Responsible alcohol service and common mistakes

Restaurants can prevent common liquor law violations

*The following article will appear in an upcoming edition of the Washington Restaurant Association’s The Front Burner magazine.

Restaurants play an important role in keeping their customers safe by selling alcohol responsibly and ensuring liquor laws are followed.

It is just as crucial to check IDs carefully, watch for signs of intoxication and create an environment that discourages disorderly behavior as it is to provide excellent food and an inviting ambiance.

Top 3 Violations in 2010
These violations resulted in Administrative Violation Notices. The data does not include warnings. 

  1. Sales to minors
  2. Sales to apparently intoxicated persons
  3. Employees drinking on duty

Top 3 Complaints in 2010

  1. Sales to apparently intoxicated persons
  2. Sales to minors
  3. Disorderly conduct


“Restaurants can avoid common liquor law violations through training, clear business policies and diligence,” said Chief Pat Parmer of the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) Enforcement and Education Division. “For managers and owners, it is especially important to regularly review your expectations with your staff to avoid complacency or confusion.”

The WSLCB may find violations during compliance checks, premises checks, undercover operations, and complaint investigations. Complaints can come from the public, law enforcement and employees, and officers follow up with interviews and visits.

“Public safety violations – such as sales to minors and apparently intoxicated persons, and disorderly conduct – are considered the most serious,” said Chief Parmer. “From the first drink order to the final check, employees should be aware of the situation and ready to take action to prevent harm to their customers.”

Administrative violation notices can result in fines or liquor license suspensions for the restaurant. Employees involved in the violation could face criminal citations, fines and even jail time. Mandatory Alcohol Server Training permits – which allow employees to serve alcohol – could be suspended or revoked. The WSLCB also gives verbal and written warnings, which do not result in fines or suspensions.

Sales to minors
Restaurants may not sell or serve alcohol to those under 21 years of age. While not required by law, checking identification is key to preventing sales to minors.

Restaurants should have a policy that dictates when an ID should be checked and what forms of acceptable ID are permitted at the business.

Acceptable forms of ID

  • · A drivers license, ID card, or instruction permit issued by any U.S. state or Canadian province
  • · A Washington temporary drivers license (paper license)
  • · A U.S. Military ID
  • · An official passport
  • · A merchant marine ID
  • · A Washington State tribal enrollment card

A valid ID must show:

  • · Date of birth
  • · Signature (except U.S. Military IDs)
  • · Photo
  • · Note: If an ID has an expiration date, the ID must not be expired

How to check ID:

  • · Ask for identification.
  • · Have the customer hand you the ID. Do not accept or handle a customer’s wallet.
  • · Check the expiration date. Do not accept expired ID.
  • · Check the date of birth. For vertical Washington IDs, check the information to the left of the photo to make sure the customer has turned 21.
  • · Verify the photo matches the customer.
  • · Verify the IDs unique features (for example, on a Washington ID, a black state seal overlaps the photo).

Sales to apparently intoxicated persons
It is against the law to sell alcohol to an apparently intoxicated person or allow them to possess alcohol.

It is important to know the signs of intoxication – such as slurred speech, difficulty focusing, and aggressive behavior – when determining if a customer should be served alcohol. A list of signs can be found at

Employees should remember that customers may have already had several drinks before coming to their restaurant, so it is important to watch for signs before the first order is placed.

If a customer is showing apparent signs, employees should not serve them and remove any alcohol they have in their possession. While the customer can remain at the restaurant as long as they are not acting disorderly, employees must make sure they don’t get alcohol from someone else.

When refusing service, employees can keep the situation calm by remaining polite, tactful and firm. The restaurant should have a policy about what to do after a sale is refused. Possibilities include offering complementary coffee or cab fare.

Conduct violations
Restaurants should intervene immediately if they see people arguing or acting aggressively in order to prevent a fight. Customers that fight may not remain at your business.

When determining whether a disorderly conduct violation has occurred, the WSLCB looks at factors such as:

  • · Did the restaurant create an environment that encouraged the behavior?
  • · Did the restaurant allow the disorderly customer to remain at the business?
  • · How did the restaurant respond to the altercation?
  • · If there were injuries, were the police and medical aid called?

Also, owners and employees are not allowed to drink while working. In addition, employees and owners may not be at their restaurant while showing signs of intoxication, whether they are working or not.

New food service requirements
While food service violations are not among the most common violations, restaurants should be aware of the food service requirements for their liquor license type.

The WSLCB this fall adopted new food requirements for spirits, beer and wine restaurants. Highlights:

  • · Expanded items that are considered an entrée to include hamburgers, salads, sandwiches, pizza and breakfast items as long as they include a side dish.
  • · Entrees do not include snack items, menu items which consist solely of precooked frozen food that is reheated, or carry-out items obtained from other businesses.
  • · Increased the number of complete meals required from four to eight. A complete meal is an entrée (steak, fish, pasta, etc.) and at least one side dish (soup, vegetables, salad, potatoes, french fries, rice, fruit, and bread).
  • · Restaurants must serve complete meals for five hours a day, five days a week between the hours of 8 a.m. and 11 p.m. Previously, the hours were between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m.

Restaurants having problems meeting their food service requirement should look into the new spirits, beer and wine nightclub liquor license, which is for businesses that primarily provide live entertainment and serve alcohol with main hours between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. The license does not have a food requirement.

Available resources
Restaurants should take advantage of the following resources:

  • Written business policies that describe expectations and how to handle various situations should be developed, and regularly shared with employees.
  • · Mandatory Alcohol Server Training (MAST) is required by law for managers, bartenders and other employees who serve or supervise the sale of alcohol for on-premises consumption. Class information:
  • · WSLCB Responsible Alcohol and Tobacco Sales classes are offered regularly around the state by WSLCB enforcement officers. Class schedules:
  • · WSLCB website ( has information on selling responsibly and public safety laws, educational videos and more.
  • · WSLCB enforcement officers are available to help you understand liquor laws. Enforcement Customer Service: (360) 664-9878

In conclusion, restaurants can contribute to public safety and keep their customers safe by carrying out their work in a way that supports Washington’s liquor laws.