Responsible drinking—beyond the bartender

Servers and sellers of alcohol are at the heart of reinforcing a culture of responsible drinking. A bartender's decision to continue serving – or not – comes immediately to mind. But what about tips from the waiter at your favorite restaurant? Or the beer vendor in the stands at a football game? Or even your local grocery store cashier? Each of these people can influence a person's choice to drink responsibly. Servers' and sellers' actions can even make a life-saving difference.

A beer vendor at Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia.
G Fiume | Getty Images
A beer vendor at Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia.

While the vast majority of consumers who choose to drink do so responsibly, preventing irresponsible drinking requires the active participation of many — industry, consumers, parents, friends, educators, community leaders and law enforcement. As part of its Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol, the World Health Organization (WHO) calls for enacting policies to better train staff on responsible serving, including how to prevent, identify and manage irresponsible drinking.

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A recent survey titled "International Outlook on Responsible Serving and Selling of Alcohol Beverages, the first of its kind, highlights important, new findings across gender, age and culture. The research, conducted by Brunswick Insight and commissioned by AB InBev, polled adults of legal drinking age in eight countries — Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, China, Germany, Mexico, the UK and the U.S. It asked about the prevalence of activities such as checking identification to verify legal drinking age and also attitudes toward responsible serving and selling of alcohol beverages.

While the data confirm what we've long known — that family members rightly have the most influence on attitudes toward responsible drinking — it also points to an opportunity. More than one in three adults across the markets surveyed (36 percent) said they would welcome responsible drinking tips from servers and sellers. This includes listening when a seller says to slow down, eat something or even stop drinking. And almost half of these adults (45 percent) are open to suggestions from servers and sellers about getting a safe ride home.

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Checking identification, for example, is another one of those very simple actions that can make a big impact on preventing irresponsible drinking. The survey estimates that every day, more than 30 million adults in these countries have their identification checked when purchasing alcohol beverages. The United States leads in ID checking, with adults 21 to 24 years old reporting they had been asked for ID 84 times on average in the past year. Mexico and the United Kingdom follow, reporting being asked for ID 48 and 47 times per year respectively.

How often you are asked for identification also varies depending on your gender. The survey showed that around the world, men are 30 percent more likely than women to be asked to show identification. And most consumers in the survey said they actually don't mind or are flattered when being asked to show identification, rather than feeling annoyed or embarrassed.

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While there are local differences in the way alcohol beverages are consumed and sold, supporting servers and sellers in doing their jobs well is an important part of fostering a culture of responsible drinking, no matter the country. We know that training matters, but there is great disparity in how this is carried out, if at all. In some developed markets like Canada, every server must be trained before he or she is allowed to sell alcohol, while in other developing markets, training initiatives are just beginning.

Training best practices should be shared more widely. Our efforts are aimed at expanding the impact of these practices – both through the achievement of our responsible drinking global goals and also by partnering with global alcohol companies and retailers to make server and seller education a bigger focus. By working together to create and support a network of servers and sellers, we can help promote responsible drinking behavior and make our communities safer.

Commentary by Carlos Brito, CEO of Anheuser-Busch InBev, brewer of beers including Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois, among others. He has been with the company since 1989, when he joined AmBev, which later merged with Interbrew to form InBev.