Defy the Odds, Own Your Risk


It is easy to have a ‘what are the chances’ mentality, but for bar and restaurant owners, that shouldn’t be an option. If you own a business that serves or sells liquor, you should take every precautionary measure to ensure responsible serving and consumption on your premises. Liquor liability claims are usually severe, often involving tragic fatalities or long term disabilities if the victims survive, so betting on the odds is not a risk you should be willing to take.

Every state has their own dram shop statues and the rules regarding burden of proof, common law, statute of limitations and damages awarded also vary. Every business owner should, at the very minimum, know the laws that affect their business, but there are other things you can do to minimize your risk.

  1. Create a safe serving culture: Management should implement policies and procedures that create a culture where safe serving is common practice. The following rules should go without question:
    1. Food should be readily available to patrons consuming alcohol
    2. Patrons should be allowed one drink per person at a time
    3. “Last Call “should be implemented and enforced prior to closing
    4. Happy hour, if legal in your state, should have set parameters
    5. Don’t allow employees to drink on the premises after their shift where employees are served by co-workers who might have a difficult time refusing a friend
    6. Management should have procedures in place for handling difficult situations. They need to recognize and read signs of intoxication before they escalate. Do you let patrons get intoxicated to the point that they need a designated driver or a cab to take them home?
  1. Educate your employees: Employers need to make sure alcohol awareness programs are available to all management and employees. Make it a requirement. Responsible Alcohol Management Program (RAMP) and the Serv Safe Alcohol Program are two national programs along with many others that offer alcohol training for your staff. These programs discuss Blood Alcohol Concentration and how to observe the different signs of Employees should be re-certified annually. Local Law enforcement can also help in educating you and your employees. Build a relationship with law enforcement; ask them to come in periodically to train employees how to recognize false identifications, methods of dealing with intoxicated guests and to discuss the local and state laws regarding the sale and service of alcohol.
  1. Monitor your customers & educate them about the dangers of drinking and driving. Some establishments offer free soft drinks to designated drivers. While it is impossible to tell the exact affect alcohol will have on one person versus another, the only way to sober up is to stop drinking and wait. The liver has to process the alcohol. While coffee and soft drinks won’t eliminate the alcohol in a person’s system, it just might stop that customer from having another alcoholic beverage they don’t need and give them the time they need to process the alcohol.

The environment you create does effect the amount of alcohol your customers will drink. Is your staff trained to monitor patrons as they enter, stay and exit? Does your staff communicate with each other when there is a change in shift? Is your establishment so crowded due to low drink prices that it is difficult to monitor? Are there reasonably priced non-alcoholic drink alternatives, food promotions and snacks available at all times? These are all questions you should ask yourself as the owner of an establishment that is at risk for a liquor liability lawsuit.

What else can you do?

Talk with other restaurant and bar owners to share ideas. Join your state’s restaurant or tavern association where you can discuss drinking trends, safety and procedures. How do you know if you are being effective? Check your surveillance videos and audit bar checks and receipts to make sure your message is being heard. If you do everything right and still have a reported incident, call your insurance company and report it right away. Due to the nature of the industry, even the most responsible of business owners will face claims, but the earlier you report it, the faster the insurance company can investigate and protect you. If you have followed the steps above, all the information they need will be readily available to them.

Be responsible and proactive in protecting your business because chances are, the odds will not be forever in your favor!

Sonya Gray is a Sr. Underwriting & Marketing Manager at Hospitality Insurance Group.


Please be advised that the opinions expressed are the views of the author alone and should not be attributed to any other individual or entity and shall not constitute a legal opinion.