Implementing Responsible Alcohol Service in Your Establishment

Implementing Responsible Alcohol Service in Your Establishment

Each state regulates alcohol — from its manufacturing, to selling, and the actions resulting from its use. This includes assessing the liability of any violations. If you serve alcohol in your restaurant, it is important that you and each staff member are aware of the laws, rules, and best practices in your state. Serving alcohol involves many risks. 

The failure to act responsibly may result in fines, loss of your liquor license, increased costs of insurance, or even imprisonment. Ultimately, it could result in losing your business.

Consequences of Serving an Intoxicated Guest

In almost every state, it is illegal to serve alcohol to an intoxicated person. There are numerous types of liabilities associated including criminal, administrative (liquor control commission), and broad civil liabilities via the Dram Shop Law. Therefore, it is imperative that you develop specific policies that ensure the responsible serving of alcohol in your establishment. This includes having a clear concise process for the difficult situation of denying service to an intoxicated guest.

Alcohol Awareness Training

Most liability insurances now require that all members of a restaurant, bar, or tavern staff undergo this type of training. Additionally, it is important because it helps underscore the importance of responsible service as well as the consequences of failing to do so. It also provides bartenders and servers with a factual base that enables them to make informed and often difficult, service related decisions with confidence. In addition to outside training, it is important that you have internal policies that define what to do when faced with these judgment calls.

The failure to act responsibly may result in fines, loss of your liquor license, increased costs of insurance, or even imprisonment.

Situational Awareness Training and Empowerment

Each member of your staff, no matter if they serve alcohol are important in the success of these policies, as often situations like these can be prevented. Train your staff to be observant. They should be listening and watching what is going on in your restaurant. Encouraging them to use their best judgment, empower each staff member to report any person or group they believe may present a problem. This is the best opportunity you have to prevent an incident from occurring. Once a report has been made, that is the time to have a manager or the owner drop by the table, speak to the patron, further assess the situation, and perhaps intervene.

Other Preventative Measures

  • Servers and bartenders keep track of how many drinks have been served.
  • Don’t serve drinks ordered for someone who is not yet present. As this person could already be intoxicated or perhaps even underage.
  • Have a visible authority presence in the bar area. This could be security or management.
  • Have signage posted with your policy

…it is important that they have the trust and support of management.

Tips to Refusing Service to an Intoxicated Patron

Because this is a judgment call that servers and bartenders are in the best position to make, it is important that they have the trust and support of management. Having a written policy that outlines the process is also helpful. These factors make it easier for them to exercise good judgment of how and when to refuse service. Robert Plotkin, founder of Bar Media offers the following advice on how to cut off an intoxicated guest.

  • When in doubt – don’t serve- Make this your policy. Because of the potential liability, isn’t it better to err on the side of caution?
  • Keep it simple- In the fewest words possible, explain that as a matter of policy, you will not be serving any more alcohol.
  • If possible, be discreet- There is no need to cause a scene that may embarrass the patron and potentially provoke an incident.
  • Utilize tact and diplomacy- Avoid using inflammatory language, disapproval, or criticism.
  • Remain firm- Once you have committed to this decision there is no turning back. To do so would undermine your credibility and authority.
  • Keep everyone in the loop- Notify the other staff and servers so that they do not mistakenly serve the guest additional alcohol.

For general precaution, management on-duty should be notified to take any further action needed, allowing the bartender or server to resume their regular roles. Management should determine whether to offer and arrange alternate transportation for the patron.

Keeping the patrons safe from harm and your establishment safe from liability is a job that falls to every employee. Knowing when and how to cut off an intoxicated guest is a judgment call often left to the bartender and servers. It is sometimes awkward and difficult, however, with proper training, guidelines, and internal support it can be accomplished with dignity and tact. 

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How to Run a Successful Wine Program

How to Run a Successful Wine Program

There’s nothing quite like a glass–or a bottle–of wine with dinner when you’re out to eat. Unfortunately, all too many restaurants are failing to take advantage of this great source of income. You have a wine list, but you’re not using it to its full potential! Below we offer some suggestions on refining your wine program in attempt to offer your guests as dynamic of an experience possible!

Choose Your Wines Carefully

Ideally, you want to have a rotating selection of wines that reflect the trends your customers will enjoy most. Some customers are eager to check out the new wine that you’ve just added to the menu, others have old favorites and won’t often branch out.

Choose your wines with care, being sure to offer them at a variety of price points to attract as many customers as possible. Always keep in mind the cuisine you offer and ensure that your wine selection can be paired with any dish you serve.

The excuse of, “well we just don’t sell that much wine” is essentially inexcusable.

A great resource for information is your liquor sales representative/consultant. Liquor distribution companies train their staff very well and provide them with a multitude of educational sessions throughout the year.

Don’t get us wrong, they are always trying to make the sale and get you to purchase higher priced bottles or ones they can’t seem to unload out of the warehouse. But they are also very, very knowledgeable of their product and can walk you through the selection process.

Watch Your Prices

Base your glass prices on market value/competitive pricing as this will encourage customers to consider your particular wine options. By pricing your glasses of wine reasonably, you encourage more guests to (at the very least) try a glass. A well-chosen glass can easily lead to a bottle, as well as a satisfied guest with the intent to return!

A well-chosen glass can easily lead to a bottle.

As for bottle pricing, an effective strategy is to offer a reasonable price on bottles of your house red or white; select a price point that makes it cheaper than it would be by the glass. Your house wines are great options to include on happy hour menus as well and are an easy choice for many of your guests who are not picky about their wine.

As for the higher end bottles, charge market price because these should not be discounted and won’t ever have to be as long as they are attractive options.

Educate Your Staff

It’s crucial for your waitstaff to be knowledgeable about your wine selection and be able to properly talk about wine with guests. A waiter who is uncomfortable speaking about wine and/or guiding guests through the selections will be a poor salesperson, and that’s not necessarily their fault!

It’s crucial for your waitstaff to be knowledgeable about your wine selection.

Ideally, you want as much of your staff possible to have tried the wines that you’re offering. Not only that, they should have an idea of the characteristics of the wine, what wine pairs well with the signature dishes on your menu, and how to choose a wine that will fit your customer’s preferences.

Discussing the wines you carry during any type of pre-shift meeting is an ideal time to provide information for your staff. Maybe even consider a bi-annual all-staff meeting to go over your entire beverage campaign and include a wine education portion in those meetings.

Improve the Experience

All waitstaff should be presenting and offering wine service in a professional and proper manner. There are traditionalists out there that will refuse a bottle or ask for a replacement if it is not presented properly.

Wine service takes practice and a first timer is always going to be nervous. It’s a pretty simple process, made easier by following these steps:

  • Always carry a wine key and not a cheap one either, they don’t last and often don’t work all that well.
  • Carry the bottle with the label out with the palm of your hand placed on the bottom of the bottle
  • Ensure that all wine glasses are polished and feel free to carry the glasses on a tray or in your other hand
  • Bring a linen folded and draped neatly across your arm to help with small spills
  • Present the bottle to the guest who ordered it prior to uncorking
  • Always be talking to the guest as you are uncorking the bottle (this avoids awkwardness and allows time to talk menu options)
  • Pour a small sample and present to the guest who ordered the bottle
  • Once an approval is given, pour for each guest (ladies first)

Selection, price, variety, pairings, presentation and education are essential to a restaurant’s wine program.

Selection, price, variety, pairings, presentation and education are essential to a restaurant’s wine program. The excuse of, “well we just don’t sell that much wine” is essentially inexcusable. If you do not have an attractive wine presence on your menu or a staff that is uneducated about wine you are letting money walk out the door as a business owner. Make it a priority and be passionate about an age old beverage selection that will not only attract a certain audience but will also make many of your guests feel that they were provided with an experience and sometimes an education. 

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How Boilermaker Made It To Upscale Cocktail Menus

How Boilermaker Made It To Upscale Cocktail Menus

As with most classic cocktail names, no one is really sure when the term “boilermaker” was first used or exactly what was originally served. In the workplace today, the name is associated with the trade union that represents blacksmiths, shipbuilders and a variety of welders and iron workers. The Oxford English Dictionary puts the origin of the word as a term specifically for steam engine builders first used sometime in the 1830s. So it’s appropriate that, throughout its history, the pairing of a strong shot of hard alcohol with a cold beer has always been associated with the working class.

BoilerMakerThat is, until recently, when it’s suddenly become the darling of any number of upscale (some might use the term “hipster”) drinking venues in the world’s trendiest cities, the patrons of which are unlikely to have work-calloused hands or come in at the end of the day covered in soot.

While the traditional dive bar boilermaker was cheap whiskey or bourbon paired with a PBR or Bud, this new incarnation is more likely to be Sazerac or Four Roses paired with a craft beer. It’s also more likely to run for much closer to $10 than any dive bar Boilermaker ever has.

The first evidence of the term “boilermaker” being used for the whiskey-beer pairing comes from British pub menus in the early 1900s.

How did we get from there to here? The beginning of the story is the most unclear part. The first attempts at distilling grain into what would eventually become whiskey began roughly 800 years ago, in the waning days of the medieval period in Europe. At the time, what they distilled was potent, but tasted absolutely nasty. So this is the likely origin of chasing whiskey with a beer to cleanse the palate.

Though it’s widely thought of as an American drink, the first evidence of the term “boilermaker” being used for the whiskey-beer pairing comes from British pub menus in the early 1900s. There was a long history throughout Europe of chasing a hard alcohol with a beer, but the practice was extremely uncommon in the United States until immigrants in the 1800s brought it over with them.

It’s unclear where the name “boilermaker” actually first appeared in the United States, but we do know that by the 1940s it was commonly seen on the menus at bars all around the country.

The “slam then drink” approach is widely regarded as the original method, though there’s no real evidence to prove this.

Boiler MakerThe traditional method of drinking is also a subject that is not historically verified and is still very much up for debate. There are three approaches to drinking a boilermaker: slam the shot first then drink the beer, chase sips of the shot with sips of the beer, or drop the shot glass entirely into the beer so that the two liquids mix. The lattermost of these methods was known to be practiced in British pubs in the 1600s, though under a variety of different names such as the “Pop-In.”

Modern bartenders will often call this a “depth charge” so that there is no confusion over what is being ordered. The “slam then drink” approach is widely regarded as the original method, though there’s no real evidence to prove this.

Boilermaker makes the upscale bar a more accessible place for those who don’t have the time to plumb the depths of the craft cocktail.

The only thing that is certain is that whiskey aficionados are cringing at the prospect of any of these options being perpetrated on anything better than a Jameson!

That’s the central point of the Boilermaker, however, and why it’s made a comeback in the most unlikely of places. It makes the upscale bar a more accessible place for those who don’t have the time or inclination to plumb the depths of the craft cocktail or Scotch scenes. It also represents a growing sense of embracing working-class roots in such venues, even if the price point is now at a level that the average working-class patron can’t afford.

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Lessons from Las Vegas

Lessons from Las Vegas

In the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas, it’s important to refresh yourself and your staff on the best practices that have been in place for many years.

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7 Things To Know About Wunderkind ‘Bar Chef’ Shaun Traxler

7 Things To Know About Wunderkind ‘Bar Chef’ Shaun Traxler

All it takes to know that Shaun Traxler is one of the most creative up-and-coming bartenders in the industry (aside from tasting one of his concoctions), is checking out his Instagram account.

From images of his “Bedrock Breakfast”, the aptly titled alcoholic interpretation of Fruity Pebbles to “Deez Nutters” with butter washed rum, egg, salted peanut and honeycomb syrup, Traxler’s creations are anything but standard happy hour fare.

For those who know Traxler, however, this comes as no surprise, since the man himself is anything but your typical bartender.

In fact, he sees himself as a different breed completely, preferring to refer to himself as a “bar chef” instead of a mixologist.

From his professional beginning as the winner of a statewide mixology contest in Arkansas to his current full-time gig running the bar Sideways on Dickson in the same state, Traxler has still managed to fit in making guest-lecturer appearances at national conferences and keeping up a continuous flow of hard-to-believe new adults-only drink recipes.

And when he finds himself with a rare block of free time in his professional schedule? That’s easy. He fills it, just as he did in late March 2016 when he partnered with Bay City, Michigan’s bean roaster Populace Coffee to host “Coffee and Cocktails”. In an interview with Bay City Times the day before the event, Traxler shared the reason behind his distaste for the title “mixologist”, where he gets the inspiration for his creations and what he sees for the future of his career. Here are 7 takeaways from the Q&A with the self-titled “bar chef”.

Bowling alley beginnings

Traxler credits a bowling alley job at Pinny Lanes in Pinconning, Michigan with giving him his first taste of working behind a bar. While his official job title was mechanic, his love of bowling kept him wandering the lanes to check out games. There, bowlers would catch him and ask that he fetch drinks for them. While the unofficial orders were more often for soft drinks than beer, the experience gave him his first taste of life as a bartender. From there he worked the bar at a Buffalo Wild Wings, and nearly every position thereafter was as a bartender.

Foodie at heart

Traxler’s professional experience has largely been behind the bar, but his personal passion has always been more for food than drink. As a result, he finds inspiration for new cocktails primarily in the dishes he loves the most.

Traxler attributes the complex and unusual flavor profiles typical of his creations to his love for food.

One example? An arugula-pear salad topped with gorgonzola became the inspiration for a drink that married gorgonzola-washed tequila, pear, balsamic shrub and arugula. The verdict? “It tastes really good,” according to Traxler, which we’re sure is an understatement.

‘Bar Chef’ explained

Aside from the fact that his concoctions sound more like they belong on the light fare menu than they do the drink menu, Traxler shies away from the term “mixologist” for another reason as well. “It’s a term that has…become bastardized,” he opines. “…you’ll see people putting gummy worms in a cocktail and calling themselves a mixologist.” Hence, the title of “bar chef”.

A day in the life

When he’s not hosting events like the one with Populace Coffee or indulging in recipe-inspiring meals with his wife, Traxler spends his time behind the bar at Fayetteville, Arkansas’ Sideways on Dickson.

He laments that the crowd is comprised mainly of college students, but adds that there is also a craft beer and cocktail menu that he is proud to have created. “…you can dip your toes into every market,” he boasts of the 150 beers, 115 whiskeys and 24 ciders Sideways stocks.

Professional endgame

While he is content running Sideways for now, ultimately Traxler aims to open his own bar. He hopes to achieve his goal within three years but stipulates that he has yet to settle on where he wants it to be. While he appreciates the potential in cities such as Detroit, he adds that having a child in Arkansas means that realistically he will probably stay in the state for the long run. What he does know is what vibe he is aiming for.

“It’s going to be super intimate. I’ve always wanted to do something that incorporates live jazz…”

Those with shallow pockets may not want to hold their collective breath, though. Traxler also wants his establishment to be “…super intimate with very expensive drinks.”

Personal favorites

Surprisingly, despite the entire collection of recipes and potential recipes at his disposal, Traxler is a meat-and-potatoes man when it comes to pouring one for himself, preferring whiskey neat (like the bottle of Elijah 18 he got for his last birthday) and, of course, beer.

To check out more of Traxler’s creative libations, drop into Sideways. Even easier? Check out Instagram and take in the photos featuring his newest recipes for some inspiration.

Bar Tabs: Dane Hatch, Lead Bartender at ViewHouse

Bar Tabs: Dane Hatch, Lead Bartender at ViewHouse

Working the bar at the ViewHouse, one of Downtown Denver’s most popular destinations no matter the time of day, takes serious skill, endurance, and personality. And Dane Hatch, their lead bartender, makes it look like a walk in the park, so we sat down with him to find out how he does it without breaking a sweat.

What first attracted you to bartending? Justin-Lawlor-TKD-1-Version-2-300x300
I had a roommate in Telluride who was a bartender and he always seemed to have too much fun! I love meeting new people so it was a perfect fit.

Where did you get your start?
A bar called Tracks Cafe & Bar in Telluride.

Did you ever go to bartending school?
I never went. It wasn’t required. I feel like bartending is a skill that just takes time behind the bar.

What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Always keep your head up and on a swivel. Always know what your next move is going to be.

Who do you look to for inspiration?
There is always going to be someone that’s better than you at certain tasks. I’ve tried to learn from everyone I’ve ever worked with.

What’s your least favorite drink to make?

Do you have any tricks you use to connect to customers or maximize your efficiency behind the bar?
Every guest is different, so I try to read the type of person they are and their mood when they sit down.

Do you have a signature cocktail? 
Definitely! It’s the ViewHouse Lemonade.


1 ¼ oz Sky Raspberry
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup
4 raspberries

Serve over ice in a pint glass, then top it off with a splash of Sierra Mist.

When you go to a new bar or restaurant, do you ever look around for anything that lets you know they have their sh*t together?
Of course. It’s just habit at this point.

What are some of your favorite watering holes around town?
Gaslamp, Herbs, Retro Room.

Last but not least, what’s your favorite part of the job?
I’m the first person you see when you come into ViewHouse. I almost feel like the face of ViewHouse. I like meeting every person that walks through the door!

Dane Hatch, Lead Bartender at ViewHouse

Thanks Dane and everyone at the ViewHouse for this awesome interview!