Under Age Drinking

Risky Business

Bootsy Bellows, a club in West Hollywood, is under scrutiny because last July Justin Bieber decided to go in for a drink at 20 years of age.  He’ll be 21 in March of 2015.  Now a perfectly good club with no violations is in trouble.  Why?  He’s rich and doesn’t care about the consequences of his actions.

The onset of puberty is a time of robust health and increased disease resistance.  Why does the mortality rate double for the group between middle childhood and early adulthood?

Partially it is hormones causing dramatic changes, profound emotions and significantly increased risk-taking behavior.  Peer-pressure drives poor decision-making; emotions lead to violence, homicide, and suicide; unintentional injuries result from unbridled enthusiasm in sports or other activities.

“Wow!  That’s heavy,” as Marty McFly might say.  And it is – but how does it affect you as a bartender?

Kids, those not legally entitled to drink, will do anything to get some liquor out of you.  They will attempt to make fake IDs on their printers and laminate them to look like real drivers’ licenses; they’ll pay hundreds of dollars for a fairly good imitation of one; they’ll steal one belonging to an older friend or sibling.  Nothing will stop them from lying to you with a look of sincerity that would make a squirrel sit unflinchingly in front of an approaching lawnmower.

Some of them are good at lying; fortunately most of them are terrible at it and it’s easy to spot that trace of perspiration on the upper lip; the shifty glance; not meeting your eyes; and the general nervousness.  So what do you do?  If there is no bouncer to check IDs before you meet the customer, you make a personal rule.  You “card” everyone that looks under 25 years old.  If there isn’t one, you hang your own sign that says “We card under 25s”.  That way no one is offended because it is written down in plain sight; it’s a “house rule”, and most people laugh and say “want to see mine?” and you can laugh and smile back and say “Sure!” and everyone thinks it’s funny.

But the kids, knowing that they’ll be checked, won’t chance it for the most part.  You’ll be protecting yourself and them.  “Myself?” you ask…  Yes indeed!

If you serve liquor to a minor in, say, Texas, the fine is $4,000 or a year in jail.  If they have a fake ID, you’re okay if they still have it when the sting happens; they get a Class “A” misdemeanor (jail time); if they ditch the ID, it’s reduced to Class “C” ($500 fine), and YOU get to go to jail if the cops don’t believe you that they had acceptable ID.

Texas has very strong disincentives for underage drinking, so check out your jurisdiction to see what you might face where you will bartend.  To check that you’re complying, they send in 18-20 year olds with no ID to try to buy liquor.  So never be too busy to protect yourself!

That’s not the end of it though.  What do you do if someone obviously of drinking age comes up and orders eight draft beers to take back to a table?  Check that table!  Someone is likely underage.  Tell that person ordering that everyone has to come and get their own drink and show ID first.  If some of them don’t come up, you made a great call!  And if an ID looks flakey, ask for a second piece.

Are you the owner as well as the bartender?  You have more latitude.  You can make your bar a 21-and-over place.  That eliminates under-age from even being in the club.  Make sure the staff knows you mean business.  Fire anyone caught “letting in their under-age friends”.  If you must permit underage patrons, implement a stamp or armband system and keep staff alerted and paying attention.  Let them know what the penalties are.  And if you have alternate exits, make sure staff keeps an eye on it so that people don’t let under-age people inside

All this bother over a kid sneaking a drink?  Yep.  If they stagger out into traffic, they die; if they drive and kill themselves, or worse, someone else, you can be blamed.  They’re in such a hurry to “grow up” and lack so much experience that they are bound to make bad decisions.  That’s why there are laws about it – to protect them for their own inexperience – and you’re the gatekeeper.  If you give them the chance, they’ll make a poor decision.

Just ask Justin Bieber’s 23 month old capuchin monkey, Mally, abandoned in Germany, when the pop star couldn’t be bothered to provide correct vaccination documentation.  This is an example of yet another poor decision by a kid.

Don’t let a kid make a mistake on your watch! Learn more about how to be a bartender by joining our course!