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Is It Legal to Serve Alcohol If You're Under 21?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

For bar and restaurant owners who employ minors, it may be crucial to know if workers under 21 can also serve alcohol.

While those under 21 years of age typically can't drink alcohol, in many situations they can legally serve it.

Here's what employers need to know:

Alcohol Serving Determined by State Law

Although some bars and restaurants have taken the unorthodox approach of raising the drinking age for their establishment to 25, almost all private businesses will serve alcohol to those 21 and older. (If you have the proper permits to serve alcohol, that is.)

The drinking age in each state is set by state law, and despite efforts to lower it, it is currently set in stone. However, each state differs when it comes to laws regarding minors serving the sauce. For example:

  • In California, minors between 18 and 21 can serve alcohol in a "bona fide public eating place," but minors can't be employed in any place which primarily serves booze -- like a bar or club (unless they're musicians). So an underage staffer serving margaritas at Chili's would be OK, but not at a local nightclub -- unless the staffer is with the band.
  • In Texas, almost any 18-year-old is allowed to be employed as an alcohol server, as long as that minor employee has completed alcohol server/seller training. There are a variety of training courses available throughout the state, and many are provided online.
  • In Nebraska, servers need to be at least 19 years of age in order to sell and serve alcohol, but only 16 to handle and dispose of alcohol containers. This means a 19-year-old can bartend and a 16 year-old-can haul full and empty liquors bottles to and from a Nebraska bar.
  • In Utah, bartenders and liquor store clerks need to be 21 in order to legally sell or serve booze in Utah. But a 16-year-old can sell beer at an off-premise location as long as he or she is supervised by someone 21 or over.

City/County Specific Requirements

In addition to each state's laws on minors serving alcohol, business owners should be aware of their local jurisdiction's laws on alcohol servers. For example, an employer may be operating in a dry or semi-dry county with more stringent rules than the state regarding alcohol serving age.

This intersection of state and local alcohol laws can be confusing. That's why bar and restaurant owners hoping to hire a minor to serve alcohol may want to contact an attorney familiar with state and local laws first.

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