Opinion: Marketing & Access

Challenges in Responsible Retailing

“As an alcohol beverage licensee, what are the greatest challenges that you face that were not present in earlier years?” This question was posed to owner-operators of on-premises alcohol serving establishments and off-premises package stores, respectively, by a team of researchers with the Responsible Retailing Forum (RRF).

When asked about new challenges that posed the greatest threat to them, package store owners uniformly felt that enforcement of laws regarding sales to minors had become far more rigorous in recent years. Sales to individuals under age 21─whether made inadvertently by an inattentive clerk or willfully by an irresponsible or disgruntled employee─could expose the operator to fines, or a license suspension or revocation.

Operators of on-premises alcohol serving establishments expressed a concern that was best described by a tavern operator in Santa Fe, New Mexico: “We are now responsible for other people’s behavior.” Licensees are now exposed to liability for the actions of customers who become intoxicated in their establishments, or who leave their establishments intoxicated – even if they had arrived that way – and the harm those customers may cause to themselves and others.

Owner-operators and managers of chain stores are not always on-site and must depend upon their employees to comply with state alcohol sales laws and store policies prohibiting sales and service to individuals under age 21 and to intoxicated customers. But explicit policies regarding underage sales and over-service, even when accompanied by harsh penalties for non-compliance, do not translate into point-of-sales conduct by staff. Through its work with national chains, state attorneys general and alcohol beverage control agencies, RRF has come to understand that effective compliance is based upon a continuing, management-driven system─what we call “Responsible Retailing”─that begins in the hiring process and extends to training, point-of-sales protocols and sales aids, employee incentives / disincentives, and relationships with community stakeholders. Effective responsible retailing promotes the safety and wellbeing of customers and the community and protects licensees and their staff from the fines and liabilities associated with sales and service to underage and intoxicated customers.

Footnotes Less
  • 1. Originally a project of Brandeis University and Florida State University and now a 501(C)3 non-profit organization, RRF emerged from agreements between state Attorneys General and national retailers in which these chains adopted specific process changes in hiring, training, point-of-sales protocols and employee / supervisory practices designed to prevent underage sales. Based upon its research of these agreements and pilot projects to replicate a community-based model of these same practices, RRF received a Small Business Innovation Research award from the National Institutes of Health to develop RR systems for cities and states. RRF also holds a national conference that brings regulators and attorneys general, producers, distributors and retailers together to examine Best Practices for RR. RRF is funded in part from companies in the beverage alcohol industry, including Brown-Forman.

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