How to Prevent Underage Alcohol Sales in Your Restaurant


Underage drinking is a serious problem in the United States. Excessive alcohol consumption is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths, and teenagers are especially at risk. If your restaurant serves alcohol, you and your servers have a responsibility to prevent underage alcohol sales on your premises. Having a clear policy on ID-checking is not enough. As a restaurant manager, you must ensure that your employees are following that process with each and every guest they serve.

What You Need to Know

If you fail to train your employees properly and one of them makes an illegal sale, the consequences are severe. Your restaurant could be fined or have its alcohol license suspended. If an illegal sale results in damage, injuries, or death, the restaurant could be sued. You and the employee who made the sale could also be found liable. In some states, you can even be charged with a crime.

What Your Alcohol Servers Need to Know

Responsible alcohol sales training is the most effective way to protect your business, your employees, and your guests. Start with online training delivered through a learning management system (LMS) to track course completion. Follow that up with a blended learning strategy that includes on-the-job training and refresher training. To prevent underage alcohol sales, your alcohol compliance training must cover three important aspects of alcohol sales: checking IDs, spotting fake IDs, and refusing sales.

Checking IDs

Make sure all employees handling alcohol sales are familiar with the process of checking IDs, as well as your restaurant’s policies for carding, such as if employees need to card everyone regardless of age or just everyone who appears under a certain age. Train your servers to understand the four important components of a valid ID:

  1. It must be an official government-issued document with a photograph.
  2. It must not be expired.
  3. It must prove that the guest is at least 21 years old.
  4. It must belong to the guest who presents it.

Spotting Fake IDs

It’s not enough to just glance at ID. Employees must be trained to take the time to inspect each ID for signs that it might be fake. Here are key ways to verify an ID is real:

  • Make sure the ID is smooth with no alterations or rough and bumpy spots.
  • Make sure the ID is the proper size and thickness, with a clean laminate.
  • Check the corners – most IDs have rounded corners, so square or ragged edges would indicate a fake.
  • Verify all fonts on the ID are the same – a legal ID would be printed with only one font.
  • Tilt the ID back and forth – many IDs have security features such as holograms that are only visible from different angles.
  • Check that the back looks just as good as the front and is not a photocopy.

Refusing Alcohol Sales

If your employees suspect a guest is underage and using a fake ID, they must not serve them alcohol. This is another area where your responsible alcohol sales training comes into play. Train your servers to practice these customer service strategies when refusing a sale:

  • Thank the customer for their understanding and cooperation.
  • Don’t back down from the decision once it’s been made.
  • Stay firm, and don’t get into an argument with the customer.

It helps if your employees know what to say when refusing an underage alcohol sale before they’re even placed in that situation. Role playing during your restaurant training sessions will give employees a chance to practice responses so they can feel more confident when faced with the challenge of refusing a sale.

Prevent Underage Alcohol Sales With Online Training

The Responsible Alcohol Sales and Service training from Ready Training Online covers properly checking ID, spotting fake IDs, and refusing alcohol sales while delivering exceptional service. State-specific training for certain states is also available, including California Responsible Beverage Service. Visit our Alcohol Compliance page for a list of all state-mandated and approved training.

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