How do we safely serve alcohol at a nonprofit event?

Avoiding the risks that come with serving drinks at special events.


Our nonprofit is planning its first big dinner event soon – all volunteer-run, with no help from events planners or other experts. It will be an outdoor barbeque, with a station where people can buy beer and Margaritas. Am I being a worrier, or are there extra precautionary steps we should take around the possibility that we might be, you know, getting people drunk?


Indeed, serving alcohol at a nonprofit event should not be undertaken without forethought. It can be a moneymaker, but it also raises the risk of trouble or injuries.

The first thing to check on is whether your local government has set rules for serving alcohol in a setting outside the home. For instance, you may need to obtain a license for the event or premises, to use only alcohol servers who have been specially trained, and to measure and limit the amount of alcohol that is included in each mixed drink.

Also make sure your nonprofit takes steps to avoid serving drinks to minors. Place a sign by the booth “reminding” people of the drinking age in your state, and advise your servers that they should be ready to check IDs. Have them take a close look at a typical driver’s license before the event, and memorize the date by which a person would have to have been born in order to have reached legal drinking age. (Who wants to do the math on the spot?)

Another legal (and practical) issue is that you don’t want people who have had too much to drink create a scene or a medical emergency, and you certainly don’t want a drunk guest to injure someone driving home—who can then sue your organization for the damages you “caused.”

Even if your area doesn’t require alcohol servers to be specially trained, they should be ready to tell patrons when they’ve had enough or start insisting that they switch to soda.

As the event winds down, someone should be stationed at the door to wish people farewell—and to offer a cab or other ride to anyone who seems to be staggering toward his or her car. To be extra cautious, you could arrange with a cab company to have a couple of taxis waiting for this purpose, though they’d probably charge you for this service. One way to deal with all the above issues is to restrict alcohol events to restaurants, hotels, and other venues with experienced staff on hand.

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