What Party Hosts Should Know About Alcohol Laws

As a party host, you want to make sure that everyone is having a good time. Often, serving a few drinks is just the thing to get everyone relaxed and happy. However, there are alcohol laws in place that could leave you potentially liable for a variety of incidents, even if they happen after your intoxicated guests have left your property.

Called social host liability, these laws are aimed at hosts who serve alcohol in a private setting. A different set of laws applies to commercial vendors and alcohol sales, but, as a social host, the alcohol laws you should be concerned about are the ones that stem from how much alcohol you serve, how you serve it and to whom you serve.

Alcohol Laws Vary by State
Different states have different regulations, and the alcohol laws can range from a state having little or no liability placed on the host to extending the responsibility to the host for a guest's traffic violations, property damage and even fatalities. Make sure that you understand your state alcohol laws before you leave the bar wide open for your guests.

Most states enforce two social host liability laws almost across the board. They are:

  • When the host is considered "reckless" in serving alcohol
  • When alcohol is served to a minor

To be considered reckless, it must be proven that the host did nothing to limit the alcohol consumption of guests whose judgment and physical condition were obviously impaired. A host might be considered reckless if they strongly encouraged a guest to drink excessively, especially after the guest is obviously highly intoxicated. Serving alcohol to minors is the other big no-no, and a party host should do everything possible to ensure that underage drinking simply does not occur. The Alcohol Policy Information System Web site has state-by-state resources concerning social host liability issues, laws and regulations.

Steps to Control Alcohol Consumption
It's easy to keep control over alcohol consumption at your party by following these simple tips.

  • Choose to host an alcohol-free party. Let guests know on the invitations that alcohol will not be served.
  • Consider hosting the party at a restaurant or bar that holds a license to serve alcohol. You'll have the assistance of wait staff trained to monitor alcohol consumption, and they'll know when to cut someone off.
  • Never serve alcohol to minors. Some states allow a parent to serve a minor alcohol in their own home, but be on the safe side and simply don't allow it.
  • Offer plenty of non-alcoholic drink options at the event. Sometimes people drink alcohol to be social when there are no alternatives. Having nonalcoholic beer, club soda and even regular soda gives people a choice in what they'll consume.
  • Always provide some kind of food at a party where alcohol is being served. Eating food slows down the absorption of alcohol into the body, and eating can also put more time between drinks.
  • Don't encourage drinking games that inspire competitions to see who can drink the most alcohol. If you notice guests starting to participate in this kind of entertainment, divert their attention to something else right away.

Set Up a Bar
Beyond the general rules, you can curb alcohol consumption by making your event more formal:

  • Hire a bartender to distribute and monitor the alcohol at the event. A professional will be able to focus on consumption and won't be distracted by all the other party details as you will be.
  • Have a cash bar, where guests are required to pay for their drinks. This can automatically curb excessive drinking, as it can get pricey.
  • Plan to shut down the bar at a certain time. Placing a simple note on the invitations, such as "Open bar from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.," is an easy way to provide alcohol yet ensures a cutoff point for everyone.

Whether your party is at home or at a fine venue, you still need to make sure your guests get home safely:

  • Solicit a few volunteers ahead of the event to be designated drivers. This means that they won't consume any alcohol at the event and will be willing to drive others home if needed.
  • Have a list of alternate transportation handy, such as a taxi or limo service. If a guest is too impaired to drive, make arrangements for them to get home in another way.
  • If you are faced with an intoxicated guest and simply cannot find a way to get them home safely, insist that they sleep over, whether it's on your couch after a private party or in the employee lounge after an office party.
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