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Research snapshot: Study finds high likelihood of over-service at alcohol establishments

Excessive alcohol consumption in bars and restaurants has been directly linked to drinking and driving and incidents of violence. Despite laws prohibiting over-service, alcohol establishments are continuing to serve obviously intoxicated customers, according to a recent study from the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota.

“Measuring the likelihood that bars and restaurants will sell alcohol to intoxicated patrons is an important step in understanding the scope of this public health issue,” said Kathleen Lenk, M.P.H., research fellow and co-author of the study. “Preventing and reducing sales to intoxicated customers may lead to decreased alcohol-impaired driving, fatal traffic crashes, alcohol-related violence and other harms.”

Understanding the risks associated with over-service in establishments, researchers sought to monitor the feasibility of alcohol purchases by obviously inebriated customers.

The study, led by Traci Toomey, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology & community health, involved pseudo-intoxicated customers, actors displaying signs of obvious intoxication, that were sent to 340 bars and restaurants around the metropolitan area in attempt to make purchases at each of the venues. Characteristics of the establishments, the actors, the servers, the managers and the neighborhoods were also assessed to see if they were associated with the likelihood of the sales.

Results showed the pseudo-intoxicated buyers were able to purchase alcohol in 82 percent of the establishments despite their apparent intoxication, and corporate-owned establishments were more likely to make the sale rather than their independently owned counterparts.

“We were surprised by the likelihood of illegal alcohol sales to obviously intoxicated customers was similar to the rates found in studies dating back to the 1990s,” said Lenk. “We thought progress might have been made in reducing these types of illegal alcohol sales.”

“We need to draw the attention of communities to this important public issue,” said Toomey. “We need to identify and implement effective interventions to reduce the likelihood of these illegal alcohol sales.”

Lenk suggests adding effective training for bars and restaurants in responsible alcohol service and increased law enforcement to prohibit sales to intoxicated patrons.

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