Is it Legal To Drink Behind the Bar?


See my disclaimer. But I’ll mention it briefly here again: I am not a lawyer. I make no claims in regards to the legitimacy of anything I publish in this article, or any other on my blog. I will not be responsible for your [bluntly wrong] assumption that I’m dispensing legal advice. If you choose to run with it, without appropriate validation, you’re an idiot.

Since I’ve been hammered with this question lately, I thought I’d address it directly and publicly. The answer may vary from state to state, and even municipality to municipality. I live and work in New York City so my answer will be based on local hospitality experience and  familiarity with New York State and City laws. I can’t speak for Nevada, Florida, or Timbuktu. If you need additional information, or if you’re opening your own bar, I highly recommend you hire the services of a reputable corporate attorney. Those sharks are abundant in this town – you’ll have zero trouble conjuring one up.

Now that the mumbo-jumbo is out of the way, let’s get to the crux of the matter…

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Refusing Service and The Law

Inevitably in this business, there will come a time (many of them actually) where you will have to refuse customers service for a wide variety of reasons – many of which you can imagine.  Obvious inebriation comes to mind immediately – unless you enjoy having said drunk get in his/her car, mowing down some school kids, resulting in the PoPo cuffing you and shutting down your bar, whether you own it or not.  This is where the aforementioned T.I.P.S certification and experience dealing with these types of customers comes in handy.  

So let’s address the law first.  In NYC and NYS, the interpretation that you’ll get from most professionals is that you can refuse to serve anyone for any reason so long as you don’t discriminate against that person for reasons of religion, creed, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, military status or color.  Effectively, you can get away with not serving folks if they have become or are suspected of becoming problematic, intoxicated, dangerous, or really – for any reason at all.  Just don’t state a stupid reason that will land you and your establishment in hot water.  This is commonly referred to in the industry as the “Inkeepers Law” or the “Inkeepers Rule” and dates back to English and Colonial Common Law.  It should be noted that the law does vary from state to state here in the U.S.

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