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Holiday Drinks: How to Serve Them Safely & When to Stop Serving

December 16, 2019

Original content c/o: National Restaurant Association

Get your staff up to speed on safe alcohol service.

Holiday celebrations can bring in a lot of business for restaurants and bars. According to market research firm Technomic, alcohol sales during the fourth quarter of the year can account for up to 30% of alcohol sales overall (retail and restaurant).

People Drinking Beer

As operations get busy, staff members need to stay focused on serving alcohol responsibly, says Jay Lerdal, program manager for the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe Alcohol training program.

During holiday celebrations, you might see a higher number of guests drinking more than usual, as well as less-experienced drinkers tossing back a few in the spirit of the occasion.

“Check IDs, watch for signs of intoxication, and stop service if needed,” Lerdal says. “Inexperienced drinkers can get tipsy even after consuming a small amount of alcohol.” Experienced drinkers might “hold their liquor well,” but be legally intoxicated. This is why training is important.

Following are tips on how to serve alcohol responsibly, particularly over the holidays. Lerdal also offers best practices on how to stop serving when it’s warranted using the ServSafe Alcohol Guide as his reference.

Train staff to know what a constitutes a “standard drink.” 

Bartenders should use a jigger or measured-pour spout when making drinks (make sure all of them have these tools so they don’t free-pour). One standard drink is

  • 1.5 oz. of 80-proof liquor
  • 12 oz. of 5% Alcohol By Volume beer
  • 5 oz. of 12% ABV wine

Note that some beers can contain up to 12% ABV in 12 oz., more than double a regular beer. Also, some cocktail recipes call for more than one standard drink in their contents. If so, the server/bartender needs to factor in the number of drinks actually served.

When should you stop serving the customer?

ServSafe Alcohol devotes a lot of training to this, but there really is no set guidance that tells you to “cut off service after X number of drinks.” A guest’s age, weight, gender, medication regimen and other factors affect how they handle alcohol; a few drinks for one person might be too many for another.

That said, “most states have laws against selling alcohol to people that are visibly or obviously intoxicated, Lerdal says, citing the guide.

Consider stopping service when:

  • You see signs of intoxication — slurred speech, glassy stares, poor motor skills, rude or aggressive behavior.
  • You realize another drink would put the guest too close to a level of intoxication.
  • You witness disruptive behavior, violence or loud arguing.

Follow these steps when you think you want to stop service:

  1. Notify a co-worker and manager of your intention to stop service.
  2. Don’t be harsh or confrontational with the guest.
  3. Don’t start the conversation with the word “you” that points out their behaviors.
    Use “I” language instead.
  4. Try to be helpful and empathetic.
  5. Offer alternative nonalcoholic beverages or food.
  6. Arrange transportation if necessary.

We recommend all employees involved in making and serving drinks enroll in a ‘responsible alcohol service’ course, such as ServSafe Alcohol,” Lerdal says.

And check out the free ServSafe Alcohol training materials, ready to download at