud and unruly customers from ruining the dining experience for everyone else.

Saves lives: The biggest benefit by far is that it keeps your customers, community, and staff members safe. In fact, when your staff knows when to stop or refuse serving alcohol to a guest, they have the power to save lives. Your staff members are on the front line and are ultimately the ones who may be able to prevent a customer from drinking to excess and risk hurting themselves or someone else, either while in your restaurant or after they leave.

Prevents loss of license: Because alcohol is often the most profitable category of menu items, holding a liquor license is key to the success of most bars and restaurants. So it follows that losing your bar license can single-handedly do serious damage.

According to the WHO, of the two billion people worldwide that consume alcoholic beverages, a vast majority are considered light to moderate drinkers who occasionally drink at a high-risk level. High-risk drinking, sometimes referred to as binge drinking, is someone who consumes five or more drinks in one session for men, or four or more drinks in one session for women.

A person who drinks at a high-risk level may or may not appear to be visibly intoxicated so it’s important for a server to pay close attention when a guest is ordering multiple drinks because it can be tricky to recognize when a person has reached their limit.

alcohol service training in restaurants
Serving Craft Beer

If you’re not sure how many drinks it takes for a person to become legally impaired, use this interactive BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) Calculator.

This is a great tool to show how quickly and easily a person can become intoxicated and run the risk of causing an accident. It varies depending on the type of drink, the person’s weight, gender, and time consumed.

Over-serving a guest or serving a minor could put your restaurant in legal jeopardy and run the risk of serious repercussions including:

  • Substantial fines

  • Suspended or revoked liquor license

  • Suspended or revoked food service license

  • Suspended or revoked business license

  • Closing of your restaurant

  • Jail time

Mitigates fines and repercussions: Most states have either voluntary or mandatory alcohol seller-server training requirements. There are 19 states that have mandatory beverage service training requirements and 16 states that offer mitigation of penalties for businesses who voluntarily decided to have their staff complete training.

In states that don’t have alcohol server education requirements, many restaurants still opt to offer this training to prevent safety and legal repercussions.

alcohol service training
Alcohol service training for new hires

Alcohol Service Laws and Mandates

Here are a few examples of alcohol service laws and mandates you might encounter as a restaurant that serves alcohol. Again, given the differences from state to state, it's important to check the state and local laws in your area to make sure your business is in compliance.

  • Dram Shop Laws/Blue Laws

Dram Shop Laws, sometimes referred to as blue laws, are some of the most common alcohol-related statutes in the U.S. A Dram Shop is a commercial establishment, such as a restaurant, where alcoholic beverages are sold. A Dram Shop Law makes the business or server liable in the event that an over-served customer causes bodily harm or an underage customer is served .

  • Texas TABC Safe Harbor Rule

The TABC Safe Harbor Rule protects restaurants, bars, and private clubs in the state of Texas that offer alcohol server/seller training from repercussions should a staff member over-serve a guest or serve a minor.

  • Florida Mitigation Benefits

The state of Florida offers businesses a benefit for voluntarily participating in alcohol server training. Any business owner who voluntarily participates in the state’s “Responsible Vendor Program” may have their penalty for violations reduced.

Bartender mixing drinks
Server mixing drinks

Tips for Implementing an Alcohol Service Training Program

There are a few options for implementing an alcohol service training program in your restaurant.

Offer off-site courses for new staff: A variety of organization offer or host alcohol server training tailored to your state's legal requirements, many of which can be done online.

Host yearly on-site refresher courses for entire staff: Another option is to host a refresher course on-site once a year to make sure your entire staff is complying with safe serving protocol.

Require pre-hire certification: Encourage new and existing staff to take safe serving courses recommended by a local restaurant association before they start working.

Regardless of which training you opt for, keep a record of each staff member’s certification. Safe-serving certifications often expire, so existing staff members will likely have to retake their chosen alcohol server training course at some point. It’s up to the employee and the business owner to keep track of these expiration dates.

Restaurant customer service
Importance of customer service in restaurants

Alcohol Service Training During Onboarding

In addition to making sure new staff members have a formal certification in alcohol serving, conduct on-the-job alcohol service training as a part of the onboarding process. If possible, you can let your existing staff members train your new staff.

Keep a thorough list of policies and best practices around alcohol service in your employee handbook, and have each new staff member sign the list to indicate they’ve read and understood their responsibilities.

Show your staff you trust their judgment and that you’ll support them in cutting off a customer whenever they feel it’s necessary. It’s also important to teach your staff your preferred way of de-escalating a situation with difficult guests. Safety is always more important than the money you could make by continuing to serve visibly intoxicated guests.

Teach your staff to spot the physical signs of intoxication and show them how to intervene. Every person reacts differently to alcohol, but there are a few clear signs that someone has reached their limit.

  • Bloodshot or glazed eyes

  • Slurred speech

  • Decreased motor control

  • Negative or aggressive interactions with other guests

serving wine at restaurants
Wine service in restaurants

Take Away

Implementing an alcohol service training program into your hiring strategy is an essential component to running a successful restaurant. By following state and local laws and creating your own safe serving program, you can help prevent any problematic alcohol-related issues from happening in the first place; keep your staff, the community, customers, and your business operating safely; and ensure that your restaurant thrives for years to come.

By Eileen Strauss


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