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  12.10.2014  
 
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Tips for Serving Alcohol at Company Parties

Kimberly Korando

'Tis the season for spreading holiday cheer. While planning the company holiday party, remember that employers should act responsibly in serving alcohol to party guests. Although there are no hard and fast rules for serving alcohol at company parties or for minimizing legal liability for injuries caused by intoxicated guests after they leave your party, the following are commonly-used best practices for consideration:

  • Encourage employees to drink responsibly and do their part to help everyone have a safe and happy holiday season. Put such encouragement in writing.
  • Try to keep guests from becoming intoxicated.
    • Have plenty of food and alternative beverages available.
    • Serve alcohol only from a bar that is professionally staffed.
      • Do not have “self‑serve” bars or “open kegs” where the guests serve themselves as much or as often as they wish.
      • Do not have waitpersons circulating through the crowd with trays of drinks (make the guests come to the bar so that they can be observed by the professional bartender). 
    • Limit the number of drinks guests can obtain per trip to the bar. 
    • Limit the length of time the bar is open and that alcohol is being served.
  • Hire a professional bartender or caterer to serve the alcohol­.
    • Make sure the bartender or caterer has appropriate and sufficient insurance coverage.
    • Inquire ahead of time into the bartender or caterer’s training and experience in the service of alcohol.
    • Be sure the bartender knows how to identify someone who appears to be intoxicated.
  • Instruct the bartender to not serve guests alcohol who appear to be intoxicated and to bring to the attention of the host in a discreet manner. This allows the professional bartender to screen out people who should not be served alcohol and allows the host to deal with those individuals in a way that will avoid undue embarrassment for both the guests and the host.
  • Hire other people to monitor the guests in attendance (this could be an off-duty bartender or someone else who was employed by the caterer).
    • Be sure that these monitors have sufficient training to be able to identify individuals who appear to be intoxicated.
    • This function is important because a guest may not come to the bar each time for his drinks, rather he may have some drinks brought to him by other guests. For such an individual, the bartender serving the drinks may not be able to observe the guest frequently enough to notice the appearance of intoxication.
    • Instruct these monitors that guests who appear to be intoxicated should be brought to the attention of the host.
    • Monitor the guests as they leave. Determine who is driving and create an opportunity to observe and converse with the driver so that it can be determined whether or not they appear able to drive so safely.
    • Have rented vans or taxis available to take guests home, if necessary.
    • Have the event off the regular business premises and after regular business hours.
    • Consider having a cash bar.
      • While this may not be feasible in many situations, guests usually drink less when they are paying for their drinks as opposed to consuming alcohol from an open bar.
      • The host is less likely to be charged with “providing” alcohol to the guests if the guests purchase the alcohol directly from the bartender or caterer.
    • Consider purchasing a single‑event liability insurance policy. Although such a policy can be expensive, it can be structured to protect against claims by a third person who is injured by an allegedly intoxicated guest.
    • Do not require employees to attend the holiday party and do not check attendance.
    • Do not compensate employees for the time spent at the event.
    • Do not conduct business or give speeches or make awards at the event.
    • Do not attempt to deduct the expenses for the party on your corporate tax return as business expenses.

    If you have any questions about these best practices or other issues relating to making your holiday party a safe and happy one, please contact Kim Korando.

     
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