• Justin Hein

Last Call for Mandatory Alcoholic Beverage Service Training in California

AB 1221 goes into effect on July 1, 2022, and by August 31, 2022, every alcohol server and their managers must be trained and certified

Assembly Bill 1221, or the Responsible Beverage Serving Training Act, defines an alcohol server as anyone that is employed at Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control ("ABC") on-premises licensed establishment who is responsible for checking identifications, taking customer orders, and pouring or delivering alcoholic beverages. Passed in 2017, implementation was delayed due to the global pandemic because of COVID-19 (see Assembly Bill 82).

However, the law, as amended, goes into effect July 1, 2022 and 60 days after — by Aug. 31, 2022 — the state will require that alcohol servers be properly certified. Specifically, all alcohol servers and their managers must have a valid Responsible Beverage Service ("RBS") certification from the ABC. Any workers hired after that date will have 60 days to complete the certification.

Unfortunately, only approximately 33,000 people have become certified. This is a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of workers employed by not only bars and restaurants but also wineries, breweries, distilleries, brewpubs, event centers and stadiums — essentially any place of business where you can drink. An estimated 56,000 establishments in California are licensed for customers to buy and consume alcohol on site, and will be required to have certified servers.

There’s real worry from some in the industry about a lack of awareness of the law. Many businesses are just hearing about the requirement now and are scrambling to understand the scope of the law and the process for certification as the deadline approaches.

Moreover, the process is not a click-thru and submit-style process. Workers must first register with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Department and pay a $3 fee to receive a nine-digit ID for use in training and testing. Then restaurants — or the workers themselves — must pay a third-party company for three-to-four hours of online or in-person training. ABC has certified 45 third-party training providers so far, with at least three offering the training in Spanish. Six more Spanish-language programs and one Chinese-language program are awaiting approval. The trainings range in price: online courses are $6 to $40 per person, while group in-person sessions might be more expensive.

The stated purpose of the training is to provide licensees, managers, and servers with the tools and knowledge needed to promote responsible consumption, reduce youth access to alcohol, and make communities safe. The substance of the training is on how alcohol affects the body, the consequences of over-serving, basic laws regulating alcohol and intervention techniques for dealing with inebriated customers. After completing the training, workers have 30 days and three attempts to pass the exam with a 70% or better score — otherwise they must restart the process.

ABC states that part of its responsibility is to protect communities through education and by administering prevention and enforcement programs designed to increase compliance with California’s alcoholic beverage laws. As such, ABC indicates that it plans to focus on outreach and education rather than immediately penalizing businesses that fail to comply.

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