by Nancy Koziol, owner of couch + cork and ACT’s Business Sector Leader
As a person who works with alcohol, something that is always on my mind is safety. couch + cork sells wine tastings, an experience that involves consumption. In addition to this, I work at Bennington Community Market where one of my responsibilities is training staff how to properly check IDs when a customer purchases alcohol.
In March, I was happy to see that the State decided to ask every business holding a liquor license to pledge to follow Vermont’s best practices around checking IDs. For me, though, those practices aren’t enough. I encourage all business owners and managers to think about their approach to serving and selling alcohol and make sure that they are doing all they can to keep people safe.
How to Check Identification for Age-Restricted Items Using Vermont’s Best Practices
Vermont training for those who can sell or serve alcohol advises asking to see ID for anyone of questionable age. Further, it recommends asking for the license and holding it instead of just looking at it. There’s a lot you can tell by someone’s reaction to this request! Someone who is hesitant to hand over their identification is worth being skeptical of.
The State also recommends asking a question about the license. One of my favorite bits of advice, and one I spend time on when training my employees and the staff at Bennington Community Market, is to not simply ask a question that they would have memorized from a fake ID. For example, most people will know the personal information, expiration date and any endorsements. Instead, the State recommends asking a trickier question. Ask what the “G” stands for as if the name has an initial (Joe G. Schmoe). This is a nearly foolproof way to discover if someone’s ID is theirs. They should say, “The G?” because if it’s real, they know it’s incorrect. Someone with a fake identification is more likely to just answer.
Above and Beyond
At the Market, I’ve trained all staff and set the rule that we I.D. everyone. That’s right: whether you’re 22 or 102 you’re going to be asked to give the cashier your license. Why did I make this decision? A few reasons.
First, I know that as I have reached middle age, it’s harder for me to guess the age of people. I have, in fact, regularly thought people in their mid-late 30s might be underage. I know that when I was a teen, I thought everyone was older than they were.
Rather than allow for assumptions to cause us to deny someone perfectly legal or, worse, provide alcohol to someone underage, we use the data provided. We’ve had a few folks get offended because they’re obviously not of questionable age but this pretty quickly stopped as our customers noticed we I.D. every single customer.
Not only does this help us keep our community safe, but it also sends a clear message to anyone on the line: if you’re buying an age restricted product, we’re going to ask for your ID.
Does it work? Yes! Fun fact: I accidentally let my license expire and was not allowed to buy alcohol at the market recently by someone I trained because an expired ID is not allowed. I was happy to learn my ID was expired but also really validated that the staff at Bennington Community Market is paying attention and keeping our customers and community safe.
Implementing Simple Policies Makes Everyone Safer
If you own or manage a business where alcohol (or other age-restricted items including tobacco, vape products, cannabis, and smoking paraphernalia) is sold or served, consider reviewing your own policies on checking ID. You can quickly audit your policies by reviewing whether:
- All employees’ training certificates are up-to-date (it must be taken every 2 years).
- You keep a cheat sheet to check birthdays near every register (the state provides a flyer with “If they were born before this day in” that is handy!
- Staff routinely checks identification and takes time to look at it.
I recommend shoring up policies by:
- Requiring all staff to check every ID rather than relying on the vague idea of “questionable age.”
- Providing reminders (in paychecks is a great way!)
The extra few seconds it takes to check an ID can make a tremendous difference!
Nancy Koziol is an internationally-certified wine expert/author/journalist and owner of couch + cork, an all-woman business providing in-home, venue-based, virtual and corporate wine education events. She started her career as a middle-school educator and believes in empowering students of all ages by giving them age-appropriate information and the language they need to tackle tough topics. As a professional who works with alcohol she believes it is her responsibility to engage with her community to foster safe, healthy, and legal relationships with alcohol.