The level of liability restaurant managers and owners face in alcohol related incidents can be shockingly high. Protecting yourself, your staff, and your customers from dangerous alcohol related situations should be a top priority for your business. And the best way to protect yourself is to make sure your staff is properly trained for alcohol service. Some tips on how to train your staff:
Be aware of local and state laws. More than likely you learned the local and state laws that apply to alcohol when you applied for your liquor license. However, your staff may not be aware of these laws and there may have been changes or amendments since you applied for a license. Make sure you take the time to educate yourself and your staff on all liquor laws that apply to your establishment.
Create a standardized alcohol service policy. Set a standard policy and train your staff to follow this policy strictly. While you will probably need to include some unique clauses for your particular situation, here are some good ideas on what to include:
Train staff to observe patron behavior and identify those who are becoming intoxicated. Many establishments use a color coded system: green for little or no intoxication, yellow for becoming intoxicated, and red for time to cut off.
Mandate communication between staff, customers, and management. Staff should know how to communicate your establishment’s alcohol policy to customers. They should also be encouraged to notify managers of potential problems before they become situations.
Train staff to count drinks and know the difference between alcohol types. Counting drinks helps avoid problems with patrons who do not exhibit an obvious change in behavior as they become intoxicated. However, your staff should also know the alcohol content of what they’re serving. Four domestic beers is very different from four long island ice teas, so make sure your staff knows the difference.
Also train staff to factor in time and food consumption when evaluating the intoxication of a customer. Four drinks consumed over the course of four hours is much different than four drink consumed in half an hour. Food, especially fatty or high protein foods, help slow the rate of alcohol absorption into the bloodstream, which in turn affects the likely intoxication level of the customer. Encourage “yellow” intoxicated customers to eat and make sure appetizers or quickly prepared menu items are readily available to drinking customers
Implement strategies to avoid alcohol related situations. A well trained staff with a clear set of guidelines to follow is the first and most important line of defense in helping you mitigate alcohol liability. The second line of defense is the implementation of some key strategies that will help you avoid alcohol related problems. Some examples:
Encourage parties to identify a designated driver and incentivize DD’s by offering free non-alcoholic beverages and appetizers.
Form a good relationship with a reputable cab company and advertise their number for free in your establishment.
Include local police when setting your alcohol service standards and use them as a resource for avoiding and handling alcohol related incidents in your establishment.
How to protect yourself if an incident does occur. If an alcohol related incident does occur in your establishment, make sure you document as much as you can. Record eyewitness accounts of what happened and what you and your staff did to control customer intoxication. This documentation will prove to be worth its weight in gold if litigation arises as a result of an incident connected with your business.
Having clear strategies to control intoxication in your establishment is no longer an optional policy. Cases that have been settled in the past five years have shown that you are not only potentially liable for injury that occurs as a result of an alcohol related incident in your establishment but outside it as well, most notably in drunk driving cases. Such litigation can ruin your business and your life, so taking precautions when serving alcohol is a vital part of operating in the food service industry.