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Four Keys To Managing Responsible Alcohol Consumption In Restaurants And Bars

By: Alan Someck
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Restaurants and bar owners face a precarious balancing act when it comes to serving alcohol.

Balancing Alcohol Sales vs Responsibility

On one hand the critical goal of the operation is to promote alcohol sales so the business can be as profitable as possible. Operators also want to promote a good time so guests will feel happy being there and continue to consume alcohol and spend money.

On the other hand, owners need to be extremely vigilant so as to not allow alcohol consumption to cross the threshold of guests being too intoxicated which could result in the operation being highly exposed to dangerous liability. Owners can potentially lose their liquor license, their business and face significant financial loss if an intoxicated guest endangers themselves, another guest or staff member or someone out in public if they get into an accident while driving away from the restaurant. In addition, owners can risk fines, penalties or jail time involving criminal and/or civil liability.

Let’s review the 4 key areas a food and beverage establishment needs focus on in their operation to greatly reduce any damaging liability when it comes to alcohol service.

1. Owner Attitude and Actions

As with so many issues in a food and beverage operation, the attitude and actions of the owner sets the tone and example for the staff and guests. A lax owner who just focuses on maximizing profit without considering over consumption of alcohol will foster an environment where there are very few limitations. Staff looks to the owner for cues on how to behave in relation to serving alcohol and monitoring its effects.

Guests also quickly pick up on what is acceptable concerning alcohol service. The first line of defense for a restaurant or bar is the firm commitment by ownership to develop and expect responsible alcohol serving practices from their staff.

2. Restaurant Hiring Practices

To implement responsible alcohol service, a capable staff with the right attitude is necessary. This can be developed by hiring people who will carry out the operation’s desired practices.

One common major failing in the food and beverage industry is the inability of owners to know how to hire and what to look for in new staff. Just because someone worked in a bar does not necessarily mean they will be the type of person to support the alcohol service goals.

Owners need to be able to clearly assess through insightful questions and listening who would be a potential good fit for their operation. It’s extremely difficult to create a good working culture in a food establishment. Without staff having the right attitude and temperament, it becomes next to impossible.

The bottom line is operators need to become masterful in the hiring process.

3. Training and Reinforced Training

This is an area that often gets overlooked in the busy day to day of running a bar or restaurant. As many staff as possible should be required to take a national alcohol training course such as ServSafe Alcohol or TIPS.

Ownership needs to back that up by bringing up alcohol related issues in pre-shift meetings and in their moment to moment oversight of their business. They need to continually remind staff to pay attention to all aspects of alcohol service.

As a further protection, it would be a good idea to have staff retake the alcohol trainings every 2-3 years. So much of creating a great operating restaurant or bar is effectively reminding staff to do what they already know what they need to do.

Some key basics, which can be found in the alcohol trainings, are identifying the specific visible signs of intoxication and knowing techniques and strategies to mitigate alcohol’s impact on the body given that the liver processes only one alcoholic drink per hour.

In addition, all staff need to consistently practice a clear set of guidelines concerning the checking of guest ID’s.

4. Monitoring Guest Behavior

Monitoring guest behavior can be very challenging, especially in a very busy operation where so much of the focus is to efficiently serve alcohol and food to guests and build up check averages.

It is imperative that in addition to staff having the awareness of the visible signs of intoxication, they need to act decisively when affirming a guest’s intoxicated behavior. They must also have the confidence to de-escalate a tense situation through various methods such as involving a guest’s friend to help calm an agitated intoxicated customer.

Knowing how to manage a guest wanting to leave the establishment while clearly intoxicated is another critical condition to manage. Staff must be skilled in convincing a guest to not drive and there may be times where it may be appropriate to call the police if the guest driving away will potentially pose a danger to the public.

There needs to be free flowing lines of communication between staff and management. Staff has to ask for help when they may feel overwhelmed by a situation. Managers should ABM (Always Be Moving) to provide support and oversight of the entire operation on an ongoing basis. No matter how busy the operation, they need to remind staff to keep tabs on how much guests are consuming and know when and how to cut off a guest or support staff in doing so.

This can be especially difficult when dealing with a regular customer who may feel disrespected when cut off. Egos typically play a big role in alcohol consumption and management and staff need to stay firm in their decision and find a way to control any angry customer reactions. More often than not, the next day the customer is thankful for the care and concern shown to them.

Serving Alcohol Responsibly

The goal of every operation should be to responsibly serve alcohol while being as profitable as possible.

Although it can be very challenging, many restaurants and bars across the country have found a way to make the balancing act work. As an owner, you have a legal obligation to keep your guest, staff and the public safe from irresponsible alcohol consumption.

It is perfectly fine to create a party atmosphere in your operation to promote a good time and increase alcohol sales. However, along with doing that and any other alcohol related activity, there always needs to be the commitment on the part of ownership to provide and enforce consumption guidelines that continually protect guests, the establishment and the community.

Alan Someck's 42 years of experience in the Hospitality Industry as an owner, operator, consultant, and teacher has given him the in depth practical knowledge to provide highly professional and thorough expert witness reports, depositions and testimony. For the past 14 years, he has been a full time Management Instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City as well as serving as an Adjunct Professor of Hospitality Management at the New York Institute of Technology.

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