Sip Safely: Tips for Responsible Alcohol Service in the Hospitality Sector

Sip Safely: Tips for Responsible Alcohol Service in the Hospitality Sector

Understanding what it means to serve alcohol responsibly is the first step that many hospitality workers take in Australia. Literally. Taking a Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) training course is necessary for getting accredited and being allowed to work with alcohol. That said, there’s a lot that you can do to ensure that your patrons are enjoying themselves safely while your establishment is still remaining compliant with Australia’s RSA laws and regulations.

Most actions associated with responsible service of alcohol are things that’ll be taught to you when you take your Responsible Service of Alcohol training course, that is before you even start your first hospitality job. That said, that doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to just the basics. Following is a rundown of the ordinary, everyday steps that hospitality workers take to ensure RSA compliance, and our tips for ensuring that they’re performed as effectively as possible.


ID Checking

ID checking is an essential first step before serving someone alcohol. Whether you’re a bouncer or a bartender at a popular establishment frequented by young people looking for a good time, complying with alcohol laws means checking their identification (driver’s licence, passport, or other valid forms of ID), to make sure that the person is over the legal drinking age. In Australia, the legal drinking age is 18. You’re looking for their date of birth, doing some quick math in your head to make sure they’re over 18, and looking for any discrepancies on the ID, such as missing holograms, watermarks, or other identifiers.

The best way to do this is by developing a systemic approach. Create a mental checklist of all the items you need to check on an ID, then quickly scan them over. If there’s a discrepancy your mind will catch it like a speed bump as you carry on down your list but realise that something doesn’t add up, forcing you to go back and double-check.

Improving your attention to detail is another great way. The internet has lots of great games, exercises, and activities that ordinary people can access to improve their ability to spot mistakes. These kinds of tasks involve things like proofreading, spot-the-difference puzzles, and more, all to help you better notice when something is out of place.


Safe Promotions

When working with alcohol, it’s essential to ensure guests are enjoying themselves to an appropriate level. There are several ways to make sure that things don’t get out of hand, one of which is to remain compliant with alcohol advertising laws. Failure to do so can not only lead to drunk and intoxicated patrons, which can lead to dangerous situations, but it can also lead to serious legal repercussions for anyone at the establishment responsible for serving them alcohol.

Complying with safe alcohol promotional and advertising laws is necessary to get started. You legally can’t open for business if the required number of signs aren’t up or they’re not in the right place. The best tip to remain compliant with this legislation is to conduct regular audits of an establishment’s signage. Customers may occasionally move signs without realising their purpose, and scheduling checks can make sure this hasn’t happened and that it’s safe to conduct business. On that note, permanently affixing any required signage in place also helps.


Assorted bottles and glasses displayed on shelves in a bar setting.

Who’s Had How Many Drinks?

Another tip for ensuring that customers are enjoying themselves responsibly is by keeping track of who is drinking, who isn’t, and how many drinks those who are partaking have had. In quieter venues, this can be very easy. But in larger venues, places that serve dozens or maybe even hundreds of customers a night, this can be much, much more challenging.

Some larger venues employ a ticketing system to help their employees keep track of who is drinking, but this isn’t common. Similarly, those venues that allow customers to create a tab can refer back to it to keep track of how many drinks a group has had, though this makes keeping track specific to a group instead of a whole venue, and this practice isn’t particularly popular in Australia.

The best thing you can do is to trust yourself. Even with hundreds of customers in a single night, those who keep coming back to the bar for more are going to stick out in your mind. When it comes to people like these, make note of an interesting visual cue, a unique aspect of their appearance, and give them a nickname in your mind. Suddenly, it’s much easier to remember that “red, curly-haired man” is on his fourth beer.


Remembering Alcohol Content

Even if you can keep track of who is drinking and how many they’ve had, the alcohol content of drinks can vary wildly, adding another element to keeping track of customers who might have had too much. Fortunately, this is where the concept of the ‘standard drink’ comes in.

A standard drink is equal to 10 grams of pure alcohol. While the average glass of wine may be 1.6 standard drinks, and the average beer equal to between 1.1 and 1.4, this approximation gives bartenders room to make estimations. Ultimately, it’s as easy as thinking of all drinks as equal, even if that isn’t the case.


Recognising Intoxicated Behaviour

Even keeping perfect track of drinks, things can get out of hand for even the most diligent bartender. Which is why it’s so important to monitor patrons’ intoxication levels. You won’t always be able to prevent overconsumption, but the next best thing is being able to recognise when it has occurred.

Fortunately, intoxication comes with many visual, physical, and behavioural cues, all of which overlap. A drunk or intoxicated patron is likely to show signs of slurred speech, unsteady movement, impaired judgement, or aggressive behaviour. 

When there are so many customers, it might be hard to recognise when someone is drunk or when they’re just being rude. Some customers might have physical or mental conditions that present the same way as drunkenness does. Some customers might even turn up already drunk, but people like these should be stopped at the door.

Behavioural recognition is important in all these cases and more, and though you might not know these customers perfectly, if you’ve got excellent customer service skills you’ll get to know them throughout your shift, enabling you to recognise changes in behavioural patterns.

A tip to help in this process is to ask customers a question, and later when they come back for another drink, ask it again to see if they were paying attention the first time. It can even be as simple as seeing if they remember your name. However, at the end of the day, the best thing to do is to trust your instincts, especially if you’re already a seasoned bartender.



De-escalation involves using tact and grace to defuse potentially tense or volatile situations, preventing conflicts from escalating into physical altercations or disturbances and possible outcomes from over intoxication of a guest or guests. Effective de-escalation techniques not only contribute to customer safety but also help protect the reputation of the venue.

De-escalating a situation with a drunk customer is primarily about empathy. No matter how loud they get, always remember they’re not angry, they’re frustrated and have lost their inhibitions. Whatever it is that they’re specifically asking of you, what they want is to feel like their complaints are being heard, even if these complaints aren’t something that is within your power to resolve (and if this is the case then calmly explain why you can’t address them). Active listening is key here.

Remain confident and remember the power of matching someone’s energy without losing your cool. Things will only escalate further if you do. If the situation does need to escalate, security or a manager will step in, but until then, keep calm and carry on.

Finally, remember your RSA training and the technique of offering alternatives. If you can’t serve a drunk customer alcohol, suggest water, soft drinks, or even mocktails. Make sure they’re eating, see how long it’s been since they last had something proper to eat and offer them some food off your venue’s menu. A “How about?” is more effective than a “no.”


Offering Alternative Drinks

Continuing on from the previous section, when a customer is already intoxicated it’s important to remember your RSA training and the technique of offering alternatives. If you can’t serve a drunk customer alcohol, suggest water, soft drinks, or even mocktails. A “How about?” is more effective than a “no.”


A bar counter displaying a variety of alcohol bottles, showcasing a wide selection for patrons to choose from.

A High-Quality Menu

Similar to the previous point, when dealing with an intoxicated customer, make sure they’re eating, see how long it’s been since they last had something proper to eat and offer them some food off your venue’s menu.

Having a well-stocked menu and ensuring customers are eating isn’t just a great way to de-escalate a drunk patron, it also helps prevent customers from drinking too much in the first place. When consumed on an empty stomach, alcohol is absorbed more rapidly, leading to quicker intoxication. Eating food, particularly foods that contain fats, proteins, and complex carbohydrates, helps to line the stomach and slow down alcohol absorption into the bloodstream.

Unless you’re the manager, odds are that you work in an RSA holding job and have a say over what goes on your establishment’s menu. However, that doesn’t mean that you as a diligent hospitality worker can’t talk with them about improving your establishment’s menu.


Take an RSA Refresher Course

Perhaps the best tip that we have for you is to stay on top of your own RSA compliance by undertaking regular (and sometimes mandatory) RSA refresher training. It’s important to remember that the expiry of an RSA certification differs between each state and territory. This is because of the differing legislations in each state; an RSA South Australia is not valid in other states, for example. However, an RSA bridging course can allow you to work in multiple states and territories and is ideal for those living in border towns.

By remembering when you need to take your refresher training, and doing so promptly, you can remain RSA compliant and not risk your career or the status of your workplace by falling behind. Following is a breakdown of an RSA certificate’s expiration dates across Australia:

RSA QLD, SA, TAS, SA: An RSA certificate does not expire.

RSA VIC, NT, ACT: RSA refresher training needs to be retaken every three (3) years.

RSA NSW: RSA refresher training needs to be retaken every three (5) years.

Please note that due to constantly changing laws and regulations, the above information is subject to change. If you’re concerned that RSA expiry legislation has changed in your area, please check your state or territory’s government website to ensure this information is still valid and correct.


Start Serving Responsibly

For more tips like these, enhance your knowledge and master the art of responsible alcohol service with our comprehensive RSA course. Skills Training College is the premier registered training organisation (RTO)  for those in the hospitality sector, and we understand the vital role you play in creating safe and enjoyable experiences for your patrons. Our nationally accredited course is fully recognised and supported by the Australian Skills Quality Authority.

Our RSA course goes beyond the basics, equipping you with the expertise to effectively navigate the intricacies of alcohol service laws and regulations. Through our in-depth, practical training delivered in a classroom environment, you’ll learn so much more than you ever could in an online RSA course.

So don’t wait, enrol in an RSA or RSA refresher course today! Join thousands of professionals who have benefitted from our engaging and informative Responsible Service of Alcohol course. Learn essential techniques to provide responsible service of alcohol, such as the ability to identify and handle intoxicated customers, mitigate potential risks, and foster a responsible drinking environment.

Put your commitment to responsible service into action today. Step up your expertise, protect your patrons, and elevate your establishment’s reputation. Enrol in our RSA course now and be the catalyst for responsible alcohol service in the hospitality industry.