HOW TO ENSURE SAFE SERVICE OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES AT YOUR ESTABLISHMENT

Ashley Storm Ruleman
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Prudent Texas liquor license holders (also referred to as permits) will double check to confirm that each of their employees serving alcohol holds an active seller/server training certificate.  

While not technically required by law, seller/server training provides certain protections for the Texas liquor license holder and promotes the safe service of alcoholic beverages (in combination with a few other steps).

This training educates employees about how to avoid selling alcohol to minors and intoxicated persons to protect the liquor license, the business, and its employees to ensure staff is serving responsibly.

Seller/server training is available online and in person by TABC-approved course providers. The TABC provides a list of its approved courses here. TABC also allows retailers to check to see if their servers hold active certificates here.

UNDERSTANDING THE DRAM SHOP ACT AND SAFE HARBOR DEFENSE

Seller/server training is the cornerstone of the Safe Harbor Defense. Under certain circumstances, when a customer consumes alcoholic beverages at your establishment and then leaves and causes harm to the property, himself/herself, or others, the person(s) harmed by that act can sue the liquor license holder for damages.The law that allows the harmed person(s) to do so is the Dram Shop Act.

State law also offers one specific affirmative defense called the Safe Harbor Defense. (Stay tuned for more details in an upcoming blog on the Dram Shop Act and Safe Harbor Defense.)  

In order to meet the requirements of the Safe Harbor Defense, a Texas liquor license holder must prove several facts to be true at the time of the incident, including:

  1. The liquor license holder had a policy requiring the people serving alcoholic beverages to be seller/server trained.
  2. The person who served the alcoholic beverage(s) to the intoxicated person who caused the damage was actually seller/server trained.

If you cannot prove either of these facts to be true, the license holder loses critical protection in a lawsuit against it — and also puts the safety of the public and its employees at risk. Not only are you exposed to civil liability (read, expensive) under the Dram Shop Act, you can also face losing your permit or Texas liquor license through a Texas Alcoholic and Beverage Commission (TABC) administrative action. More importantly, you position yourself as an enabler for drunk driving that could result in severe injury or loss of life due to your unsafe serving practices.

PROMOTING SAFETY THROUGH SELLER/SERVER TRAINING

Ultimately, it’s crucial to train your employees to understand these laws and to identify when someone has become intoxicated (and should no longer be served alcoholic beverages). This knowledge not only promotes the safe service of alcoholic beverages but makes our communities safer.

For any establishment, safety is the highest priority for both customers and employees. One seemingly minor incident in the workplace can result in significant setbacks for your organization, not to mention the increased potential for injury or loss of life due to drunk driving.

The safety of your staff and guests begins with seller/server training, and your employees play a critical role in the safe service of alcoholic beverages. By training your team, you will mitigate incidents at your establishment while ensuring drivers on the road are a bit safer. However, it’s essential to remember that seller/server training isn’t an end-all-be-all for serving responsibly. Good establishments will pair this important training with other critical best practices to reinforce safe service of alcohol.

Photo credit: @SnappyPete via Twenty20

About the Author. Ashley Storm Ruleman is an experienced legal counselor serving two diverse but often overlapping industries: the real estate development/construction industry and the alcoholic beverage industry. Before entering private practice, Ashley served as in-house counsel to a family of companies involved in real estate development, construction and management and was Assistant General Counsel to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC). She now advises bars, restaurants, golf courses, and other clients regarding appropriate business structures, contracts, and real estate transactions that comply with the rules and policies created by the TABC and other applicable Texas laws. For more information, contact her at Ashley@MartinPowers.com.

About Martin Powers & Counsel, PLLC. Dallas-based Martin Powers & Counsel, PLLC is a boutique business law firm dedicated to providing personalized and strategic legal services for businesses of every size. The firm is home to experienced attorneys with expertise in business disputes, bankruptcy and creditors’ rights, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) compliance, labor and employment law, real estate transactions, landlord/tenant disputes, contract negotiations, general counsel services, and other areas at the intersection of business and law.