Posted on: April 18, 2024

What Kind of Alcohol Certification Do I Need?

What Kind of Alcohol Certification Do I Need?

Starting a career in the alcohol service industry can be an exciting yet overwhelming journey. You've been told you need alcohol certification. What is it, who needs it, and why? What are the different alcohol certification types, and how do you know which one you need?

In this blog, we'll explore the various types of alcohol certifications available, helping you navigate the options and determine the right one for your specific role and industry requirements.

What Is Alcohol Certification?

The phrase “alcohol certification” is often used to refer to a certificate of completion for responsible beverage training. It’s sometimes referred to as a “bartending license” or “bar card.”

In many jurisdictions, alcohol certification is one of the legal requirements for beverage service, just like being over the minimum serving age.

Many other states don’t require bar cards but will take certification into account when penalizing employers or employees over violations. For example, if a Texas bar owner can prove that they require all employees to be TABC certified, they can qualify for a reduced fine if mistakes are made.

In a few states, alcohol certification is completely optional.

Who Needs Alcohol Certification?

Anyone who sells or serves alcoholic beverages directly to the public can benefit from earning a bar card, as we’ll discuss below.

Roughly 20 states – including Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, and Utah – require alcohol certification if you want to sell alcohol at work. In a few places, there are requirements at the local level, like the District of Columbia and certain counties in Idaho and Massachusetts.

In states where alcohol certification provides mitigating benefits, you’ll probably find that many employers want to hire people with a bar card, even though it’s legally optional.

In fact, it may be required by employers even in states without mitigating benefits because there are other financial incentives for employing workers trained in the principles of responsible beverage service. Such training can reduce the inherent liability in alcohol service by increasing the odds that you'll comply with all legal requirements for beverage service. Employers can also use employees' alcohol certification to reduce the liability insurance costs for their business.

In most cases, you’ll need to renew your alcohol certification periodically to stay fresh, meet regulatory requirements, and satisfy your employer. Alcohol certification renewal periods vary by jurisdiction, but they often run between three and five years.

The Importance of Responsible Alcohol Service

Aside from the legal and bureaucratic reasons for seeking alcohol certification, it’s a good idea to complete the training so that you learn to practice responsible alcoholic beverage service.

Responsible alcohol service is about serving alcohol safely and responsibly. This includes meeting all the legal requirements for beverage service, but it's also about serving a broader public safety agenda.

Responsible beverage service saves lives by preventing illegal sales, including both minors and intoxicated persons. Keeping alcohol out of the hands of minors can prevent alcohol poisoning and alcoholism. Refusing service to intoxicated people can prevent drunk driving accidents, fights, property damage, and other problems.

What you learn in responsible alcohol service training can also prevent you from running afoul of dram shop liability laws. These laws make it legal for someone to sue you – as a bartender or clerk – for damages that result from the illegal sale of alcohol.

How Do You Choose the Right Alcohol Certification Option?

The most important part of choosing the right alcohol certification is making sure the course you pick will satisfy your legal and employment requirements, so make sure you’re clear on accepted courses and training providers before you commit.

There are a few different alcohol certification types available, and they’re divided up in a few ways.

Choose For Your Jurisdiction

Some jurisdictions have very specific requirements. In some cases, your only option is to take a course in person from a state training provider, though most jurisdictions provide you with more flexibility.

To ensure you’re choosing the right alcohol certification for your jurisdiction, ask:

  • Does my state require alcohol certification?
  • Does my county or municipality require alcohol certification?
  • Does my employer require alcohol certification?

If the answer to any of those questions is yes, you need to find out who the accepted training providers are and enroll in a course that will meet those requirements.

Double-check that the course you've chosen is:

a) with an accepted provider and

b) targeted toward your most specific jurisdiction.

Choose Between On- and Off-Premises Training

Most states split their alcohol certification between selling alcohol for:

  • On-premises consumption, including servers in restaurants, bartenders in bars, employees in casinos, and other places where open containers of alcohol are served.
  • Off-premises consumption, including clerks in grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores, and other places where you buy sealed containers.

This distinction matters in terms of the rules you’ll learn, so make sure you’re picking the right type of course.

Choose Role-Specific Training

If you’re taking the training for your knowledge rather than compliance, you can find role- or context-specific courses that will target the particular issues and experiences you can expect to encounter.

For example, we have courses tailored to concessions at sporting events, concerts, and fairs and another tailored to gaming environments like casinos.

Be aware that some role-specific responsible alcohol service training may not be approved for regulatory requirements.

Choose Between Online and In-Person Training

Most jurisdictions will accept in-person and online training so that you can pick what suits you best, but a few only accept in-person training, so double-check your local rules.

If you have the choice, online training can be the most inexpensive and efficient option for meeting your requirements. You’ll save commute times, class discussions, mandatory breaks, and other time sucks. You’ll be able to learn at your own pace and study whenever and wherever it’s most convenient for you.