You and your operation are a target in the war against underage consumption. You have what underage guests want — alcohol beverages — and they’re willing to risk fines and even jail time to get it, not to mention jeopardize the livelihoods of hard-working hospitality professionals.
We all want a silver bullet, a surefire way to guarantee every guest is of the legal age to consume alcohol, and there are numerous systems and devices that can help with this task, some of which are quite innovative. However, these must be used in conjunction with best practices employed by servers and bartenders.
Let’s look at the basic steps that must be taken when checking an ID. First, you must ensure that the ID is valid. A valid ID is current and contains the owner’s birthday, photo and signature. A valid ID also is intact; it must not be damaged or show signs it has been tampered with in any way. After establishing an ID’s validity, you need to make sure it is genuine. Genuine IDs have special text, images and UV features.
More than 250 ID changes are made annually in the United States alone; it is important you stay up to date. Published annually, ID checking guides also are helpful in determining if an underage guest has presented you with a minor’s ID. Finally, you need to make sure that the ID actually belongs to the person presenting it.
Counterfeiters continue to arm minors with fake IDs. Although technology enables this illegal practice, it also offers many ways to identify counterfeiters, such as handheld scanners, Internet and smartphone applications as well as readers, age calculators and software that can be integrated with your POS system. Do your homework to determine what will work best in your operation, and train your staff to use your chosen technology effectively in conjunction with proper ID-checking processes.
Everyone looks at ID checking as one of those have-to-do tasks, a necessary evil of serving alcohol. Let’s change attitudes and create a campaign called ID Culture. Look at ID Culture as a way to start the customer-engagement process. Provide your staff with a clear mission: communication, trust and accountability.
Communicate ID Culture to your associates, and share with them why it is important.
Trust your associates to engage guests in a hospitable and welcoming manner by using the server training and technology/tools provided in your ID Culture Campaign. Although no one likes being carded, how it’s done can make all the difference. Here are some basic steps: Provide a warm and inviting greeting to the guest and politely ask for his or her ID. Then verify the ID using the resources and/or technology mentioned. Next, determine the action you will take based on your review of the ID, and seek manager involvement if needed. Remember, you have the legal right to refuse service if you suspect a guest is underage.
Finally, hold them accountable to the ID Culture. We tend to punish first and reward second. With an ID Culture in place, the goal is to celebrate and reward the success of your operation first and punish second. An ID Culture switches the mentality and celebrates perfect ID checking. Let’s reward staff for exceptional use of technology and execution of proper ID checking.
To see if your ID culture is working, put a “secret shopper” program in place. Don’t wait for law enforcement to run a sting or an issue to arise. Be proactive and reward for success. Similar to workplace safety, celebrate the number of days without incident and/or the number of flawless inspections or “secret shops.”
Some bar or club operators might lament the costs of such a program — the time, the training, the technology — but, ask yourself, what does one law-enforcement sting cost your operation? What does bad publicity about minors consuming alcohol at your operation cost? ID Culture is an investment in your business, not an expense.
Successful bar, restaurant and nightclub operators have a clear policy on ID checking that is integrated into all staff training. ID checking is not a task, it’s something that should be discussed and incorporated in your daily shift meetings. The creation of fraudulent IDs will continue to advance; counterfeits will always be a challenge for any licensee. Investing in your associates and providing tools, technology and resources is a winning combination.
Remember, this is your responsibility: Operation ID Culture is the campaign, technology is the tool and people are the silver bullet. NCB