A Server's Guide

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View the entire Server's Guide in PDF here (also available in French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai).


The aim of this guide is to cover the basic laws and responsibilities required of staff serving alcohol. This may be in an on-license environment, where the alcohol is sold and the customer drinks it in the place where it was bought, or an off-license one, where the alcohol is sold and the customer takes it away to drink elsewhere. Read more

It will of course be of relevance for others who come into contact with alcohol as part of their work in the hospitality or retail industries.

Selling alcohol requires many skills and involves legal responsibilities - that is, the things you have to do as part of your job in order to comply with the laws. You also need to be aware of your social responsibilities - that is, the things you should do to run a good business and have a positive impact on your community.
In serving alcohol, there are several different aspects to your job:

  • to be a “police officer” ensuring no one breaks any laws
  • to be a sales person knowledgeable about your products
  • to be a cleaner making sure premises are clean and tidy
  • to be a good host helping to create a friendly atmosphere
  • to be a safety officer thinking about the well being of customers and reducing any risks

The theme of this workbook is the “responsible service of alcohol”, but what does this mean?

Alcohol is mainly consumed responsibly but can cause harm if misused. It is therefore important to sell it in a way that minimizes any potential harm. This means thinking about who you are selling to, how much you are selling, and the well being of the customer. Many countries have adopted laws to help make things clearer. There is also a lot of established good practice that you can put in place.

  • Licensing Law

    • Licensing law is the set of legal rules governing the sale of alcohol in a given jurisdiction. It usually defines who can sell alcohol, when, where and to whom. Generally the underlying purpose of licensing law is to act as a protection against any potential harm to public order or to public health. This is sometimes stated in the law.
  • Alcohol

    • In most countries, alcohol is so widely available that many people forget that it falls into the category of a depressant drug. This does not mean that by drinking alcohol you will feel down or depressed. It does mean that it depresses the brain’s functions. This, in turn, changes people’s behavior.
  • Creating the Right Atmosphere

    • The atmosphere is the general mood or feeling of a place. It begins to affect the customers from the moment they come in and can influence the way they drink and their ongoing behavior. Part of creating the right atmosphere is about encouraging people to behave in a manner that is in keeping with the style of your premises. To do this, you must set standards.
  • People Skills

    • How many times have you been a customer and something has caused you to feel frustrated? Think back to how you felt when you weren’t served very quickly or when your meal was cold. Many people choose the place they go to purely on the attitude of the staff and the standard of service.
  • Further Information

    • Links to further reading on alcohol and responsible serving.

Acknowledgements: This guide was drafted by a team from Alcohol Focus Scotland’s ServeWise program under contract to the International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP) and the European Forum for Responsible Drinking (EFRD). ServeWise is the largest provider of social responsibility training for the licensed trade in Scotland. It works with a wide variety of stakeholders including licensing board members, solicitors, licensed trade organizations, police, alcohol action teams and training providers, such as local colleges of further education and private training organizations. The drafting team included Linda Bowie (ServeWise Manager), Joanne Worrall (ServeWise Training and Information Officer) and Mary Ellmers (National ServeWise Manager). This guide and the accompanying guide for Trainers were peer-reviewed by Jim Peters (Responsible Hospitality Institute, USA) and Rob Eicholtz (Horeca Branche Instituut, Netherlands).