December 21, 2023

Serve alcohol safely during the holiday season

Help your guests celebrate the holiday season safely with these ServSafe ServItUp alcohol service tips.
Waitress holding a clipboard wearing blue apron
The holiday season is full of opportunities for family, friends and co-workers to celebrate, but a celebration can quickly turn to tragedy when someone has overindulged in alcohol beverages. That tragedy can quickly extend to your business if that overconsumption can be traced back to your establishment. 

You and your staff can help prevent over-service and reduce the risks associated with serving alcohol. Here are some basic tips to help you serve alcohol safely.

Get trained. Programs like ServSafe Alcohol® prepare managers and all service staff members including bartenders, servers, bussers, bouncers, hosts and valets to safely and effectively handle difficult real-world situations that will protect your guests and your operation. Flexible online and on-site training is available in English and Spanish and is state-specific to meet regulatory requirements.

Check IDs. Check the identification of anyone who looks younger than 35. Refuse service to anyone who can’t provide a valid form of ID. Learn how to verify ID:
  • by type
  • for valid expiration date
  • for signs of modification or alteration
  • for valid birthdate
  • by matching physical traits
Know how to predict intoxication. Learn how to estimate a guest’s BAC (blood alcohol content), and, based on an estimation of a guest’s weight, how many standard drinks of wine, beer or liquor will cause a guest’s BAC to rise above 0.08%, the legal limit of intoxication in most states. 

Measure and count drinks. Understand strategies for measuring and pouring drinks carefully, counting how many drinks a guest has had, and knowing how much alcohol is in each type of drink. 

Enforce a one-drink rule. Allow your guests only one alcohol beverage at a time. Discourage drinking games, competitive drinking or rapid drinking. 

Pace your service. Since most people are able to metabolize only one drink per hour at most, try to pace beverage service so guests don’t imbibe any faster than that. 

Keep your guests hydrated. Alcohol dehydrates the body. Provide a glass of water with each drink, and offer soft drinks, juice, and coffee as alternatives to beverage alcohol. Non-alcohol drinks, including cocktails, wine and beer, also are big business these days. Consider including non-alcohol versions of each on your drinks menu.

Know how to spot signs of intoxication. Every staff member on the front lines should actively look for signs of inebriation from the moment guests arrive (they may have been drinking somewhere else beforehand). Maintain this awareness throughout their stay. Your care and concern will not only ensure your guests get great service and have a good time, but will help to keep them safe, too. Look for behavioral clues that suggest a guest has been overserved:
  • Relaxed inhibitions—loud conversation, laughter and rude comments, and being overly friendly, for example.
  • Impaired judgment—switching to stronger drinks or complaining about drink strength, drinking more rapidly, and making irrational or aggressive statements.
  • Slowed reaction time—moving or talking more slowly, losing a train of thought, apparent drowsiness all suggest impairment.
  • Diminished motor coordination. Staggering, swaying, stumbling, slurring and spilling are classic signs of impairment. Take their darts away (please!) and stop service.
Offer the right kinds of food. How much and what kinds of food a guest eats an affect their BAC. High-fat and high-protein foods are better choices for preventing intoxication, while foods high in carbohydrates and salt are likely to increase a guest’s chances of becoming intoxicated. 

Identify designated drivers. Find out if the party you’re serving has a designated driver. If so, you may even wish to offer non-alcohol beverages to that individual free of charge.

Offer transportation when necessary. Provide alternate transportation for impaired guests, either through a shared ride service or by enlisting the help of sober friends. 

Use our resources. The Association offers a host of resources on how to serve alcohol safely and diffuse difficult situations. Check out our ServItUp library of resources or contact our team

Holiday celebrations should be as safe as they are joyful. You can help make that happen by knowing how to serve alcohol safely.