Underage drinking, especially in a college town, can be a big problem for restaurant owners. Unlike bars, you can't just card everyone as they come through the door -- restaurants can serve food to people of all ages, and a beer and wine menu is common for dinner guests. If a teen or young college student was drinking at your establishment and ends up injured or dead, you could potentially be held responsible, especially if your state has strict social host liability laws and dram shop laws. To keep yourself out of legal entanglements and to protect the safety of minors in your community, you can try the following methods to help keep drinking to a minimum in your establishment.
1. Arm your servers with ID scanners.
You might not allow your servers to carry or use their smart phones while at work, but this might want to be a policy you reconsider. There are now smartphone apps you can use to scan an ID to tell if an ID is fake or real. When your alcohol servers get an order for drinks and ask for ID, they can quickly scan them using the ID scanner app and move on. Of course, these apps are not foolproof and expertly crafted IDs can fool them, and once-valid IDs, like those of an older sibling or parent, won't register as being fraudulent. For these reasons, you should still teach your servers to look closely at the birthdate and picture.
2. Ask for back-ups.
If you really think the person is too young to be drinking, its better to be safe than sorry. You might require two forms of ID for younger patrons. Post a sign at the door or at the counter saying this can happen to avoid making any youthful customers angry. If a teen has stolen the ID of an older sibling, for example, all other cards (bank cards, school ID, membership cards) in the wallet may not match the name on the main ID card. Asking for two forms of ID seems simple, but many young people may not have thought that far in advance.
3. Be vigilant in your policies.
Employees can sometimes be the weakest link when it comes to underage drinking at your restaurant. Young servers can let in their friends, or let a group slide because it's busy and they don't feel like scanning or checking all the IDs carefully. Make it clear at staff meetings and upon hiring new help that you have zero-tolerance policy. Fire any employee who knowingly serves drinks to underage patrons. You could earn a reputation for being a tough boss, but that reputation can save you if somebody does fool you with a great ID. Your employees could testify in court that you have taken a strong stance on preventing underage drinking at your business and cite the rules and filters you have in place.
4. Keep drinks at the bar.
Serving alcohol can be very lucrative for a restaurant owner, but it can be easier to prevent underage drinking if you separate the drinking from the dining. Have a bar section of the restaurant where people can order and be served drinks with their meals. To even go into that portion of the restaurant, people would need an ID -- you could keep a hostess at the entrance to scan cards. That way, if a family is coming to dine, drinks are not being served at a table with children or teens, but a group of young women who are there for a bachelorette party can still have a good time.
For more information on ID detection software, contact a developer or law enforcement agency in your area for more information.