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5 What Servers Can Do TN OVER HALF THE STATES in the nation, commercial servers of | alcoholic beverages can be held liable for damage or injuries ~ caused by their drunken or underage patrons. These servers can include bartenders, waiters and waitresses, the managers or operators of an establishment that sells alcohol, or the owners of an establishment. In some states this liability extends even to noncommercial servers, such as hosts at a party or bartenders at an informal social gathering. These dramshop laws, as they are known, establish civil li- abilities. They complement both a state's Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) laws and its criminal sanctions against such acts as selling alcohol to a minor. Courts around the country have repeatedly upheld the validity of these laws. "Such business responsibilities are common to other professions offering ser- vices to the public," says lames Mosher of the Medical Research Institute of San Francisco. "The primary debate should not be the existence of that responsibility but rather its scope." Despite their solid legal standing, dramshop laws have been difficult to apply. A commercial server can be held liable only if he or she sold alcohol to an underage or "obviously intoxi- cated" person. The vague wording of the latter prohibition offers little guidance either to a server or to members of a jury. Noncommercial servers, such as social hosts, fraternity barten- 62
WHAT SERVERS CAN DO / 63 ders, or employers, have only been held liable for serving un- derage drinkers. When court cases in Iowa and Caiifor~ua ~mpliec! that social hosts could be held liable for serving obviously in- toxicated guests, each state quickly passed legislation contra- vening the decision. This chapter concentrates on commercial rather than non- commercial servers for several reasons. For one thing, experi- ence with dramshop laws is still limited. At this early stage, commercial establishments offer the best setting for learning about effective ways for servers to protect their patrons anti guests. Also, people who have been drinking in public establish- ments tend to make up a large fraction of drunk drivers. In one roadside survey, 44 percent of the drivers with blood alcohol contents above 0.10 percent were driving to, from, or between public eating and drinking places. Finally, changes macle in commercial establishments cannot help but carry over into private life. "Serving practices in private settings will inevitably be affected both by the public example of concern set by new professional practices and by the diffu- sion of experience gained by employees, trainers, and research- ers into the common body of knowledge and custom," says Mosher. Bartender Training The most obvious way for a drinking establishment to avoid dramshop liability is for its servers to see that patrons do not get drunk or do not harm themselves or others if they do. Servers have several such ways to intervene on behalf of their customers. They can make it less convenient or acceptable for a person to get drunk or try to drive while drunk. They can suggest that a person wait to sober up or arrange for a friend or taxi to take that person home. They can even physically restrain a person or report to the police someone who insists on driving drunk. As might be expected, none of these options is easy. To a bar or tavern owner, intervention can mean lower profits. To a commercial server, intervention can mean the in- convenience of arranging a ricle or a place to stay or the sheer
64 / ALCOHOL IN AMERICA unpleasantness of telling a person that he or she is incompetent to drive. In many cases, servers need special training to be able to carry out these tasks successfully. This is one of the reasons for the several "server intervention" programs that have sprung up across the country in recent years. Typically, these programs offer training sessions on the effects of alcohol on the body, signs of intoxication, the legal responsibilities of servers, ways to cut off service to people who are drinking too much, how to handle intoxicated people, man- agement practices that support server intervention, and the nature of alcoholism and its treatment. These courses have attracted considerable attention from individuals and groups concerned with drinking and its harmful consequences. The Presidential Task Force on Drunk Driving, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and several state task forces on cirunk driving have all recommended that aspects of these programs be in- stituted more widely. One of the most comprehensive and well studied of these programs was conducted by the California ABC Department from 1977 to 1980. At the beginning of the program, people arrester! for drunk driving were askect where they had had their last drink. When a certain drinking establishment was listed three or more times, the ABC Department contacted the estab- lishment and offered a server training program. Participation was voluntary, and at first many licensees were suspicious. But most did participate. By the end of the first year, during which over 5,000 servers were trained, more requests were coming in for training than the department could handle. The city of Madison, Wisconsin, took a different approach to ensuring that servers receive training in intervention tech- niques. In 1981 it passed a law requiring that all commercial servers of alcoholic beverages take an alcohol awareness train- ing program before obtaining a license. The program set up to meet this requirement covers four main topics: city and state laws, the effects of alcohol and other drugs, alcoholism ant! alcoholism treatment, and human relations and marketing. Lo- cal police, alcohol-related programs, and tavern associations have all supported the effort.
WHAT SERVERS CAN DO / 65 Another innovative server intervention program has arisen In Amherst, Massachusetts. There lames Peters has used both legal means and voluntary cooperation to reduce the number of happy hours, institute citywide server training sessions, con- tro! advertising, and encourage the cutting off of intoxicated patrons. Largely because of his efforts, legislation has been introduced at the state level to require training as a condition of licensing. Other server intervention programs have also been estab- lished in the past few years. The University of Minnesota has developed a community-based program in which licensees are encouraged to sponsor training sessions for their employees. The New York State Division of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, in cooperation with the New York State Restaurant Association, has conducted seminars for commercial servers. MADD in Cal- ifornia and the Health Education Foundation in Washington, D.C., have also set up seminar series. "These programs rep- resent a significant step in server intervention policy," con- cludes Mosher. "They are practical efforts to incorporate commercial alcohol establishments into a prevention effort." Making Server Intervention More Effective Bartender training programs are a valuable step forward, but they are only one component of what could be a comprehensive approach to server intervention. As with all prevention efforts, the pursuit of a number of different strategies simultaneously can have the greatest effect with the least restraint on personal freedoms. In the area of server intervention, there are several areas into which current programs could profitably expand, including the drinking environment, management training, and legal support. With regard to the drinking environment, several key ques- tions arise. What are the interior and exterior designs of a drink- ing place? Where is the alcohol being served? And what kincis of transportation facilities, either public or private, are available for patrons? The design of a drinking establishment can help or hinder a responsible server. For instance, many bartender training pro-
66 / ALCOHOL IN ~ERICA Bartenders are often particularly well situated to observe the drinking of their patrons and to intervene when necessary. grams emphasize that servers shouIcI make frequent, unob- strusive observations of their patrons. Yet this may be impossible in bars, taverns, or restaurants with certain physical layouts, such as large, impersonal lounges or dance halls. The design and characteristics of a drinking establishment can also influence how often intervention is necessary. Studies have shown that physical and social settings have an effect on how much a person drinks. Drinkers take cues from the people around them about how much and how fast they shouIc! drink. Sometimes these influences moderate drinking, as is often the case when one drinks at home in the company of family. At other times these influences increase drinking, as can happen when one is out on the town with friends. By taking account of these less tangible influences on drink- ing, servers can both lessen the need for intervention and make intervention easier if the need does arise. According to Mosher, "Such variables as crowcledness, noise, availability of nonal- coholic beverages and food and of nondrinking activities that
WHAT SERVERS CAN DO / 67 promote sociability may substantially reduce the need for in- terventions by bartenders ant! other employees." Another important environmental factor involves the estab- lishment's location. if a patron becomes inebriated, he or she needs some way other than driving a private automobile to get home. Some locales have recently begun offering free taxi, min- ibus, or public transportation services during peak drinking periods, like holiday weekends. Such efforts could be made more often, especially for popular drinking spots or on special drinking occasions. Alcohol outlets should at least have a way of calling taxis for drunk patrons, and taxis must arrive quickly if they are to be of much use. Many of these changes in the drinking environment require that managers be committed to intervention, a factor that past training programs have sometimes overlooked. "There is a ten- dency to focus merely on the front linebartenders, cocktail waitresses, and other employees actually in contact with the establishment's customers," says Mosher. "An effective inter- vention program, however, may require a number of reforms in management practices, including such variables as the num- ber of employees on the job, the number of patrons allowed on the premises, the interior design, the commitment to alter- native forms of transportation, the hours of operation, the use of promotional techniques, etc." Finally, past server intervention programs have made little use of legal support. An exception to this rule is the program in Madison, Wisconsin, which made training a prerequisite of licensing. Other jurisdictions, whether at the state or local level, could pass similar laws to guarantee that every server of al- coholic beverages receives some measure of training. The other legal incentive for server intervention programs is the dramshop laws themselves. As mentioned, these laws have usually proven to be too vague to persuade servers to change their policies. Moreover, insurance companies have often short- cut the intent of the laws by settling out of court on unjustified claims. This can make the owner of a drinking establishment reluctant to change house policies, since such changes do little to protect against unjustified claims. Also, since establishments often buy insurance to cover their liability, settlements help
68 / ALCOHOL IN AMERICA transform dramshop laws into what Mosher calls "imperfect victim-compensation mechanisms." Interest has recently been building in ways to change these laws to make them more effective. Some of this interest comes from the servers themselves, who are being squeezed by the high premiums charged for liability insurance (in California these premiums went up 500 to 1,000 percent in the wake of certain court cases that went against commercial servers). One such change would involve broadening clramshop laws to in- clude an assessment of the server's overall level of responsi- bility. The liability of a server would then clepend on whether the server had taken reasonable steps to protect other people from harm. "For example," says Mosher, "a server who insti- tutes a training program for employees, implements manage- ment practices that encourage compliance, and is attentive to environmental variables such as alternative transportation for intoxicated patrons could be protected as a matter of law from dramshop suits, assuming he or she can prove that the pro- cedures were followed on a given occasion." Such changes in the dramshop laws would be a strong inducement for partici- pation in server intervention programs, especially if insurance companies acknowledged that participation with lower liability insurance rates. Options for Businesses Many drinking establishments and other businesses around the country have supported server intervention programs, and some have made prominent commitments to intervention tech- niques. An example is the S & A Restaurant Corporation, which owns about 300 restaurants nationwide. The corporation has instituted a wide-rang~ng server intervention program. The key to the program, according to the corporation's vice-president and general course! Roger Thomson, is the sharing of respon- sibility between the restaurant and its patrons: We are spending a great deal of time, money, and effort to educate our employees and our patrons on the sharing of responsibility.... Nationwide, we have posted notices in some of our restaurants to remind our customers that they have a responsibility, and we will refuse to serve
WHAT SERVERS CAN DO / 69 them if we think they are not taking this responsibility. We also have blood alcohol content charts posted in some restrooms and telephone booths. If we think that somebody may be drinking too much, we may serve them protein- and fat-rich foods that absorb alcohol more quickly. We may also place in our new menus a nonalcoholic beverage section that receives top billing. We have game areas that allow people to feel that they do not have to sit and drink first to enjoy a meal, and we are initiating other diversions for people who choose not to drink alcohol. Where we have been able to strike deals with taxi companies, our restaurants have a hot line to the taxi company: Just pick up the phone, which is a direct line, and we pay for the cab to take home a patron who has had too much to drink. To educate our staff, we invite the local police and the local alcohol councils to speak to our employees frequently. In our newspaper, which goes to all our restaurants, there is often an article on some aspect of alcohol. We help our employees recognize the signs of intoxication and we give them support to cut an intoxicated person off. On the community level, we funnel money into various school systems to produce posters on responsibility and alcohol. We work with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other groups on various local issues. We are trying to be responsible. Programs such as that of the S & A Restaurant Corporation are an encouraging development, as is the widespread attention now being focused on this aDDroach. At the same time, much a 1 1 more needs to be done before it will be possible to institute server intervention programs widely. Many different groups and organizations including ABC boards, insurance commis- sions, law enforcement agencies, citizen groups, researchers, educators, and legislators will have to coordinate their actions to make these programs a success. According to Mosher, the fecleral government must take a special part in this interplay of initiatives. "The federal government," he says, "through the National institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, needs to take the leac! in this process, providing financial resources for the necessary research and evaluation studies, offering tech- nical assistance to interested groups, acting as an information clearinghouse, and ensuring that duplication of effort is mini- mized."