For full-service restaurants, alcohol sales can make up a significant portion of overall profits. For many operations, promotions related to alcohol (think happy hour and other drink specials) are a major draw for both new customers and regulars. While the promotional messaging from restaurants encourages people to drink more, the underlying practice must be to ensure every guest drinks responsibly. This is especially true right now, during Alcohol Awareness Month. Created by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence in 1987, the goal of Alcohol Awareness Month is to bring awareness to alcoholism and recovery. Restaurant owners, managers, and servers have a social responsibility to follow the laws regarding alcohol sales and service.

Do not sell to minors.

Making sure your guests who order alcohol are over 21 isn’t just the legal thing to do, it’s the right thing to do for your community. When federal law changed the minimum drinking age to 21, alcohol related accidents went down. Every employee tasked with selling alcohol must be thoroughly trained on how to check IDs and how to spot fake ones. Servers and bartenders must card everyone who orders alcohol who looks under 35. Since this is ultimately a judgment call on the server’s part, an even more stringent guideline is to simply card everyone, regardless of how old they look. Whatever your policy, hire mystery shoppers to make sure servers are following it.

Do not sell to anyone who you suspect may be buying for a minor.

Servers and bartenders should be vigilant when serving guests who are with older teens. Underage would-be drinkers and their friends can be sneaky. A guest of legal age may purchase alcohol for a minor, such as by ordering a shot and then pouring it into a minor’s soda. If you have any reason to suspect a person is buying alcohol for a minor, refuse the sale.

Do not sell to anyone who is intoxicated.

It is illegal to serve alcohol to a guest who is intoxicated or may become intoxicated from the drink you serve them. Servers and bartenders must be trained to track a guest’s purchases of alcohol over time. Training is also key to help servers recognize the most common signs of intoxication.

When in doubt, refuse the sale.

In the restaurant business, going above and beyond for guests is the key to success. Cutting a guest off or refusing a sale may seem to go against that philosophy. But when it comes to responsible alcohol sales, the risks of over-serving guests are just too high. It’s estimated that nearly 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes in the U.S. ever year. If someone gets intoxicated at your restaurant, you and the staff member who sold to them can be held personally liable for injuries, property damages, or deaths that happen as a result.

 

Alcohol Awareness Month comes once a year, but selling alcohol responsibly is a year-round obligation.