Risk Management – Alcohol and Recreational Marijuana – Meetings & Events

Hosting a meeting or event can open your company up to risk and liability. It is important to carefully examine each event individually, looking for what could go wrong, weaknesses and specific threats or hazards. Although this seems like a negative approach, it is actually a positive: after all, you want to make sure your attendees and company are kept safe. Identifying potential risks will help you avoid them from the start or think through how you would handle the situation should the unexpected occur.

This article is part of a series, identifying an area of risk and providing steps on how to minimize the threats these risks pose.

Alcohol and Recreational Marijuana

The only way to remove potential liquor liability from your event is to not serve alcohol to begin with. But let’s be honest. Most of the time, this isn’t an option. So how do you reduce the chance of risk related to alcohol? Here are some steps to follow for alcohol related risk management:

  1. Protect yourself in the contract: During the very initial stages of planning your event you can limit your vulnerability to risk by including certain clauses in the contract with your hotel, event facility or anywhere else alcohol will be served. The most important clause to include is an indemnification clause. This clause should be included in all contracts, regardless of whether there will be alcohol served. You can also add that servers should be trained in safe alcohol service, the hotel will adhere to all federal and state laws regarding the sale of alcohol and bartenders/servers are not to serve attendees who appear to be intoxicated.
  2. Have proper insurance: Before purchasing a liquor-liability insurance policy, review your company’s general liability policy. If the policy does not cover events where alcohol is served, look into a liquor-liability policy. This won’t completely eliminate your liability, but it will cover some situations. Lastly, confirm your venue/vendors are properly insured and licensed.
  3. Develop policies and guidelines: Be proactive about expectations on alcohol consumption at events. Let attendees know ahead of time to have fun at the event, but also to drink and behave responsibly. If someone does get out of control, have guidelines already in place on how to handle intoxicated guests. You can set these guidelines not only for your on-site team, but also with the servers/bartenders. If possible, give a third-party (like your catering manager) authority over the event. If someone has obviously had too much to drink, you can notify this designated individual to handle the situation, always with tact. This can relieve you from resistance from the attendee as well as potentially awkward or embarrassing scenarios if a VIP or client is involved.
  4. Provide a safe environment: The best way to discourage overindulgence and protect yourself from risk is to create an atmosphere that promotes responsibility and safety. Never offer alcohol during activities involving snow, water or transportation (think jet skiing). For other events, prevent your guests from becoming intoxicated by setting it up in way that does not promote overconsumption.

A few tips are:

  • Offer drink tickets instead of an open bar.
  • Offer non-alcoholic beverages. Variety and creativity will be more attractive than basic sodas.
  • Always serve food when alcohol is served. Eating slows down the absorption of alcohol. Limit salty foods; they make people thirstier.
  • Close your bar before the end of the event. This will give attendees the chance to sober up.
  • Station the bar in a location that isn’t constantly in guests’ paths.
  • Ensure bartenders are using jiggers to consistently measure their pours.
  • Keep drinks at the bar. If you have servers circulating with drinks or refilling glasses, many people will accept even if they weren’t planning on having more.
  • Even with all these measures in place, there is still the chance someone over indulges. Make sure you have transportation available for those unfit to get themselves home or back to their hotel room. This could be a bus, or be as simple as having taxis available or walking them up to their room.

The above steps should give you a good defense against liquor liability. But there is another culprit for liability cropping up across the nation, recreational marijuana. Although it is only legal in eight U.S. states so far (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Washington, D.C.), it is important to consider the implications this substance has to your meetings.

The best defense is to develop a policy regarding pot use at your events. If your company’s overall policy doesn’t touch on this subject, be sure to have something in place. A strong policy will not only protect you during events held in states where it has been legalized, but also in states where it is still illegal. Sooner or later, you will meet in a state where weed has become decriminalized, and chances are, you will have at least one participant who might give it a try. Just like with any type of risk management, think of all possible outcomes and have a plan in place for how you will react.

MeetingsNet: Seven Tips to Limit Liquor Liability
Strategic Meetings Management Consulting: Alcohol Risk Management
MeetingsNet: Stirring the Pot: What Planners Need to Know About Marijuana Liability
MeetingsNet: 5 Weird Ways Legal Marijuana Could Affect Your Events
Business Insider: Here’s where you can legally smoke weed now

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