Q. Why is this lesson important?

A. The obvious reason is that Law Enforcement WILL enter your bar on a regular basis. Depending on the type of bar – some places more often than others. You’ll probably never know why they showed up in the first place – and may not even know they are there! You’ve heard me say this many times: You never know who is sitting at your bar!

Q. Will questions about Law Enforcement be asked in the job interview?

A. Possibly. You may be asked something about checking ID’s or what to do if there is a bar fight – and the police show up. Those two topics are discussed elsewhere in the course. My suggestion would be to simply answer an interview question with something like, “I would always cooperate with law enforcement, and immediately inform management that they are on the premises.”

For now, just know that you should always inform management that law enforcement is in the house. Stay calm – it’s really not a big deal. They’re just doing their job. 99% of the time it’s just a routine “walk-through.” Answer any questions they may have and continue on with your work. They won’t interfere with the work flow.

My Personal Experience: I have never had a problem with Law Enforcement entering any bar that I have worked at. In my 25+ years of working as a bartender and bar manager, I have found all law enforcement personnel to be very professional – they’re pretty normal people!

After you have worked at a bar for a lengthy period of time, you’ll get to know these people. I was on a first name basis with many of them. And, some of them would frequent the bar in their “off” hours. Nice. I would get questions like, “How’s it going, Mark. Anything going on that I should know about?” Boy, if that’s not a loaded question! Or, “Hey Mark – that guy over there looks a little loaded. You might want to think about cutting him off.” Or, “Geeze, Mark – that girl looks like she’s 16. Did you check her ID?”

There are a number of different types of law enforcement that will frequent your bar. Below is a quick list , and then I’ll go into some detail on each.

A Quick List:

  • Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC)
  • Vice Detectives
  • Local Police
  • Fire Marshall
  • ATF/FBI/Homeland – all of the Federal” Alphabet” Organizations
  • Health Inspector
  • Building Inspectors
  • OSHA

I’m not going to go into the last three items on the above list as they are discussed elsewhere. You may, however, ask why I would add them to this list. Simple. They all have the authority to shut down your bar!

And, I’m not going to discuss the Federal “Alphabet” Organizations. If these people are frequently coming into your bar – you might want to look elsewhere for a bartending job!

Side Note: Unless you’re a very experienced bartender, working at the same place for a long time, you won’t know if Vice, ABC, and other “undercover” law enforcement is in your bar. Usually. They never announce themselves, and just kind of “hang out” and observe. Experienced bartenders learn to pick them out – usually because local jurisdictions utilize the same people.

There are some very important things you really need to know:

  • Inform your manager that law enforcement is in the house.
  • Be polite and respectful – and allow them to do whatever they showed up to do. Stay out of their way.
  • Take their suggestions. Answer their questions truthfully.

Let’s discuss the four main types of law enforcement officers you will likely run across at one time or another.

ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control)

Alcohol Beverage Control: A state organization that licenses and regulates the manufacture, transport, and selling of alcoholic beverages.

The ABC responds to reported allegations of the misuse of the liquor license. They investigate liquor license owners. They investigate underage drinking. They bust people who transport untaxed alcohol (bootlegging). Pretty much anything having to do with alcohol in this country.

ABC does just what their name implies: They monitor the sales of alcohol. Whether that sale takes place in a nightclub, a liquor store, or the local grocery store. They are fully sworn peace officers – but almost always operate in plain clothes.

*As a bartender, what you will be most concerned with is underage drinking. Please, check those ID’s!

ABC is known to hire people that are twenty-one (but look much younger), to come into your bar and try to purchase alcohol. They’re 21 – no big deal, right? WRONG! If you’re not checking ID’s the ABC knows that there’s a bigger problem. I do know that the ABC can also send in actual minors. You better be on your toes.

But, ABC is not the only agency that will send in minors to try and buy booze. The local police are also known to use this tactic. Once again, You don’t know who is sitting at your bar!

In my experience, employees of the ABC rarely show up – unless you’re a very busy bar that caters to the younger crowd. Or, they get a tip that your bar is serving underage people. I could be wrong, so stay on your toes.

Vice Detectives

Definition of Vice: Immoral or wicked behavior. Also, moral depravity or corruption.

What is “Vice” looking for? Here’s a short list:

  • Gambling
  • Narcotics
  • Prostitution
  • Illegal Sales of Alcohol

The “Vice Squad” is really like any other law enforcement. They look for crimes being committed – pretty much any illegal activity. Prostitution, gambling, drugs, etc.

Hopefully, when they enter your bar they’re simply performing a routine check. Of course, many times, they have some sort of “tip” that illegal activity is going on.

If this stuff is going on in your bar – expect the vice squad to show up more than once in a while. And, if the bar gets a reputation for consistently allowing “questionable” or illegal activities – it’s bye-bye liquor license.

Local Police

If the bar gets a reputation for fights – expect local law enforcement to take action. The same goes for drugs, prostitution, gambling, and the like. Sounds a lot like what the Vice Squad does, huh?

Well it is – somewhat. Most local police jurisdictions and/or departments have vice squads in the same division. They all work together. The police will usually be in uniform, although they also employ “undercover” officers.

Again, don’t sweat this. If you and the bar are doing nothing wrong, then you have nothing to worry about. You’ll get used to it.

Local police are known to roam around and check ID’s. Maybe observe for a few minutes and see if you’re over-serving.

My Personal Experience: I have worked in very busy nightclubs where we had weekly bikini and wet t-shirt contests. The local police seemed to show up for these events exactly when they started. Go figure.

Fire Marshall

These guys will show up for their annual or semi-annual inspections – it all depends on local laws. However, there is another reason they’ll show up unannounced:

Over-crowding. Ouch. I’ve witnessed this first-hand. Many times. Personally, I have been in both management and bartender positions when the Fire Marshall arrived and shut us down. Not good.

Management is responsible for the amount of people in your bar at one time. However, remember that they’re trying to maximize sales and profit. Sometimes, they’ll ignore local “capacity” laws for their bar and allow a ton of people in. Oops.

That’s great for you -but the word does get out. In my experience, the Fire Marshall is usually made aware of over-crowding by other law enforcement organizations – or the bar’s competitors. Yes, bar owners will squeal on other bar owners. Jealousy, whatever – it happens, and I know this for a fact.

Most very busy places will have someone at the front door (usually a doorperson or bouncer), who has a mechanical “counter.” It’s their responsibility to keep the head count at or below the maximum capacity.

So there you have it – Law Enforcement coming into your bar. Just stay calm, and do what they ask you to. And, I shouldn’t even have to say this, keep your own nose clean. If there is “questionable” behavior consistently going on in your bar – consider moving on.

If you’re following along in the Basic Bartending Course:

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