When working as a bartender and serving alcoholic drinks, there are a lot of laws that may be potentially violated. While each state has different laws regulating the service of alcoholic beverages, there are many common rules, as detailed below.
Licenses and Certification
No licenses are required to bartend. You do not need to go to bartending school in order to legally bartend. However, some state’s Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) may require an alcohol service safety certification. This just means you will need to attend a class to learn about your state’s alcohol service laws and receive a certificate.
In other states, such as California, these certifications are not required by law, but may be required by some employers.
Age to Bartend
You must be 21 years of age or older to bartend. Minors 18 through 20 can serve alcoholic drinks in food service areas of restaurants, but they may not bartend.
Alcohol Sales Hours
Each state sets its own alcohol sales hours. For example, in California alcoholic beverages may be sold and consumed on premises of licensed areas between 6 a.m. and 2 a.m. Thus, all drinks must be finished by 2 a.m.
Bartenders may not serve alcoholic beverages to anyone under the age of 21. To verify the age of bar patrons, bartenders should rely on currently valid government agency issued IDs containing the name, picture, and date of birth of the patron.
If a fake ID is given to the bartender, he or she may seize the fake ID, so long as a receipt is given to the patron, and the ID is given to a local law enforcement agency.
Bartenders are prohibited from serving to habitual drunkards and obviously intoxicated persons. A person is obviously intoxicated if a normal person could tell that they are drunk based on their appearance, speech, smell, and other indicators.
Selected Brand Name
If a customer specifies that they want a specific brand of alcoholic beverage, the bartender cannot secretly give them something different. In many states, this constitutes a misdemeanor.
Taking Bottles of Wine to Go
In some states, such as California, it is legal for customers to take home properly re-corked bottles of wine.
Maximum Number of Drinks Served / Alcohol Per Drink
Some states may limit the maximum number of drinks that may be served to a patron at a time and the amount of alcohol that may be in a single drink. However, other states, such as California, have no prescribed limitations.
Host Liability Laws
Some states may have "dram shop" laws, which place liability on alcohol serving establishments for harm caused by drunk patrons. For example, if a drunk patron gets in a car accident after leaving the bar, the bar may be liable for the harm caused in these states.
However, in other states, such as California, no social host is liable for harm caused by a patron after the bar’s legal service of alcoholic drinks.
Drinking Behind the Bar
In some states, it is illegal for a bartender to drink any alcohol while working. This includes any drinks bought for them by bar patrons. However, other states, such as California, leave the decision up to the bar management whether or not to permit bartenders to drink on the job.
Seeking Legal Help
If you are unsure about the alcohol service rules of your state, you should consult a business attorney to ensure you and your bar establishment are in compliance with local and state laws to avoid fines and criminal liability.