Keeping Alcohol Out of The Hands of Minors
“Can I see your ID?” can be a refreshing and somewhat amusing question for those of us who ‘comb gray hairs.’ Such a request can catch some customers off guard; as asking them to rummage through their purses, pockets or ‘fanny packs’ is never a fun chore. However, keeping alcoholic beverages out of the hands of minors is a serious responsibility that front-of-the-house staff take on and must monitor throughout their shifts.
Alcohol is the number one abused controlled substance by teens. A 2019 Center for Disease Control survey revealed that 29 percent of high school students reported drinking alcohol within the last 30 days while a shocking 17 percent rode with a driver who had been drinking. These statistics show how serious the issue is and how vigilant hospitality businesses need to remain to prevent alcohol from getting into minors’ hands.
So why is keeping alcohol out of the hands of minors so important? Besides being illegal, alcohol drastically impacts minors’ ability to make sound judgements and sets them down a dangerous path for their future. Research shows that people who start drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder later in life.
To confront this problem, restaurant and bar owners need to be proactive by ensuring there is an ongoing discussion with front-of-the-house staff. Bars and restaurants should:
Even with all that effort, minors still can be deceitful. Fake IDs are a common occurrence, and some minors look older than they actually are. College towns are particularly prone to fake ID problems and our Inspectors have received piles of these IDs from businesses. This is why it is so vital for bar and restaurant operators to stay on top of employee training, so staff are prepared to catch a fake and prevent a sale.
Frontline staff should feel empowered to ask questions and trust their instincts when in doubt. Asking a questionable patron details about their ID can reveal a lot.
Ultimately, all servers should remember they have the right to refuse a questionable sale.
Due to the serious impacts of underage drinking, the OLCC is charged with conducting minor decoy operations. In order to carry out this charge, the OLCC employs minors between 18-20 years old who look under the age of 26. These decoys attempt to purchase alcohol or marijuana at OLCC licensed businesses. If asked for identification, the minor decoy shows their own valid Oregon identification, which indicates they are underage. Minor decoys do not disguise their real age or encourage the sale of alcohol or marijuana.
While not the most popular part of the agency’s mission, minor decoy operations uncover when businesses become too lax and forget the seriousness of their responsibilities. When marijuana became legal, retailers had a great deal to learn about running a front-facing legal operation. One challenge that was identified quickly was preventing sales to minors. As reports came in about such suspected sales, the OLCC responded by initiating minor decoy operations on the budding market.
In late 2017, the first set of operations showed that the industry was not taking the issue seriously with an 81 percent compliance rate. The Commission responded by increasing the penalty for any sale to a minor and engaged in a campaign to educate licensees and worker permit holders of their responsibilities. In January of 2018, the Commission reengaged in minor decoy operations and saw compliance improve to 89 percent.
Establishing a name for a business takes time, dedication, and hard work. Not being proactive and enabling minors to drink in your establishment can endanger all of that work and put lives at risk. It is vital for the health of Oregonians that the hospitality industry work to prevent minors from obtaining alcoholic beverages. OLCC Inspectors are available to meet with your staff to provide education and tips on how you can prevent selling alcohol to minors. | Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission
This article first published in the Autumn 2022 issue of the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association Magazine.