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Responsible service making resumes

Reid Williams

SUMMIT COUNTY – A Manhattan still is a Manhattan, and the ingredients in a tequila sunrise haven’t changed, but how the drinks are served locally has changed quite a bit. One prevention advocate thinks Summit County bars and restaurants have reached a turning point in responsible alcohol service.

Beverly Gmerek organizes classes teaching responsible service for the Summit Prevention Alliance (SPA). Gmerek said that for servers, training is becoming a resume-builder and that it’s harder and harder to find a waitress or bartender who hasn’t had the training. Since SPA began organizing TIPS and Bar Code classes four years ago, Gmerek said, more than 1,200 bartenders, servers and liquor store clerks have completed the coursework.

“We’re at a turning point, I think, where this is becoming the norm,” Gmerek said.

Gmerek works with numerous bar and restaurant owners to raise awareness about alcohol issues and get employees registered for the classes. She said she hears more and more from business owners that they’re looking for applicants who already have the training, and that certification in responsible service can be a deciding factor between prospects with equal experience.

Dillon Dam Brewery co-owner George Blincoe said he looks for a restaurant background and good customer service skills first, but an applicant with initiative impresses him.

“If someone comes in and says, “I’ve attended four seminars on customer service,’ who wouldn’t be impressed with that?” Blincoe said. “It lets the employer know they’re serious about the job – just like a bartender going to bartending school.”

The courses teach alcohol servers and sellers the legal and diplomatic aspects when it comes to cocktails and customers. Instructors cover civil and criminal liability for violations of liquor codes, as well as customer service tips on how to cut off a patron who’s had too much or how to handle disputes about identification tactfully.

Many owners and managers have their staff complete the training to help protect against liability, receive discounts on insurance premiums and to do their part in preventing drunken drivers from getting behind the wheel. But that willingness and positive attitude weren’t always there, said Silverheels at the Ore House owner Bobby Starekow. Starekow, who began his restaurant career in Summit County in 1975, said the philosophy of alcohol service has changed for the better since then.

“It used to be, if the customer had a half-full drink in front of them, you had them a full one before they even asked for it,” Starekow said. “You wanted to sell as many as possible.”

These days, Starekow has as much of his staff as possible trained in responsible service, and he hosts two training seminars a year himself.

Some towns also have joined the effort: Silverthorne requires all liquor license holders to participate in the training programs as part of the license renewal process, a change enacted in 1994.

The efforts of Blincoe, Starekow, Gmerek and others might be working. Compared to 2001, DUI arrests have dropped about 50 percent in Summit County, and the decrease has been notable in the past three years. In addition, the average blood-alcohol level of those arrested has dropped significantly in the past eight years.

SPA is expanding its efforts to ensure those trends continue. In addition to training courses for bar and restaurant staff, SPA is conducting responsible service sessions for special event volunteers. Gmerek said most volunteers staff beer tents to help a nonprofit raise money without realizing they face the same liabilities as do bartenders and waiters. Gmerek said SPA also hopes to begin offering service training classes twice a year for Spanish speakers.

Starekow said it will take a cooperative effort from different sectors of the community if responsible alcohol service and consumption are to remain the norm.

“It can’t just be us cutting people off,” Starekow said. “As restaurant owners, our biggest concern is that there be an equal amount of attention to even-handed enforcement by police, and the alternative ride concept. They’re all part of it.”

TIPS Class

The Summit Prevention Alliance has organized a TIPS class for responsible alcohol service from 1-6 p.m. Tuesday, June 25 in the Board of County Commissioners room at the Old County Courthouse in Breckenridge (208 Lincoln Ave.). The course is open to all. A $15 fee covers the cost of the textbook.


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