Tips for a prosperous, compliant and safe holiday season for Pennsylvania's licensed establishments

For many, the holiday season means plenty of merry-making at their favorite bar, restaurant or club. Frank C. SluzisFor the owners and managers of licensed establishments, it can be the most profitable time of year as well.

But there are potential perils that go along with all this holiday partying, especially for the holders of liquor licenses in Pennsylvania. That is why it's important for establishment owners to stay on top of all the cheer this holiday season.

Attorney Frank C. Sluzis, who has more than 15 years of experience representing license holders at renewal hearings, enforcement actions and liability cases, focuses on liquor license issues at Scaringi Law In the spirit of the season, Sluzis has some well-timed holiday advice to help bar and restaurant owners avoid problems with their establishment's Pennsylvania Liquor License.

Step One: RAMP it up

First, Sluzis says, establishment owners should be certified in the PLCB's Responsible Alcohol Management Program, or RAMP. The five-point program provides alcohol-related training to management and alcohol service staff, but it is not enough to merely go through the RAMP training. To earn the all-important certification, establishment owners must submit to a PLCB inspection, display proper PLCB signage in their establishment and meet all RAMP requirements.

Only by completing RAMP's five-point process and earning a certification will establishment owners benefit from the program's enforcement protections for first-time offenders in liquor law enforcement actions. As Sluzis points out, only those establishments holding a RAMP certification at the time of a first-time violation will be eligible for lighter penalties following enforcement adjudications.

"A lot of people think if they get the management trained and the alcohol servers trained, that's it," Sluzis says. "There is more to becoming RAMP certified, but it is worth it because first-time offenders get a substantial break. They can be sentenced below mandatory penalties."

On the lookout for IDs and VIPs

Throughout the holidays - and year-round - the two biggest threats to any establishment's liquor license remains serving under-age customers and visibly intoxicated people, or VIPs.

The first threat can be effectively neutralized by doing two relatively simple things: Using an electronic ID scanner to verify the age of anyone who appears to be age 30 or younger, and stationing an employee at the door of busy establishments to verify IDs using the electronic scanner before the patron ever comes inside to order a drink.

Sluzis notes that employing the electronic scanner provides a good-faith defense that the establishment attempted to verify age should the ID prove to be fake. The data from the scanner is stored and can be presented at adjudication actions.

By stationing an employee at the door to verify age, the establishment is easing the pressure on its service staff to check IDs. During the busy holiday season, this can be key as servers often struggle to keep up with drink orders and might overlook checking IDs amid the seasonal rush.

"Do yourself and your drink staff a favor," Sluzis says. "Have door control. Don't rely on your servers."

Closing time concerns

It pays to keep a close eye on the clock, as well. Sometimes the holiday cheer can go overtime. Last call is 2 a.m., but merry patrons many times want to stay past 2:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m. for holders of club licenses). This is a violation, Sluzis points out, and the holidays are prime time for this kind of post-party procrastination.

"It's the holiday spirit," Sluzis says. "The servers say, 'okay, take your time.' Before you know it, it's a quarter 'till three. That seems to be a problem over the holidays."

Finally, the holidays can bring out the VIP in the best of us. No, not the most valuable patron. Rather, those visibility intoxicated people who manage to materialize in good numbers this time of year.

To avoid license problems and potential liability stemming from VIPs, Sluzis recommends making drink specials sane - no wild price breaks on large quantities of high-test alcohol to entice over-drinking.

Keep servers on the lookout for VIPS. Though people metabolize alcohol differently, the standby signs of a VIP are much the same for everyone: bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, compromised balance and nodding off at the bar, to name a few.

Walking a straight line to preserve a precious PLCB license and prevent liability

"The servers are going to have to look at the patron and how the patron is acting," Sluzis advises. "There is a fine line when someone is visibility intoxicated. But on the other hand, a drunk is a drunk. Err on the side of caution."

This means communicating with customers when serving so-called "high gravity" craft beers, which can pack two- and three-times the punch of a regular brew. Make sure the servers know the strength of the beers they are pouring and that they are communicating this to customers.

Just like Santa, with his rosy cheeks and bright red nose, VIPS will make appearances at most establishments over the holidays. It's all but inevitable.

But how an establishment handles these VIPS can make all the difference in terms of liability cases.

So called "Dram Shop" cases go back to the days when inn owners over-served stage coach drivers. And the liability for accidents can boomerang back on the establishments who over-served the driver. It is the same today.

"There can be collateral damage from a visibly intoxicated person," Sluzis says. "If that person goes out, drives a car and hurts someone, the holder of the liquor license can be held liable for damages. Just the price of litigation alone is high."

Coffee and a cab for all VIPs

While it is against the law to continue to serve a visibility intoxicated person additional alcoholic beverages; it is not illegal to serve them water, soda or coffee, while affording them time to sober up before calling them a cab, Sluzis says. In fact, this is the recommended remedy for all VIPs.

"It is not against the law to have a VIP on your premises," Sluzis notes. "A responsible establishment lets them sit there; gives them water; gives them coffee; calls a cab."

Such are the some of the simple but sensible tips to a merry, prosperous and safe holiday season for all of Pennsylvania's licensed establishments. And to all, a good night!

To learn more about how Frank C. Sluzis can help you, email him at


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