Minimizing Alcohol-Related Liability During the Holiday Party Season

Whether you are an owner of a nightclub, bar, or restaurant during the holiday season, this time of the year is a very exciting (and profitable) period for entertaining. New York laws and the State Liquor Authority impose a great deal of responsibility on those businesses serving alcohol. Irresponsible serving of alcohol can lead to a loss of your local reputation, hikes in insurance coverage, lawsuits, accidents, injuries, and in some cases even death.

Most owners and bartenders have heard about the Dram Shop Laws but a refresher at this time of year is always a good idea.  So, what is a dram shop anyway?  A dram shop is any bar, nightclub, tavern, brewpub, or business where alcoholic beverages are sold.  The Dram Shop Laws provide victims a cause of action that allows an injured party to successfully sue a provider of alcoholic beverages if, at the time of the injury occurred, it was apparent to the alcohol provider that the person receiving the alcoholic beverage was already intoxicated to the point that he/she presented a clear danger to him/herself and others.  The intoxicated person must also have proximately caused the suffered damages.

Criminal and civil liabilities are imposed on any establishment that does not respect the law.  These liabilities can range from liquor license revocations, medical expenses for the injured, harsh fines from the state liquor authority, and even jail time.

Serving alcohol is a privilege, not a right.  You are expected to exercise that privilege responsibly.  It is no secret that excessive drinking leads to problems, both short and long-term.  The New York State Liquor Authority will not show you sympathy if you over-serve a patron and it leads to a problem.  After drinking, people tend to lose their inhibitions.  We see louder, rowdier behavior, loitering, littering, vomiting, public urination, bar fights, sexual misconduct, harassment and, of course, DWI and DWAI.

But these are not the only risks business owners need to be aware of and have a plan of action when the situation arises.  Alcoholic beverages have become more complex and have wildly diverse ingredients – ingredients to which your guests may have undisclosed allergies.  Flavored alcohols, juices and aromatics can be dangerous for those with severe allergic reactions.

Even if you don’t use security the rest of the year, this may be the time to consider it for peak nights during the holiday season.  People become clumsier and their motor skills fall off a cliff as they drink more.  Their hand-eye coordination, inhibitions, and good judgment plummet after they have tossed back a few.  People will trip and fall more so be sure your public spaces are free of trip and fall hazards.  Anything in disrepair should be repaired promptly to prevent a possible injury to a guest.

Here are a few other best-practices to minimize liability for your business:

  1. Using professionally trained security security guards can be pricey, but it is money well spent.  Remember unlicensed bouncers, doormen and security guards are illegal under your liquor license.
  2. Create and enforce a designated-driver program.  Have a taxi service you can call if necessary.
  3. Keep track of the alcohol served.  Be sure your bartenders resist the tendency to over pour to get bigger tips.
  4. Set up a coat check/key check.  This will prevent people from leaving the party intoxicated without your knowledge – and may prevent a potential lawsuit.
  5. Don’t drink and don’t let staff drink on the job.  Maintain level headedness.  You are the paid host of the party, not a guest or the life of the party.  The point of throwing an event is to entertain your guests and ensure that they have as much fun as possible, and that you make money in the process.
  6. A low cost way to reduce elibriation and your liquor liability:  Put water out in plain sight for patron consumption.  Have plenty of water available for people to moderate their alcohol consumption.  Have pitchers of ice water and plastic cups on the bar or bottled water that can be self-served.
  7. One last, obvious tip to remember:  Kids and alcohol do not mix.  Make sure the kids are nowhere near the booze.  Serving underage patrons, or allowing underage consumption on your premises, are a sure path to a disciplinary action that puts your liquor license at risk.

Have a merry and profitable holiday season.  Contact our office if you have any questions about your business operations.  We’d be happy to put our experience and talent to work with you.