We all know that the legal drinking age in the United States is twenty-one and over. But what about the legal serving age? In today’s environment where COVID and even post-COVID labor shortages are a problem, a factor on-premises retailers and their managers need to consider is the age and even the combination of ages coming to work in a given shift.
Imagine a restaurant with a liquor license which serves beer, wine, and spirits to guests at tables and at a bar or counter area. The menu may include glasses of wine or beer, mixed cocktails, and large format containers like pitchers of beer. Guests may also be able to order bottles which are opened at the table. Offering these beverages involves various tasks on the part of the restaurant staff. Those tasks include:
- Opening and pouring;
- Mixing in the back of the house (either pre-made batch mixes or a fresh cocktail to be served after being made);
- Bartending in front of the guest at the bar or counter area;
- Serving a drink at a table after taking from the “mixer” or bartender;
- Clearing a table and taking away empty alcohol glasses/containers
Many jurisdictions impose different age restrictions depending on which of the above tasks are performed, and may also regulate the age of an on-duty manager in a premises which serves alcohol. Filling the slots and meeting these requirements can lead to challenges planning shifts, particularly in an environment where COVID-19 health concerns and the Great Resignation have restaurants already scrambling for staff.
Here are a few examples of the rules by jurisdiction; the variety is impressive.
Florida: Servers, bartenders, and managers must be a minimum of eighteen years old. A seventeen year old can be hired for a position which does not involve selling, dispensing, preparation of alcohol, or serving if they have written permission from their school principal.
Virginia: Eighteen year olds may sell, serve, or dispense. Employees must be twenty-one and over to mix drinks or serve as a bartender or be a manager.
Pennsylvania: Individuals age eighteen and older may mix, serve, and perform other functions. Individuals as young as sixteen may perform other functions, including clearing tables with alcohol, as long as they do not mix or serve.
New Jersey: Employees must be at least eighteen in order to perform all functions.
North Carolina: An individual who is at least twenty-one years of age must be in charge of the premises at all times. No one under twenty-one may mix a cocktail.
Kansas: Employees who are eighteen to twenty-one may serve, check identification, move product in the stock room and clean it. Only those twenty-one and over may mix, dispense, order from the distributor, and sign for deliveries. Individuals under eighteen may work in the restaurant but may have no involvement with alcohol beverages. Someone over twenty-one must be in charge at all times.
Alabama: A supervising person who is twenty-one or over must be at the premises at all times. Individuals under twenty-one may be cashiers, hostesses, and bussers as long as they do not serve or dispense alcohol. An exception exists for age nineteen and twenty if the restaurant is certified as a responsible vendor.
Some states like Illinois, Georgia and Maryland regulate these issues on a local level. Given the variance in state laws and regulations and local ordinances, operators of chains located in multiple jurisdictions have a project on their hands keeping track of these restrictions and managing the shifts.
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Elizabeth DeConti, Shareholder
Elizabeth DeConti has spent more than 20 years focusing her law practice on the unique area of alcohol beverage and food regulation. She is a shareholder in the Tampa office and is one of the original members of the firm’s alcohol beverage and food law team. Prior to joining GrayRobinson, she was a partner with the Tampa office of Holland and Knight and a judicial clerk for the Honorable Antoinette L. Dupont, chief judge of the Connecticut Appellate Court. She earned her bachelor’s cum laude and with distinction in Renaissance Studies from Yale University in 1993 and then received her juris doctor cum laude in 1996 from the University of Miami School of Law, where she was a Harvey T. Reid Scholar.
Elizabeth concentrates on litigation, compliance, and promotions matters related to the rules, regulations and business practices governing the marketing, sale and consumption of malt beverages, wine, distilled spirits and other regulated products in the alcohol and food industry. She represents major alcohol suppliers, wholesaler retailers, marketing companies, and other members of the hospitality industry.
Elizabeth’s litigation experience in complex commercial, franchise, and intellectual property (in state and federal courts and before administrative agencies throughout the United States) gives her a strong background in drafting contracts related to advertising, distribution, importation and related issues associated with the food and beverage industry. In addition, Elizabeth has a national reputation in the area of alcohol-focused advertising and promotions and frequently advises clients on regulatory compliance issues associated with software development and digital and social media. Additionally, she is a sought-after advisor on the intersection of state and federal alcohol regulations and Federal Trade Commission regulations as they pertain to sweepstakes, contests and other games.