The Last Drink
Many of us enjoy a nice “adult” beverage after a hard day’s work, possibly with our 18-ounce filet, or perhaps after that wretched round of golf that we can’t soon enough forget. Whether this holds true for you or not, the fact still remains, it’s a part of how many people unwind. And many businesses see it as a market niche for improving cash flow to cover margins. The interesting piece for business owners to be wary of is that the “last” drink you just served may end up really being the last.
Alcoholic beverages have been in existence since somewhere between the eighth and fourth millennia BC. That’s a long time – over 10,000 years at my count. Since then, the population at large has amassed several manners in which to incorporate the consumption of alcohol into their culture: as a ritual, spiritual, or religious act; and/or as a “ritual,” “spiritual,” or “religious” act on Sundays during football season. Simply put, drinking alcohol plays a significant part in societal and cultural norms today, and it brings with it some unique business challenges for certain industries, namely restaurants and golf courses. Alcohol is a part of these businesses’ operations, and can pose a tricky problem to manage. But, as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Liquor liability insurance claims can often be severe, high-profile, in-the-news losses, and can impact your business in direct and indirect ways (i.e. through lost revenues, reputation, etc).
Today I aim to share with business owners in these industries, five best practices for improving control over alcohol sales and consumption on your premises. Do what you can up front and prevent that last-drink you shouldn’t have served.
Establish a Drink-Tracking Procedure
How do you know how many drinks good ol’ Mr. Smith has consumed? He seems well oriented enough. He’s not slurring his words, he’s acting normally, and he just ordered food. Everything’s good, right? Wrong. The second you serve someone a drink, you need to consider the possible legal responsibilities you just assumed. You’ve verified the customer meets the legal age requirement, and that he or she is not intoxicated already, and now you need to be careful not to over-serve. Keeping track of the number of drinks served is critical. Establish a method to count drinks provided, like placing a glass at the bar top and adding a toothpick for each drink served. Also make note of the time service started so you can track drinks per hour. If a customer is in a dining room, rather than a bar, establish a method for keeping track at the register or in the kitchen area.
Referencing the chart above can help you better understand the impact of drinks consumed per hour based upon body weight.
Establish a Known Maximum Drink Limit
Based upon what you now know from the first best practice, it’s time to make it work for your business. Some restaurants or pubs at golf courses enforce a strict maximum number of drinks by type (beer, wine, liquor) during the patron’s stay. This eliminates the immediacy of the situation that it’s about the patron, and instead, turns it back on the establishment. “It’s our policy.” Most people, who come to your restaurant, come for the food and shouldn’t be deterred by a three-drink maximum. If you have a lounge or bar area where patrons may wait for their table, the drink count should start there. Good communication between waitstaff, bartenders, and management will help successfully control this effort.
Management Enforces the “Cut-off”
Often, waitstaff and barkeeps have difficulty in moments of conflict with a customer. Telling a patron that he or she can no longer be served can easily be mishandled, despite proper training. This could lead to an emotional escalation, or worse, inappropriately allowing alcohol service to continue. The restaurant manager should handle the task of informing a customer that drink service is cut off. It can be handled more effectively, at less risk of escalation, and ultimately places wait staff in a better position to monitor the clientele’s behavior.
Control Beverage Sales on the Course
To control the golfer’s ability to sneak beverages onto the course, you have a couple of options: beverage selection; and enforcement.
Serve a certain type and size only (i.e. plastic 16-ounce bottles rather than standard-sized cans, and beer only). That way, your marshal or beverage cart attendant can quickly identify if a golfer or a group brought their own beverages onto the course.
Participants should also be notified by highly visible signs on your premises that golfers are not permitted to bring their own coolers and/or alcoholic beverages of any kind on the course by order of local law or state statute, if applicable.
If you have a drink cart circulating on your golf course, do you keep track of beverages consumed on the course and thereafter in the club house? It’s definitely tricky to do, but necessary to whatever degree possible. If golfers are consuming alcohol on your premises, you may be automatically undertaking a certain level of care to prevent over-service. Consult with your attorney about your rights and obligations as an establishment on which alcohol consumption occurs.
Beverage AND Food Policy
One easy way to manage potential alcohol over-service is to require guests to order food if he or she orders an alcoholic beverage in your restaurant or lounge/pub area.. This mandate will counteract the effects of intoxication to a certain degree, but will also discourage patrons who simply want to sit and drink. Ask yourself, what kind of reputation do you want for your establishment, and does the potential financial reward of selling high volumes of alcohol match the risk of huge potential liability in the event of over-service? The answer should be easy.
Additionally, it is wise to avoid drink specials, two-for-ones, game-time specials, and other intriguing liquor-based deals to attract patrons. If you do choose to include one of these deals as an option, do so with caution, and consider how it counteracts the best practices discussed above.
Training, Training, Training
So, what about training? Training and permitting is important, and a critical element of liquor sales, service, and consumption on your premise. BUT, you cannot simply rely on training alone to have an impact on controlling your liabilities. Proper training and refresher courses should be a given, and in nearly every state, it’s the law. My point is that training is only as effective as the oversight and follow-up of the supervisor and manager provided to the trained employee. Strict policies and procedures should complement the training, as highlighted in this discussion. To ensure that as many risk management methods as possible are taking place, you should monitor and take corrective action where necessary. That’s the only way to have success over liquor consumption on your premise.
Some additional resources for you to consider:
Liquor Commissions by State:
- NH – http://www.nh.gov/liquor/index.shtml
- VT – http://www.state.vt.us/dlc/
- ME – http://www.maine.gov/dafs/bablo/liquor_lottery/index.htm
- NY – http://www.sla.ny.gov/
- MA – http://www.mass.gov/abcc/forms.htm
- CT – http://www.ct.gov/dcp/cwp/view.asp?A=1623&Q=276050
- RI – http://www.dbr.ri.gov/divisions/commlicensing/liquor.php
Don’t hesitate to contact your local Acadia Insurance Company branch office for additional loss control assistance. We have highly trained risk management professionals who excel at helping businesses control risk. You can do so by contacting Acadia Insurance at 1-800-773-4300, by visiting our website at www.acadiainsurance.com.
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Acadia is pleased to share this material for the benefit of its customers. Please note, however, that nothing herein should be construed as either legal advice or the provision of professional consulting services. This material is for informational purposes only, and while reasonable care has been utilized in compiling this information, no warranty or representation is made as to accuracy or completeness. Recipients of this material must utilize their own individual professional judgment in implementing sound risk management practices and procedures.