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A Healthy Return on Your Town Hall Meeting Investment—Getting to Outcomes: Responsible Beverage Service


Everyone wants a healthy return on investments. When it comes to underage drinking, millions of Americans invest time, talent, energy, and sorely stretched dollars to prevent and reduce alcohol use among children and adolescents. In 2012, you and many others like you will be investing in the fourth nationwide round of Town Hall Meetings to prevent underage drinking, supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). For some communities, a Town Hall Meeting may be an awareness-raising introduction to one of the Nation’s most important public health challenges. To other communities, a 2012 Town Hall Meeting may be an opportunity to build on existing awareness by mobilizing around environmental prevention, a proven way to get to measurable outcomes in preventing underage drinking.1 Responsible beverage service is one of nine environmental prevention measures that your community can promote through a Town Hall Meeting.

What is responsible beverage service?

Responsible beverage service programs target both on-premises and off-premises alcohol retailers and are designed to reduce sales to minors as well as intoxicated adults. Responsible beverage service includes three critical components:

  1. Media advocacy to promote policy change;
  2. Manager training; and
  3. Server/seller training.

Training might include, for example, training employees to recognize false age identification, to refuse sales to underage or obviously intoxicated patrons, and to offer food and nonalcoholic beverages to reduce patron intoxication levels. As with all types of environmental prevention, responsible beverage service should be conducted as part of a larger comprehensive plan to reduce underage drinking.

How does responsible beverage service reduce underage drinking?

Lax enforcement of minimum legal drinking age laws, lack of server familiarity with State and local restrictions on alcohol service, failure to recognize false identification, and continued service to intoxicated patrons may all encourage underage drinking. Responsible beverage service works to eliminate these prevention gaps.

How can my community take this action?

  • Determine whether your State has a law that mandates or provides incentives for responsible beverage service. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Alcohol Policy Information System maintains a current listing.
  • Develop a strategic plan. If your State does not have a responsible beverage service law, your initial efforts should be to mobilize and get a responsible beverage service law or ordinance passed. This effort could target the State, county, or city level. If a law exists, assess the degree to which it is being implemented and enforced. To initiate or strengthen responsible beverage service laws, provide a ready-made law or ordinance as a model for lawmakers. Legislation that makes responsible beverage service mandatory is preferred to one that provides alcohol licensees with incentives for participation.
  • Help shape implementation of responsible beverage service in your community. The following community-based actions support an effective, high-quality training program: enforce the law, target trouble spots, keep the legal burden of failing to prevent service to underage drinkers on owners; provide incentives for establishments to participate in responsible beverage service, intervene early for establishments that fail to comply with the law, close license loopholes so that all establishments must comply, and ensure continuous server training for new and experienced servers.
  • Measure and report successful outcomes. Some measures of the effectiveness of responsible beverage service are:
    • The presence of an in-store (or off-premises) policy consistent with responsible beverage service;
    • Signage posted about the store’s policies;
    • Improved law enforcement activities to target businesses that sell to minors;
    • Reduced arrest rates for driving under the influence in the targeted area (e.g., neighborhood); and
    • Retailer violation rates.

Helpful Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s The Health Communicator’s Social Media Toolkit can help expand your organization’s public outreach.

Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America offers Responsible Beverage Service, a technical assistance resource for prevention professionals.

SAMHSA’s Focus on Prevention is available from the SAMHSA Store in print and electronically.

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking: What It Means to You: A Guide to Action for Communities summarizes facts and recommendations from the 2007 Surgeon General’s appeal to the Nation.

1 Effective environmental prevention targets four key areas that influence alcohol problems: access and availability, policy and enforcement, community norms, and media messages. Research shows that policies that change the context of the environment, limit access to alcohol, and prevent harmful behavior will result in reduced alcohol use, including underage drinking.