What is RBS?
Many restaurants and bars provide staff with responsible beverage service (RBS) training to reduce many of the risks associated with the sale of alcohol. According to the Marin Institute, RBS is a community-based approach with three essential components: policy development, merchant education, and partnerships with law enforcement. Merchants are held accountable if they violate state and local laws, such as sales to underage individuals or obviously intoxicated patrons. RBS training may be provided at on-sale (i.e. bars) and off-sale (i.e. stores) premises as well as community events, such as fairs or carnivals (“Responsible Beverage Service,” 2006).
According to the Alcohol Policy Information System, some states may mandate RBS training, while in other states training is voluntary. Many states will offer incentives for retailers to participate in a training session, such as discounts in dram shop liability insurance or protection against license revocation for sales to minors (“Beverage Service Training and Related Practices,” 2008).
In order to deter underage consumption in a college or university campus, many institutions will mandate RBS training for servers at campus-sponsored events. Campuses may also work with local enforcement to mandate or strongly encourage RBS training at establishments in the community, especially those frequented by students.
The research suggests that RBS training programs hold promise for reducing consumption among students and underage youth. One study found that a training program for servers at pubs in Sweden had a significant impact on decreasing the BAC of university students. This study also found the training to reduce the perceived level of rowdiness of establishments by patrons (Johnsson et al., 2003). Another study found a training program to have a positive, though non-significant, impact on reducing illegal alcohol sales to underage youth and obviously intoxicated patrons (Toomey et al., 2001).
It is not clear whether trainings have long-term impact on reducing alcohol sales to underage individuals or intoxicated patrons. One study found the use of frequent enforcement checks at on-premise establishments to have a sustained impact on reducing alcohol sales to minors, yet a server training program was not found to reduce sales to minors over time (Wagenaar et al., 2005). This research suggests the need for more frequent, or perhaps more rigorous, trainings to sustain impact.
A common theme emerging from the prevention field is that RBS training ought to be implemented in conjunction with a comprehensive community effort to increase enforcement, such as police checkpoints and bans on drink promotions or “happy hours.” For example, Boston College implemented a comprehensive alcohol policy that included policy changes, such as server guidelines and a ban on the marketing and promotion of alcohol on campus. With such efforts in place, BC witnessed decreases in alcohol-related incidents both on- and off-campus and a decrease in the number of students who needed medical attention for intoxication (“Boston College: Alcohol and Drug Education Program,” 2001). Similarly, San Diego State University saw significant reductions in the frequency of heavy episodic drinking after the university adopted new policies, such as the elimination of low-price drink promotions and requiring RBS training (“San Diego State University (SDSU): Collegiate-Community Alcohol Prevention Partnership,” 2001).
Issues and considerations
As mentioned previously, it is important for campuses to mandate RBS training at both on-and off-campus establishments or events. RBS training can be mandated on campus as part of a comprehensive approach to reducing high-risk and underage consumption. RBS training may yield optimal results when instituted in conjunction with other campus policies, such as the restriction on large quantities of alcohol or drink specials at campus venues and placing limits on where and when drinking can occur (“Alcohol and Other Drug Availability,” n.d.).
A campus can work with local enforcement officials or through a campus and community coalition to advocate for RBS training at off-campus establishments. Leveraging the support of the community for RBS training may increase establishments’ motivation to comply with the adopting the practice. It is also suggested that a campus assess which outlets are facilitating problematic student behaviors in order to best target their efforts.
Finally, due to high turnover at establishments, it is recommended that RBS training be conducted on a regular basis. An establishment might also encourage retailers to repeat training by offering them incentives. Similarly, trainings must be continuously mandated to leaders in student groups such as Greek organizations that serve alcohol at their social events in order to ensure that alcohol is served responsibly and legally in social settings.
Alcohol and Other Drug Availability (n.d.). The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Protection.
Beverage Service Training and Related Practices (2008). Alcohol Policy Information System. Retrieved August 21, 2009 from http://www.alcoholpolicy.niaaa.nih.gov.
Boston College: Alcohol and Drug Education Program (2001). The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention.
Johnsson, K. O., & Berglund, M. (2003). Education of key personnel in student pubs leads to a decrease in alcohol consumption among the patrons: A randomized controlled trial. Addiction, 98(5), 627–633
San Diego State University (SDSU): Collegiate-Community Alcohol Prevention Partnership (2001). The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention.
Toomey, T., Wagenaar, A., Gehan, J., Kilian, G., Murray, D., & Perry, C. (2001, April). Project ARM: Alcohol Risk Management to Prevent Sales to Underage and Intoxicated Patrons. Health Education & Behavior, 28(2), 186.
Wagenaar, A., Toomey, T., & Erickson, D. (2005, March). Preventing youth access to alcohol: outcomes from a multi-community time-series trial. Addiction, 100(3), 335-345