Serving a Minor: Who’s at Risk and What’s at Stake?

Serving a minor is a costly mistake — one that can shut down your business entirely. After spending months of time and thousands of dollars to obtain your liquor license, why risk it all at the hands of busy stressed staff? Without the right tools and processes in place, this is exactly what you’re doing every night, even with the best of intentions.

Who is legally responsible?

It is illegal to knowingly serve alcohol to a minor, and anyone who does can be held responsible for any injuries or damages that result from the minor’s impaired state. But it’s not always black and white in pinpointing the exact person who is responsible. There are several factors that go into determining the exact person, which is oftentimes the reason why separate penalties are given to the person who holds the liquor license (the owner of a bar) and the person who makes the sale (the bartender who serves a minor). Depending on the severity of the situation and state laws, the penalties can range from a fine, to jail time, to a temporary suspension of the liquor license, to the liquor license being completely revoked.

What if someone else checked the ID?

The seller is the one liable for serving the minor. As a bartender or server, you are responsible for checking the ID of your customers even if another person has previously checked it. That’s why it’s particularly important for a validating process to be instilled within venues that have a person checking IDs prior to going to the bar.

What if a minor uses a fake?

When a minor is served, you need to show that you did the steps to the best of your ability to not purposefully serve that person. That means in most cases, you’re only liable for selling to a minor if you didn’t ask for identification or if you looked but didn’t use your best abilities to detect the minor. If the guest presents a realistic ID that says he or she is of drinking age, no charges will be filed against the establishment. However, if it’s obvious that the ID is fake or if that ID clearly does not belong to the person presenting it, then the establishment and the person who served that minor becomes liable.

What if it’s a planned sting?

When authorities are checking to make sure you’re compliant, they legally cannot do so by using a fake ID or purposefully deceiving you. They’re typically checking to make sure you’re properly asking for identification. Most sting fails are a result of not asking for identification, or asking for identification but incorrectly calculating someone’s age based on their date of birth. When these human errors happen, you’ll fail the sting and both the server and the establishment will be presented with the ramifications.

How to mitigate the risks?

Between human errors, miscommunication, inattention to detail, and simply not checking an ID, there’s a myriad of factors that can put you at risk for being liable in serving a minor. The first place to start is having a policy in place that requires your staff to check IDs of anyone who enters your venue. The second step is to go further by equipping your staff with an ID scanning system.


Having an ID scanning system essentially acts as an insurance policy that guarantees you’ll be covered when a minor is accidentally served. The system will reduce the chances of honest human errors, such as incorrectly calculating someone’s age based on the date of birth. It’ll confirm all IDs are reviewed in the case of planned stings. It’ll act as your paper trail to prove you didn’t purposefully serve a guest who presented a realistic fake ID. And it can act as your digital 86 list or even your digital loyalty program. It’s one of the most cost effective and worthwhile investments you can make to protect yourself from losing the license you worked so hard to obtain while growing the business you worked tirelessly to build.

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