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Liquor laws keep servers on their toes: Learning the ins and outs of serving, selling alcohol

BY Sarah smithssmith@parkrapidsenterprise.com Dram shop laws have been tightened up so much, it's getting stressful to be a bartender or liquor seller. At a server training seminar Monday afternoon, bartenders and liquor store clerks expressed co...

Liquor liability class
Darcy Gagnon and Beth Heltunen taught two classes on liquor liability to liquor sales persons and bartenders Monday in Park Rapids. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

BY Sarah smith
ssmith@parkrapidsenterprise.com

Dram shop laws have been tightened up so much, it’s getting stressful to be a bartender or liquor seller.
At a server training seminar Monday afternoon, bartenders and liquor store clerks expressed concerns about compliance, and about the stress of having to turn away inebriated customers.
Hubbard in Prevention sponsors and the county attorney led a two-hour session to 18 people, the first of two such sessions in 2015, in how to avoid liability and “serve smart” while they are on the job.
Some of the servers complained that they are the ones on the front lines, not the establishments themselves, that are on the hook for a possible illegal sale and a lawsuit.
They learned how to spot drunks, which is becoming harder because many drinks are now served with energy supplements as mix.
They learned of the penalties for over-serving someone that is already drunk, serving a minor, or failing to cut off someone who’s had enough.
Led by Beth Heltunen, Darcy Gagnon and Don Dearstyne, the servers learned how to tell if a customer is “obviously intoxicated when exercising their reasonable powers of observation.”
But they also traded tips on watching who might be ordering drinks at the bar and bringing them out to customers who have already been cut off.
Hubbard County, thanks to such efforts, has gone from a 50 percent compliance rate to over 90 percent.
They discussed the ethical and moral dilemmas like serving a pregnant customer, or the customer who’s on the brink of having too much.
“Protect yourself,” Gagnon advised. “That lawsuit will take your second kid, your job…” and she listed off a parade of horribles.
She advised the servers, if they’re working in a bar, to keep reassessing their customers.
Time is the only thing that will dissipate alcohol, they learned. A cup of coffee won’t.
And they learned not to send drunken customers out on the roads, for liability reasons.
They learned about identification, mostly driver’s licenses, but learned how to spot fake tribal licenses, military IDs, passports and other forms of identification.
With computer technology, it’s getting darned hard to spot the fakes, one bartender complained.
Dearstyne assured him and the crowd that he would likely not prosecute them if they made a good faith effort to determine a fake ID under those circumstances.
Many liquor wholesalers now carry books called Drivers License Guides that have each state’s IDs in them, to check out of state licenses.
But most of all, they learned how to tactfully say no.
You cannot buy this beer from my establishment. No, you cannot have another drink. Please call a cab, a friend, or stay until you can drive.

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