004. Serving alcohol

Serving alcohol

It is important to be a responsible beverage server to ensure everyone’s health and safety. We the servers, or our employer, could be held liable for the actions of our drunk customers. This section outlines what I learned in Responsible Beverage Server Training (RBS).

Utilizing my Responsible Beverage Server Training (RBS) for the Hollister Downtown Association beer garden at the Hollister Biker Rally, July 4, 2014.

Utilizing my Responsible Beverage Server Training (RBS) for the Hollister Downtown Association beer garden at the Hollister Biker Rally, July 4, 2014.

The syllabus does list a couple sources of reading materials for this section.

However, it’s recommended that you attend a local course such as Responsible Beverage Server Training.

We need to know the effects of alcohol on the body and know how to deal with intoxicated customers and underage customers.

State and local laws vary. You should consider attending a class in your area.

In many areas, the class is not required for working in the beverage industry. Some municipalities do require it.

Hollister Downtown Association provided the class for volunteers to work at the beer garden for the 4th of July Hollister Biker Rally. In my area, Sun Street Centers provides the class under contract from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) under their RBS Training Provider Program. I attended Responsible Beverage Service Training (RBS) class June 6, 2014. It cost $25 and lasted a couple hours. Here’s what I learned.

Alcohol’s effects

Alcohol is absorbed into the body through the tissues of the mouth, throat, stomach, and small intestine. From there it goes into the bloodstream and is carried throughout the body.

Several factors affect the absorption of alcohol into the body:

  • Food – If the customer has already eaten, the alcohol in her beverage will be absorbed more slowly. Someone drinking on an empty stomach will absorb alcohol more quickly.
  • Concentration of alcohol – A beverage with higher percent alcohol by volume (ABV) will result in a higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Yet higher ABV causes irritation to the gastrointestinal tract, which slows the absorption of alcohol. Go figure!
  • Carbonation – Carbonation causes the body to absorb alcohol more quickly. All other things being equal (same ABV, same amount of ounces), a beer or a cocktail with soda water will cause the body to absorb alcohol more quickly than wine or an un-carbonated mixed drink.
  • Temperature – Alcohol is absorbed most quickly when it is at body temperature. So a warm beer will cause the alcohol to be absorbed more quickly.
  • Hydration – Alcohol is water soluble, so it is absorbed into the body very easily. A person who is dehydrated while drinking will become intoxicated more quickly.

Women feel the affects of alcohol more than men. Women hold less water in their body, so they can become intoxicated faster or from less alcohol.

Immediate affects of alcohol on the body are the result of how alcohol affects neurotransmitters in the brain. Alcohol can cause neurotransmitters to act more slowly or more quickly.

The classis symptoms of intoxication include:

Relaxed inhibitions – A tendency to do what one wouldn’t normally do. Emotions come out. Alcohol is a depressant.

Impaired judgment – Lots of complaints and arguments. Irrational and belligerent. Thinking it’s okay to drive.

Slowed reaction time – Decreased awareness. Slurred speech. Moving slowly.

Loss of coordination – A tendency to stumble, spill their drink, sway, or bump into things.

Alcohol can cause more serious, chronic health issues as well. Regular consumption of alcohol can damage the liver, heart and brain.

Levels of impairment from different BAC:

0.01—0.05% Subclinical

0.03—0.12% Euphoria

0.09—0.25% Excitement

0.18—0.30% Confusion

0.25—0.40% Stupor

0.35—0.50% Coma

≥0.45% Death

The legal limit for driving is 0.08% BAC in every state except Michigan, where it is 0.10%.

Alcohol tolerance means that consumption of more alcohol will produce the same effects as previously with lesser amounts. When a person consumes alcohol regularly, she can become tolerant to the affects of it.

There are 2 types of alcohol tolerance:

  1. Metabolic tolerance – The body absorbs the alcohol more slowly.
  2. Functional tolerance – A person can act sober with higher BAC.

The liver processes alcohol from the bloodstream.

Then the body has 3 ways to get rid of alcohol:

  • Breathe
  • Sweat
  • Urine

There is a 4th way in special circumstances: Mother’s milk. (So consult your doctor about drinking alcoholic beverages while breastfeeding.)

Special care is needed when consuming alcohol while taking medication. The liver processes alcohol and certain types of medication. Alcohol and drugs compete for the liver’s attention. So the liver might process alcohol, but not the medication. Or vice versa. If a person is drinking while taking medication, she could end up more drunk, or her health issues that require the medication could be exacerbated. Or the liver could just be overworked.

Immediate health concerns for consuming alcohol while taking medication include:

  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Fainting
  • Loss of coordination

More serious health issues include:

  • Internal bleeding
  • Heart problems
  • Difficult breathing

Responsible serving practices

Responsible beverage service is key to ensure everyone’s health and safety.

As a server of alcoholic beverages, you have a direct impact on your customers’ level of intoxication. Therefore, you have an indirect impact on their safety and wellbeing.

Underage Customers

First, you need to make sure that your customers are of legal drinking age. Some states in the U.S. allow underage drinking in some circumstances. However, pretty much everywhere in the U.S., the legal age to buy alcohol is 21 years.

There are lots of ways that a minor can try to purchase alcohol. Under-age customers can get pretty tricky.

Be on the lookout for these ways that underage customers try to buy alcohol:

  • Fake or borrowed (or stolen) ID
  • Make herself look older
  • Persuade the server
  • Get in the door before security shows up
  • Blend in with older friends

In California, there is no law that requires you to check identification. However, it is a misdemeanor to sell alcohol to a minor. So your employer might have a policy to check ID. Checking ID can help your defense if you are accused of selling to a minor.

Mostly it’s just paying attention and being conscious of the customer’s age. If the customer looks nervous, doesn’t know what to order, or is wearing youthful trendy clothing they might be underage. Use your instincts.

Be on the safe side and use a buffer. If they look under 30 years of age, check their ID.

If the customer’s ID was checked at the door, but you still think she might be under age, go ahead and check again.

The California ABC accepts the following forms of identification:

  • Driver License issued by one of the 50 states
  • ID Card issued by one of the 50 states
  • Passport (foreign passports are acceptable)
  • Federal Military ID

Hold the ID in your hand while inspecting it. Be sure it’s not laminated or otherwise looks counterfeit.

If you think there might be something fishy going on, test the customer: While holding the customer’s ID, ask her middle name, address, or date of birth. Test her friends: Ask them the customer’s name. If you really want to test, ask the customer to sign her name and compare it to the signature on the ID.

California law allows you to seize an ID that is fake or stolen. You must issue a receipt for the seized ID and the ID must be turned over to the local law enforcement agency within 24 hours.

How many drinks?

An important part of being a responsible beverage server means knowing when to cut off a customer.

The following chart from the California Department of Motor Vehicles shows approximate BAC of a person consuming alcoholic beverages.

State of California Drink Guide Chart Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control by State of California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control accessed here November 1, 2014.

State of California Drink Guide Chart Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control by State of California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control accessed here November 1, 2014.

It is important to understand that this chart gives only an estimate for BAC. As we already discussed, many factors affect how a body absorbs alcohol.

You must use your own judgment to know when a customer has had too much to drink.

Do not sell alcohol to anyone who is obviously drunk or is a habitual drunkard. You must not cause this to happen. You must not allow this to happen.

When it’s time to cut someone off, be honest, be straightforward. Tell the customer what you see, tell her that this will be her last drink for an hour or for the rest of the night.

If you want to deflect the blame, still be honest and straightforward. Tell her that you will get busted if you sell her any more alcohol. It’s not a lie.

Always use an understanding, polite tone. Explain your concern. Explain your employer’s policy and explain the law.

You can also try to offer food or a non-alcoholic beverage. Ask if she has a designated driver or offer to call her a cab.

If the customer becomes abusive or violent, call security or have the manager call the police. You are not security, let security deal with it. Fill out an incident report with details. Keep the report for 2 years in case you or your employer gets sued.

Legal liabilities of alcoholic beverage servers

Did you know that you could be held liable for a customer that gets cited for driving under the influence (DUI) after leaving your bar?

There are 3 kinds of alcohol related liability:

  1. Administrative liability – The licensee (your employer) could be held responsible. This is a 3-strikes violation. They could be fined up to $3,000, have their alcohol license suspended, or loose the license entirely.
  2. Criminal liability – The server could be held personally responsible for violation such as serving to a minor or after-hours drinking. It is a misdemeanor offense. It will go on your criminal record, you could be fined up to $5,000, get 80 hours of community service, or go to jail.
  3. Civil liability – Either the licensee or the server could be sued for injuries or death that resulted from gross negligence or willful misconduct.

Serving alcoholic beverages comes with responsibility. Be aware. Pay attention.

To make sure we’re serving the highest quality beer, we need to store the beer properly. Let’s continue studying with beer storage.

Flashcards for this section

Based on the reading materials mentioned and my notes above, here are my flashcards for this section.

How is alcohol absorbed into the body?

Through the tissues of the mouth, throat, stomach, and small intestine.

5 factors that affect the absorption of alcohol into the body

  1. Food
  2. Concentration of the alcohol
  3. Carbonation
  4. Temperature (of the beverage)
  5. Hydration

4 classic symptoms of intoxication

  1. Relaxed inhibitions
  2. Impaired judgment
  3. Slowed reaction time
  4. Loss of coordination

What are some chronic health issues caused by alcohol consumption?

Damage to the liver, heart and brain

What does BAC stand for?

Blood Alcohol Concentration

What is the legal BAC limit for driving?

0.08% in every state of the U.S.except Michigan, where it is 0.10%

What is alcohol tolerance?

Regular consumption of alcohol can result in a tolerance. Consumption of more alcohol will produce the same effects as previously with lesser amounts.

2 types of alcohol tolerance

  1. Metabolic tolerance – The body absorbs the alcohol more slowly.
  2. Functional tolerance – A person can act sober with higher BAC.

4 ways that the body gets rid of alcohol

  1. Breathe
  2. Sweat
  3. Urine
  4. Mother’s milk

Why is it dangerous to consume alcohol while taking medication?

The liver processes alcohol and some types of medication. One substance could be processed at the neglect of the other, or the liver could be overworked.

Why is it important to be a responsible beverage server?

To ensure everyone’s health and safety.

We, or our employer, could be held liable for the actions of a drunk customer.

What is the legal drinking age?

21 in most instances

(There are some exceptions for consumption, but the legal age to buy alcohol is almost always 21 years.)

Are you required to check ID to detect underage customers?

No. California law does not require you to check ID. Your employer might have a policy that requires it.

Checking ID will help protect you and your employer against liability for underage drinking.

4 forms of acceptable ID

  1. Driver license
  2. ID card
  3. Passport
  4. Military ID

Review the California Drink Chart Guide

This chart provides only an estimate of BAC. It’s good to have an idea of how many drinks a person could consume before she is intoxicated.

Could you or your employer be held liable for your customer’s DUI?

Yes. Either the licensee or the server could be sued for injuries or death that resulted from gross negligence or willful misconduct.

3 kinds of alcohol related liability

  1. Administrative liability – The licensee could be held responsible.
  2. Criminal liability – The server could be held responsible for a violation such as serving a minor or after-hours drinking.
  3. Civil liability – The licensee or the server could be sued for injuries or death.

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Nathan Pierce

    I’m Nathan Pierce. I drink beer, I quit my job, and I’m planning to start a brewery. I also host a podcast about how to start a brewery. So I’m studying for Cicerone® Certification Program, Certified Beer Server exam.

    Study along with me!

    Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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