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Serving alcohol at an event is a risky proposition. More often than not, the decision to include liquor at your events opens the door to a whole laundry list of liabilities most event planners would rather avoid. Still, if your event calls for cocktails – if liquor or the lack thereof will make or break an event – you can pull it off with the right precautions.

So, let’s get down to business. How can you keep attendees happily buzzing along while also minimizing the risk in serving alcohol at your event?

First, Know Your Plan

How large is your event? How many bars are you going to have? What sort of drinks will the bar serve; will you include hard alcohol? Will the bars be cash-only, or will you use drink tickets? What methods will you use to slow or limit the access to alcohol? How will you handle intoxicated patrons? How will you prevent drunken attendees from leaving in their cars? These are all factors you need to consider before you give your guests beer, wine or booze.

Make Absolutely Certain You’re Licensed To Serve

You’ve worked out your ideal bar situation and your next step is to get a liquor license. Serving alcohol without being properly licensed is a serious offence, never mind that you expose yourself and your client to massive liability. You may contact your local liquor control board; criteria for getting a Special Occasion License will vary and the license is a one-time-use.

Frankly, the easiest way to serve legally is to hire a company already licensed. Bar, full service caterers and event venues should already be properly licensed and insured – confirm their status.

If your own event company does a good deal of food and beverage service in-house rather than hiring partners, get licensed!

Get Insurance

Sorry, but licensing and insurance is a big topic! A license isn’t enough on its own. Talk to your insurance company and make certain you have the proper liquor liability coverage – or as mentioned, hire a catering service with their own policy and have them cover you with it. This is a big part of your contract review – again, know your service provider’s status.

Hire Trained Bartenders

Yes, serving alcohol is all about limiting your liability. If your own staff (avoid having volunteers in this position) will be serving attendees, you need to provide them with the required training on how to serve alcohol responsibly. If you’re hiring a catering company, same deal; make sure they’ve got trained employees. Otherwise, you’re potentially stumbling face-first into a legal quagmire.

Tip: many conferences direct attendees to a local restaurant/bar for a private happy hour. The bar takes on the liability and everyone is happy. 

Limit How Much Guests Can Drink

I’m going to come right out and say it: open bars at an event are a horrible idea, and you should never offer them (but we often do!) Yes, you want your guests and attendees to mingle, network and have a good time, but you also want to avoid a serious incident. The easiest way to do this – limit how much your guests can drink. Give them drink tickets, set a three-drink limit, have a shorter happy hour; don’t allow attendees to drink themselves into a stupor.

Tip: serve food, always! If you get people eating they’re more likely to drink less. Besides, drinking on an empty stomach can lead quickly to drunkenness.

Take Steps To Prevent Drunk Driving

Personally, I’d say this is the most important one: you need to do everything in your power to prevent inebriated guests from getting behind the wheel. Have an understanding of how your attendees are coming and going from your event.  Watch all your exits carefully and have your security staff on alert. To be honest, if you’re hosting a conference or a large wrap party it might be worthwhile to secure police presence.

An easy (yet more costly) preventative measure for drunk driving is to provide transportation such as buses or taxis.

We’re happy to provide some helpful hints, but at the end of the day and headed into a long night, do your research. Serving without proper planning is a recipe for disaster.