Responsible Alcohol Beverage Service: State Laws and Training Programs

Responsible Beverage Service (RBS) refers to laws specifying requirements or incentives for retail alcohol outlets to participate in server training programs. Responsible Beverage Service (RBS) or server training programs have two goals:

  1. to establish policies and procedures in retail alcohol outlets for preventing alcohol sales and service to minors and intoxicated persons; and
  2. to train managers and servers/clerks to implement those policies and procedures effectively.

Server/clerk training focuses on serving and selling procedures, signs of intoxication, methods for checking age identification, and intervention techniques.  Manager training includes the server/clerk training as well as policy and procedures development and staff supervision.

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About RBS Programs
Experimental RBS programs first appeared in the early 1980s. States with RBS provisions have either mandatory programs or incentive-based voluntary programs.  Voluntary, private programs exist to varying degrees in the other states, but those states do not have provisions that provide statewide structure for the design and implementation of these programs.

A program is designated as mandatory if state law requires at least some alcohol retail employees to attend a RBS training. Thirteen states require some type of RBS training, but these states vary widely in who must participate:

  • Type of employee: statutes may require owners or licensees, managers and servers/clerks, or a subset of these classifications to participate;
  • Type of outlet: statutes may require either on-sale or off-sale establishments, or both, to participate; and
  • Date of license issuance: statutes may require participation from establishments with licenses issued after the legislation is enacted or from all establishments, regardless of the date of the license.

State mandating or promoting alcohol training programs

The eleven states that have established voluntary programs provide incentives for retailers to participate in RBS, but do not impose penalties for those who don’t.  Incentives vary by state and include:

  1. a defense in dram shop liability law suits;
  2. mitigation of fines for sales to minors or intoxicated persons;
  3. discounts in dram shop liability insurance; and
  4. protection against revocation of a license for sales to minors or intoxicated persons.

Whether mandatory or voluntary, RBS programs vary in training curricula components; procedures for administering the program; certificate requirements for RBS trainers, servers/clerks, and managers; penalties for violations; and enforcement practices.  These variables may have a dramatic impact on the program’s effectiveness in reducing sales to minors and intoxicated persons.

The following variables pertain to mandatory provisions:

  • Employee categories—of the 13 states that require mandatory RBS training, 7 require the licensee, managers, and servers to attend; 5 states require only managers and servers to take the training; and 1 requires the licensee and managers to attend.
  • Establishment types—eight states require that on- and off-sale establishments participate in RBS training; four states require only on-premise establishments to participate; and one requires only off-premise establishments to receive training.
  • Date of issuance of license—all 13 of the states that require mandatory RBS training require new licensees to participate, and 2 states exempt establishments licensed before the legislation was enacted.

The variables that pertain to voluntary incentives are as follows:

  • Liability defense—three states allow licensees to use their RBS training as a defense in dram shop liability cases.
  • Mitigation of fines—seven states allow fines for sales of alcohol to minors or intoxicated persons to be mitigated if the licensee can demonstrate that he or she participated in RBS training.
  • Discount insurance—three states allow discounts in dram shop liability insurance if the licensee has participated in RBS training.
  • Protection of license—three states provide protection against revocation for sales of alcohol to minors or intoxicated persons if the licensee has participated in RBS training.

Source: Alcohol Policy Information System: Laws specifying requirements or incentives for retail alcohol outlets to participate in server training programs (often referred to as Responsible Beverage Service).