Best Practices for Off-Premise Establishments

The RRForum’s Retailer Work Group — consisting of national retail chains, training organizations, mystery shop vendors, state regulators, attorneys general, producers, and researchers — has identified a set of recommended practices to reduce underage alcohol sales by off-premises licensees. Every responsible retailer should adopt these practices. Retailers should also consider additional practices to help meet the needs of their establishment and the local community.

Create and maintain a written sales policy

Establishments should have a written policy that specifies the steps that staff must take for every transaction, including:

 What perceived age triggers an ID check?

 What are acceptable forms of ID, and when is a 2nd form of ID required?

 What should be done if an ID appears to be fake or if a 3rd party sale(such as a “shoulder-tap”) is suspected?

  When and how should an alcohol sale be refused?

  What recordkeeping and supervisor notifications are required when an incident occurs?

  What consequences will be imposed when staff fail to check IDs?

Important Note: The written policy should include state and local laws for all employees to read and understand.

Train staff and management on the alcohol sales policy

All staff should be fully trained before being permitted to sell alcohol. Training should include:

  Information on the risks of underage use of alcohol products.

  Pertinent local and state laws.

  All aspects of the store policies identified in Practice #1, above.

  Role-playing on how to request an ID and deny a sale in a non-confrontational manner.

  Local laws that may specify additional training requirements.

  Training for managers that covers how to train and supervise staff to ensure adherence to these practices. Managers should periodically review and reinforce training with staff.

Important Note: Newly-hired employees are more likely to sell alcohol to an underage customer. Thus, if a new hire receives in-person training by a manager, but more in-depth training has to be done later, then that employee should be carefully monitored.

Provide the right tools

Providing these tools will help staff to sell alcohol responsibly:

  Program cash registers to recognize age-restricted products and prompt cashiers to require ID.

  If possible, use cash registers that can read IDs electronically and calculate a customer’s age. Alternatively, in states where these technologies are permitted, use a stand-alone electronic ID scanner or a “black light” wand.

  If built-in or stand-alone electronic ID verification is not possible, then employ a daily calendar that shows the birth year and date of the youngest legal-age customer.

  Use daily shift reminders that emphasize the importance of checking IDs and state the birth year and date of the youngest legal-age customer.

  Provide a current ID guidebook that shows valid ID formats for all states and US territories.

Important Note: Prominently display signs giving notice that your establishment checks IDs. These signs help staff assert company policy and deter underage sales attempts.

Monitor staff conduct

Rigorously monitor staff performance as a quality control strategy:

  Conduct “mystery shop” inspections—using shoppers who are young enough to trigger the establishment‘s ID-checking requirement—to provide staff and managers with feedback on staff performance. RRForum recommends 6 –12 visits a year.

  Mystery shopper results should be reviewed promptly with all staff—not just with the individual clerk who waited on the mystery shopper.

  Feedback to staff members who fail to check IDs should include counseling and refresher training. The consequences for a 2nd failure may include suspension or termination of employment.

  Review point-of-sale videotapes, cash register data, or other internal monitoring systems to supplement mystery shop inspections. New employees in particular should be monitored.

Important Note: Positive feedback to staff members who successfully check IDs—including small tangible gifts, “comp time” and public recognition—may have an even greater impact on staff behavior than penalties imposed upon clerks who fail to check IDs.

Employ security practices to discourage theft by youth

Theft is a potential source of alcohol for underage youth. To prevent theft:

 Use video monitoring and other theft-deterrent equipment to discourage shoplifting.
 Have a floor plan that gives staff an unobstructed view of alcohol shelves and coolers.

Keep records

Records can be used to document your company’s responsible retailing practices, communicate with management, and organize a positive recognition program for employees.

  Document all training, mystery shops, law enforcement compliance checks, and disciplinary actions in staff personnel records.

  Keep an unusual occurrence log and any related store video.

  Appoint a high-level employee to oversee the establishment’s compliance with alcohol sales laws, plus the Recommended Practices listed in this document.

Communicate with the public

Be a community asset. Alcohol outlets serve their communities when they post information about the importance of preventing underage access to alcohol and their commitment to the age-21 law.

  Post signs about your ID checking policies at the entrance and near registers where age-restricted products are sold.

  Establish working relationships with local law enforcement.

  Get involved in industry associations and your local community to express yourcommitment to prevent underage sales and use.

Important Note: Since responsible retailing shifts underage access from commercial to social sources, the community can benefit from messages from your establishment that warn adults not to furnish alcohol to minors.

Don’t market to youth

Alcohol products should not be displayed in an area that contains sodas, snack foods or energy drinks—especially since some alcohol products can look like non-alcoholic drinks.

 Don’t display youth-oriented advertising for alcohol products in your store.

 Free product sampling may be inappropriate if youth are permitted in the store.

 Don’t advertise alcohol products in college or high school publications, or outdoors near schools or playgrounds.

Remember: RR is a management responsibility

Every aspect of preventing underage sales and service is a management responsibility.

Ongoing discussions with staff about the importance of preventing underage and 3rd party sales is the surest way for managers to avoid the penalties and liabilities that are associated with illegal sales of alcohol to minors.