Responsible Beverage Server/Seller Training Ordinance


State laws and/or local ordinances can mandate responsible beverage server/seller training (RBST) designed to provide alcohol outlet owners, managers, and staff with the knowledge and skills needed to serve alcohol responsibly and fulfill the legal requirements of alcohol service.


  • To reduce commercial availability of alcohol to underage youth
  • To minimize high-risk drinking behavior

Typical Elements

  • In some cases, state has a law mandating RBST. If not, options include, for example (Imm et al., 2007):
    • The use of local licensing or zoning authority to require responsible beverage serving practices.
    • A drafted RBST ordinance to lawmakers. See PIRE (2007, p.7) for a sample ordinance.
  • Sponsorship, endorsement, and/or other forms of support for RBST from local and state hospitality organizations (their involvement is critical to its success) as well as from community leaders and organizations (Saltz & Stanghetta, 1997).
  • A system for monitoring the delivery of RBST that (Mosher, Toomey, Good, Harwood, & Wagenaar, 2002):
    • Incorporates evaluation and (re)certification of RBST programs
    • Tracks which licensees and servers have completed the training
  • A framework for imposing penalties on violators through suspension or revocation of their certifications or licenses to sell or serve alcohol (Mosher et al., 2002) that:
    • Place penalties on licensees and management first and servers last.
    • Utilize graduated administrative penalties (i.e., penalties that increase in severity for repeat violations that are based in civil, not criminal, law).
    • Close license loopholes so all new owners must apply for a license. For example, ensure that revoked licenses cannot transfer to new owners (e.g., relatives, friends).
      • Note: RBST has limited impact on serving underage patrons if not paired with monitoring and sanctions (Liang, Sloan, & Stout, 2004; Warpenius, Holmila, & Mustonen, 2010).
  • ​​Individuals/organizations with the appropriate expertise who use local data to identify high-risk alcohol outlets. For example, they can learn where individuals arrested for alcohol-impaired driving purchased their last drinks either from police arrest records or from counselors during hearings (Imm et al., 2007).
  • RBST at all licensed alcohol outlets, beginning with high-risk outlets, using a standard curriculum that lasts at least four hours and includes (Mosher et al., 2002):
    • Attendance by both managers and servers
    • Information about how to recognize false identifications (IDs) as well as the signs and stages of intoxication (i.e., physiological effects of alcohol on body and behavior) and how avoiding sales to minors protects the health and well-being of the whole community
    • Details about legal requirements, penalties associated with non-compliance, and enforcement efforts
      • Note: Staff need to believe that they risk citation when they serve alcohol to underage or intoxicated patrons.
    • Techniques for interacting effectively with patrons, such as how to monitor consumption, pace heavier drinkers when necessary to prevent intoxication, and safely and comfortably refuse service
    • Opportunities to practice techniques (e.g., role-play refusal of service)
  • Managers and owners of alcohol outlets who are encouraged to develop policies to help servers comply with existing laws, such as (Saltz & Stanghetta, 1997):
    • Only serve drinks in standard serving sizes.
    • Promote food and non-alcoholic beverages.
    • Avoid price promotion for alcoholic beverages (such as “two-for-one” sales or low-cost drinks during happy hour).
    • Institute a “two ID” system that makes it harder for patrons to use false IDs.
  • Continuous RBST because of high turnover of bar staff as well as benefits and incentives for voluntary participation (if RBST is not mandated by law; Imm et al., 2007).


  • Youth under age 21
  • Adult drinkers and patrons of alcohol outlets
  • Alcohol establishment owners, managers, and staff


  • RBST has been linked to:
    • Increases in desired serving behavior (Birdthistle & Buka, 1999; Gliksman et al., 1993)
    • Increases in server policies  (Howard-Pitney, Johnson, Altman, Hopkins, & Hammond, 1991)
    • Reductions in rates of successful buy attempts for underage youth (Wolfson et al., 1996)
  • Compared to bars without RBST-trained bartenders, bars with RBST-trained bartenders reported greater reductions in breath alcohol concentration of patrons and “rowdy” social atmosphere after a one-month follow-up (Johnsson & Berglund, 2003); however, results were not sustained at the five-month follow-up (Johnsson & Berglund, 2009).
  • Evaluation data for management-only RBST are mixed. For example, compared to bars without RBST-trained managers, those that instituted management-only RBST demonstrated:
    • Decreases in sales to underage youth (Toomey et al., 2001; Wagenaar, Toomey, & Erickson, 2005)
    • Increases in sales to underage youth in on-premise establishments (Wagenaar et al., 2005)


Best Practices in Responsible Alcoholic Beverage Sales and Service Training: With Model Ordinance, Commentary, and Resources

Policies to Reduce Commercial Access to Alcohol  

Preventing Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Responsible Beverage Service Training 

Preventing Sales of Alcohol to Minors: What You Should Know about Merchant Education Programs

Preventing Underage Drinking: Using Getting to Outcomes™ with the SAMHSA Strategic Prevention Framework to Achieve Results

Retail Sales: Beverage Service Training and Related Practices


Athena Forum: Excellence in Prevention

Note: The CDC Community Guide finds insufficient evidence to determine effectiveness and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews determined that there is no reliable evidence that interventions in the alcohol server setting are effective in reducing injury.


Birdthistle, I. J., & Buka, S. L. (1999). Long-term effects of a community-wide alcohol server training intervention. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 60(1), 27–36.

Gliksman, L., McKenzie, D., Single, E., Douglas, R., Brunet, S., & Moffatt, K. (1993). The role of alcohol providers in prevention: An evaluation of a server intervention programme. Addiction, 88(9), 1195–203.

Howard-Pitney, B., Johnson, M. D., Altman, D. G., Hopkins, R., & Hammond, N. (1991). Responsible alcohol service: A study of server, manager, and environmental impact. American Journal of Public Health, 81(2), 197–199.

Imm, P., Chinman, M., Wandersman, A., Rosenbloom, D., Guckenburg, S., & Leis, R. (2007). Preventing underage drinking: Using Getting To Outcomes™ with the SAMHSA Strategic Prevention Framework to achieve results. Retrieved from

Johnsson, K. O., & Berglund, M. (2009). Do responsible beverage service programs reduce breath alcohol concentration among patrons: A five-month follow-up of a randomized controlled trial? Substance Use & Misuse, 44(11), 1592–1601.

Johnsson, K. O., & Berglund, M. (2003). Education of key personnel in student pubs leads to a decrease in alcohol consumption among the patrons: A randomized controlled trial. Addiction, 98(5), 627–633.

Liang, L., Sloan, F. A., & Stout, E. M. (2004). Precaution, compensation, and threats of sanction: The case of alcohol servers. International Review of Law and Economics, 24(1), 49–70.

Mosher, J. F., Toomey, T. L., Good, C., Harwood, E., & Wagenaar, A. C. (2002). State laws mandating or promoting training programs for alcohol servers and establishment managers: An assessment of statutory and administrative procedures. Journal of Public Health Policy, 23(1), 90–113.

Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE). (2007). Best practices in responsible alcoholic beverage sales and service training, with model ordinance, commentary, and resources. Ventura, CA:  Ventura County Behavioral Health Department Publication. Retrieved from

Saltz, R. F. & Stanghetta, P. (1997). A community-wide Responsible Beverage Service program in three communities: Early findings. Addiction, 92(2), 237–250.

Toomey, T.L., Wagenaar, A.C., Gehan, J.P., Kilian, G., Murray, D.M., & Perry, C.L. (2001). Project ARM: Alcohol risk management to prevent sales to underage and intoxicated patrons. Health Education and Behavior, 28(2), 186–199.

Wagenaar, A. C., Toomey, T. L., & Erickson, D. J. (2005). Preventing youth access to alcohol: Outcomes from a multi-community time-series trial. Addiction, 100(3), 335–345.

Warpenius, K., Holmila, M., Mustonen, H. (2010). Effects of a community intervention to reduce the serving of alcohol to intoxicated patrons. Addiction, 105(6), 1032–1040.

Wolfson, M., T. Toomey, L., Forster, J. L., Wagenaar, A. C., McGovern, P. G., & Perry, C. L. (1996). Characteristics, policies, and practices of alcohol outlets and sales to underage persons. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 57(6), 670–674.