Alcohol Retailers Can Help Reduce Teen Drinking

Alcohol retailers play an essential role in reducing teen access. They can take steps to make sure that teens can't buy alcohol from their stores, and they can serve as a source of information to reduce the possibility that alcohol legally sold to an adult will end up in a teenager's hands. Tools for retailers to meet these goals are on this page.

Responsible retailing practices are key to preventing illegal alcohol sales. But it takes more than just telling your staff not to sell to minors. Responsible retailers need specific policies, backed up by training and accountability, that enable staff to say, "If I sell to you, I'll lose my job."

The RRForum, a national non-profit organization dedicated to responsible retailing of age-restricted products, has prepared the following list of recommended practices to reduce underage sales and service of alcohol by off-premises alcohol beverage licensees. Every retailer should adopt these practices. The list is not all-inclusive, and retailers may engage in additional practices to reduce illegal underage sales.

RRForum Recommended Practices for Off-Premises Alcohol Retailers

1. Create and maintain sales and service policies that every staffer should follow

Each establishment should have a written policy that identifies steps that staff must take for every transaction, including:

  • What perceived age triggers an ID check?
  • What are acceptable forms of ID and when is a second form of ID required?
  • What should be done if an ID appears to be fake or if a 3rd party sale (“shoulder-tap”) is suspected?
  • When and how should a sale be refused?
  • What record keeping and supervisor notification are required when problems occur?
  • What consequences will be imposed when staff fail to check IDs?
  • Important note: State and local laws should be included in the policy, for all employees to read and understand.

2. Train staff and management on the alcohol sales policy

All staff should be fully trained before being permitted to sell alcohol. Training should include:

  • Information on the risks of underage use of alcohol products;
  • Pertinent local and state laws;
  • Every aspect of the store policies; and
  • Roll-playing on how to request an ID and deny a sale in a non-confrontational manner.
  • Local laws may set additional specific training requirements.
  • Training for managers should also include supervision and training of clerks and strategies to insure adherence to these practices.

Training messages should be reviewed and reinforced periodically. Important note: If training is segmented — for instance, if a new hire receives in-person training by a manager, followed by in-depth training within 30 days of employment — that employee should be carefully monitored because research shows that newly-hired employees are more likely to sell alcohol to an underage customer.

3. Provide the right tools

Providing appropriate tools is important in helping retailer staff with responsible sales. These tools should be used in the most appropriate combination, considering all circumstances:

  • Program registers to recognize age-restricted product sales and prompt cashiers to require ID.
  • If possible, program registers to read IDs electronically and calculate age or use a stand-alone electronic ID scanner or a “black light” wand in states in which these technologies can determine the authenticity of an ID.
  • If built-in or stand-alone electronic ID verification is not possible, use a specialty calendar showing birth dates/years eligible to buy.
  • Provide a current ID guidebook that shows valid ID formats for all states and US territories.

Note: Prominently display signs giving notice that your establishment checks IDs to help staff assert company policy and deter underage sales attempts.

4. Monitor staff conduct

Licensees should rigorously monitor staff performance as a quality control strategy, as follows:

  • “Mystery shop” inspections — attempted purchases by trained contractors to trigger the establishment‘s ID-checking requirement — provide staff and managers with feedback on staff performance and whether store policies are being followed. RRF currently recommends 6-12 visits a year.
  • Mystery shop inspections can be supplemented by review of point-of-sale video tapes and cash register data or other internal monitoring systems.
  • Mystery shopper results and the results of law enforcement compliance checks should be reviewed promptly with all staff — not just with the individual clerk who waited on the mystery shopper.

Feedback to staff members who fail to check IDs should include counseling and re-training. The consequences for a 2nd failure may include suspension without pay or termination. Immediate positive feedback to staff members who successfully check IDs is important and can include tangible gifts and public recognition.

5. Use security practices to reduce underage theft

Use theft deterrent equipment and/or a floor plan that keeps alcohol shelves and coolers unobstructed for store management and staff and permits staff to monitor customers and reduce alcohol theft.

6. Keep records

Document all training, mystery shops, and law enforcement compliance checks. Results of mystery shop inspections, compliance checks and disciplinary actions should be placed in the personnel records of staff. Keep an unusual occurrence log and any related video. These records may be used for communicating front line challenges to management, for positive recognition programs for employees, and to show company responsibility. Appoint a high-level employee to oversee the store’s compliance with laws concerning the sale and marketing of age-restricted products and these Recommended Practices.

7. Communicate with the public

Be a community asset. Retailers serve their communities when they post information about the legal age of purchase and express the importance of preventing teen access to alcohol. Post signs about your ID checking policies at the entrance and near registers where age-restricted products are sold. Establish working relationships with local law enforcement. Get involved in industry associations and the community to express a commitment to prevent underage sales and use. And since responsible retailing shifts underage access from commercial sales to “social sources,” the community can benefit from learning how important it is that adults not furnish alcohol to underage individuals.

8. Don’t market to youth

Alcohol products should not be displayed in an area that contains products likely to be purchased by youth, such as sodas, snack foods or energy drinks — especially since some alcohol products can look like non-alcoholic drinks. Don’t display youth-oriented advertising for alcohol products in your store. Free product sampling may be inappropriate if youth are permitted in the store. Don’t advertise alcohol products in college or high school publications, or outdoors near schools or playgrounds.

9. Remember that responsible retailing is a management responsibility

Every aspect of responsible sales and service of alcohol imposes a responsibility on management to oversee and respond.

Tagged with: Alcohol