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Do I really want a liquor license?

Question:

I am starting to see many negatives to getting a liquor license. One, the attitude of some people that want wine and beer with their meals. Two, liability for the actions of customers when they leave my place intoxicated. Am I overreacting?

– Barbara Belucchi, Owner, Piccalo Bistro Italiano

Answer:

There is no question that there is risk involved in serving alcohol. That does not necessarily mean you should avoid it, but like all risks, including the risk of liability from foodborne illness or a slip-and-fall, for that matter, you need to weigh the potential benefits against the risks and decide what is right for you.

The benefits of serving alcohol are fairly obvious to most restaurateurs. In fact, many would be out of business or struggling to stay afloat without the revenue generated from alcoholic beverage sales. Beverage cost is, on average, much lower than food cost; labor cost is minimal unless you are known for elaborate cocktails; and people are often willing to spend more on alcohol than food. For example, a few-second transaction can yield hundreds of dollars in sales for an expensive bottle of wine that could be much more challenging to earn in food sales.

You are right to be worried about the risks of alcohol service, however, especially in the U.S. Due to dram shop and other laws in most states that can hold restaurants, owners, managers and employees civilly and/or criminally liable for damages occurring due to serving underage or intoxicated guests, or serving guests to the point of intoxication, serving alcohol is a serious commitment. The decision to apply for a liquor license should not be taken lightly.

If you feel (as many restaurateurs and I do) that the benefits of selling alcohol outweigh the risks, focus on ways to minimize the risk:

  • Train all front-of-house staff (not just bartenders) in responsible alcohol service using a certification like ServSafe Alcohol or TIPS.
  • Consistently emphasize responsible alcohol service as a priority over alcohol sales.
  • Have management on-site at all times.
  • Don’t serve guests to the point of intoxication and refuse service to already intoxicated guests.
  • Offer to send guests home safely in taxis if needed.
  • Maintain a good relationship with your local police department.
  • Make sure you are adequately insured.

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