The legal age to purchase or consume alcohol is 21 in all 50 states, which means that any establishment serving or selling alcohol must check identification by law. Even when servers feel uncomfortable or customers become argumentative, they are under a legal mandate not to serve alcohol to any underage person.
What Types of ID Are Acceptable When Purchasing Alcohol?
The only types of ID an establishment can accept when serving or selling alcohol are a driver’s license, state-issued identification card, military identification, or a valid passport. Bars, restaurants, and liquor stores cannot accept any other form of ID. Servers and cashiers should also take these steps to avoid accidentally selling alcohol to an underage person:
- Check to ensure the expiration date on the ID has not expired.
- Look at the person’s face and match it to the picture on the ID. Since people can change their hair and eye color, the best indication that a person matches a picture is to look at the shape of the face.
- Ask the person to spell their last name and recite their birthdate. This may trip up some people using a fake ID, but those who have used the same ID before have probably memorized the information.
- Servers and cashiers should not hesitate to ask for their manager’s approval if they still feel uncomfortable that the ID is valid.
- Have a book of state IDs handy to make sure that customers do not present an out-of-state ID in an old format.
- Check for security features such as a ghost image or state seal.
Ultimately, it is up to each establishment’s management team to train employees on how to request and validate customer information.
COVID-19 Has Presented Some Unique Challenges in Checking ID
When bars and restaurants had to temporarily close due to the pandemic, many sought creative ways to add services to keep their businesses alive. For example, some establishments started offering alcohol delivery when patrons could not get to their business. Companies that hire third-party delivery services do not always realize that accountability for selling to minors could come back to them because the delivery service acts as an agent of the business.
Failure to check IDs was a rampant problem when bars and restaurants first started offering delivery over a year ago. Underage drinkers are also finding ways around ID requirements when placing orders using a smartphone application. Bar and restaurant workers, along with third-party delivery drivers, do not always understand how to use the apps themselves and trust the information they see without confirming it any further.
Teenagers attempting to buy alcohol appreciate the ability to have it delivered to their home. There is no video evidence of the transaction, no risk of public humiliation, and no possibility of encountering an undercover cop.
Some underage drinkers may even put on a coronavirus mask and refuse to take it off during the transaction, making it difficult for delivery drivers when checking ID. Rather than return the alcohol to the provider, delivery drivers decide they must do what it takes to survive in a pandemic economy and provide the alcohol anyway.