What you need to know about serving and selling alcohol at an event.
Offering alcohol at events is extremely common, so much so, that it’s considered a cultural norm in N. America. However, if you’re planning on serving or selling it, you should know the essentials of providing alcohol at events.
Know your local laws
Your first step should be to make sure you know your local laws. If you find it overwhelming, reach out to a legal expert. They can help you interpret the laws and regulations around serving alcohol in your province and municipality.
In Ontario, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) is the board responsible for administering the Liquor Licence Act (LLA) and specific sections of the Liquor Control Act (LCA). Under their regulations, a Special Occasion Permit (SOP) is required if you sell or service liquor anywhere other than a licensed establishment.
You can apply for an AGCO liquor permit here.
For outdoor or public venues, make sure you submit your request with adequate time. The application process can be longer than expected.
Review your insurance coverage
You will need to determine who is responsible for each alcohol-related aspect of your event. Read through each vendor contract carefully to identify who has a liquor license, liquor liability insurance, or a certificate of insurance. These can fall under the venue, the caterer, the event planner, or even another party.
Insurance will help cover you against legal action taken by someone who was injured by an intoxicated person or by someone who harmed themselves while being intoxicated.
Make sure you’re covered. Many venues will not host your event unless you’re fully covered. If you notice that your coverage falls short, consider taking out dram shop liability insurance. This will help fill the gap between the venue needs and your own liability.
Create an action plan
Create a system that prevents the overconsumption of alcohol. Establishing the following procedures can reduce the temptation to continuously drink throughout the night.
Offer non-alcoholic beverages, such fun mocktails. Doing so will make those who choose to forgo alcohol feel included.
Serve water freely instead of hiding it behind the bar. This will help encourage guests to stay hydrated while reducing intoxication
Feed the crowd before opening the bar up. Your patrons will be full of food instead of liquor.
Tell your attendees ahead of time. Letting your guests know ahead of time about the limitations will give them the time to acknowledge the change and come to the event with a positive attitude
Implement a cash bar. A cash bar creates a mental barrier, such that attendees will stop short of having one too many drinks.
Establish security measures
Have a plan for minors. You can use wristbands or hand stamps to keep track. Bonus: Bar staff can also offer your fun mocktails to minors.
Offer transportation home or advise your local taxi company ahead of your event. The taxi company can use the additional time to plan and make more drivers available.
Talk to the venue about additional safety measures. Perhaps your venue has security staff or medical personnel that you can use.
Limit the hours that the bar is open. Reducing the alcohol service by only 30 minutes will reduce the overall amount of drinks purchased. This can force your attendees to focus on the event instead of the alcohol.
Hire trained servers. Educated servers will know how to monitor for alcohol consumption and will be able to take action if a guest has gone too far. In Ontario, anyone who sells, serves, or handles alcohol must have completed their Smart Serve Certification.