New liquor law takes effect for California bars and restaurants

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By the end of the summer, every bar and restaurant employee who serves alcohol in California must be recertified.

So far, only 33,000 people have been certified, a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of workers employed not only by bars and restaurants, but also by wineries, breweries, distilleries, breweries, shopping centres, and more. events and stadiums – basically any place of business where you can drink. Some industry players are concerned about a lack of awareness of the law and the additional burden it can bring to a sector deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Assembly Bill 1221, or the Responsible Beverage Service Training Act, will require bartenders, servers and their managers in establishments licensed to serve alcohol to undergo three to four hour training on the effects of alcohol on the body, the consequences of excessive service, basic laws governing alcohol and techniques for dealing with intoxicated customers. Workers must then pass a two-hour open-book exam.

Companies are scrambling to understand the scope of the law and the certification process as the deadline approaches. The law will go into effect July 1, and 60 days later — by August 31 — the state Department of Liquor Control will require liquor servers to be properly certified. Any worker hired after this date will have 60 days to complete the certification.

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Department said it plans to focus on raising awareness rather than immediately penalizing companies that fail to comply.

“We are taking an education-focused approach to enable the industry to adapt to this law. We want to help them comply,” said Department spokesman John Carr. “We are sensitive to the fact that these companies have gone through many challenges during the pandemic.”

AB 1221 affects some 56,000 establishments in California that are permitted to purchase and consume alcohol on the premises.

Southern California is home to a large portion of those companies that will need to adopt the training — 10,605 in Los Angeles County alone, Carr said. The law defines an “alcohol server” as anyone responsible for verifying identifications, taking customer orders, and pouring or delivering alcoholic beverages.

Although the law was approved in 2017, few companies are aware of it. Its author, former Congresswoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), pushed for state-mandated ‘responsible beverage service training’ following a car accident allegedly caused by a driver drunk who killed two UC San Diego medical students and seriously injured three. others.

Enactment of the law was delayed in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic to ease the process for restaurants and bars already strained by lost revenue and closures.

Yet the majority of affected bars and restaurants “don’t even know this law exists yet,” said Jerry Jolly, a 31-year veteran of the liquor control department who served as its director before retiring in 2006.

And California’s certification process is less streamlined than in some other states that require similar training.

The model works like this: workers must first register with the liquor control service and pay a $3 fee to receive a nine-digit ID to use in training and testing. Then the restaurants — or the workers themselves — have to pay a third-party company for online or in-person training. After completing the training, workers have 30 days and three attempts to pass the exam with a score of 70% or higher, otherwise they must start the process over.

The use of private companies for health and safety certifications is not unusual in the food industry, but AB 1221 has created a cottage industry of new companies specifically providing California training, while pushing larger services national to develop also in the State. Jolly himself is one of the upstarts, having come out of retirement to start a training company, Jerry R Jolly & Associates, spurred on by the passage of the law.

The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has certified 45 third-party training providers so far, at least three of which offer the training in Spanish. Six more programs in Spanish and one program in Chinese are pending approval, Carr said. Training prices vary: online classes can cost between $6 and $40 per person, while in-person group sessions can be more expensive.

Comedy Seller Server, one of the certified third-party training providers, has been bombarded with questions about which employees should receive the training and how to navigate the state portal, said Victoria Brown, operations manager at the Fort Worth company.

“At first it was like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t understand,'” Brown said. “But now that it’s the critical moment, it’s going better, although we still have a lot of people who have a lot of questions.”

Some beverage owners aren’t shy about expressing their feelings about the new certification.

Eugene Lee, general manager of Big Bar & Alcove in Los Feliz, began studying the programs this week. Lee said he felt the training and testing requirement was “expensive for a lot of BS”.

The process was so confusing and opaque that an assistant bar manager ended up accidentally taking the test for another state instead, he said. Lee said he wants the training to be streamlined and structured similarly to food safety certification programs required for some employees who handle food.

“It’s easy to screw up the process,” Lee said in a text message. “It didn’t seem very clear.”

Big Bar doesn’t cover training costs, which means Selene Martinez, the assistant manager, wasted about $10 on the wrong training and testing, for an ultimately useless certification in California.

“Luckily it happened to me instead of one of our many employees who have to take this test because too much time and money would have been wasted,” Martinez said.

Lesley Butler, a lecturer at Cal Poly Pomona who teaches food and beverage management, said the training was a milestone.

“I know restaurateurs are probably shaking their heads, like, ‘Can we just stop getting hit with everything? Butler said. “But I see it as an opportunity… To identify when people have been served enough, or overserved, or entered the restaurant already inebriated – adding that an additional level of education is beneficial.”

At Death & Co., the Gin & Luck Hotel Group’s only California bar, the new training requirement is supported, said the group’s executive director of operations, Michael Shain.

Previously, the Arts District bar had no formal training or rules around overserving, though new hires are given tips to watch for signs of overserving, such as loose body language. They also monitor the number of drinks served to a person or a group over a short period of time and try to find out if a customer has just arrived from another bar or another place where alcohol may have been served. .

Still, Shain said, staff can always use more advice. Once its roughly 30 Los Angeles employees complete California-mandated training, the company plans to add similar procedures to its other outposts — in New York and Denver, with bars coming to Washington. and in Portland, Maine — Shain said.

The bar’s plans to meet the requirements include designating time for staff to attend training while being paid an hourly rate.

“Sometimes it’s hard to be forced into doing something, but it’s something that at least we welcome with open arms,” ​​Shain said.

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