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Tennessees carding conundrum: A simple fix for our obsession with carding everyone

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Category: ABC, alcohol

02.28.19

Why do we have to show our IDs every time we purchase alcohol at bars, restaurants, grocery stores, convenience markets, retail liquor stores and seemingly every other place we want to buy alcohol in Tennessee? Confusion over carding reigns supreme in the Volunteer State, even among educated industry insiders.

We recently heard from a group of card-carrying AARP members about being carded at a local brewery. When these silver-haired gentlemen inquired why the server was carding everyone, the server replied:  “It’s state law.  We have to card everyone.”

Not true.

Tennessee law does not require on-premise purveyors of alcohol to card everyone.  In fact, state law does not require that a bar, restaurant, hotel or other liquor-by-the-drink establishment card anyone. Consistent with many other business-friendly laws in Tennessee, bars and restaurants have the discretion to decide whom to card.  For a restaurant or bar, it is your business.  You can card everyone, only folks that appear under a certain age, or no one.

Here’s the rub. All beer and liquor license holders are strictly liable for sales of alcohol to minors. If a waiter accidentally sets a Bud Lite in front of an ABC confidential informant that is under the age of 21, the license holder is responsible and will be cited by the ABC.

We hear the Beatles singing: 

They say it’s your birthday.

We’re gonna have a good time …

We blogged about Tennessee ABC Sales To Minor Stings Spooks Industry and Leads to Carding Old Folks way back in 2015.  Although there has been some recent relief – a change in state law allowing the ABC to impose larger fines in lieu of suspensions and a general decrease in enforcement – the pressure from suspensions and significant fines for sales to minors remains intense.

Problem is, universal carding is, in our humble opinion, a panacea for keeping alcohol out of the hands of folks under 21.  Why should servers and clerks spend time carding old geezers, when the real problem is identifying and refusing service to teenagers and 20-year-olds?

We see more than our fair share of citations for sales to minors.  The tickets tell a consistent story:  servers and clerks either fail to read – or misread – the date of someone that is clearly under the age of 21.  Even with Tennessee’s Red Box IDs, which clearly brazen a scarlet letter on minors, employees are either too busy, too careless or too indifferent to refuse service to minors.

We understand the rationale behind universal carding. Why give a busy server or clerk discretion to determine who to card, and more importantly, who not to card, before serving alcohol?  Universal carding takes discretion out of the hands of the server and clerk. 

There is one thing that would make a huge difference to the industry and effectively cut down sales to minors. The Tennessee Legislature should fix the defective under 21 driver’s license. 

Last year, with much fanfare, lawmakers unveiled a new vertical driver’s license for under 21-year-olds. Problem is, the driver’s licenses do not expire when the driver turns 21, meaning that thousands of folks present under 21 driver’s licenses for alcohol. Servers and clerks are jaded by the under 21 driver’s license. Read more at our blog post here.  

We encourage the legislature to make a simple change to state law. People with an under 21 driver’s license should not be able to purchase alcohol. There is no need to force everyone to get a new driver’s license when they turn 21. Just make the folks that want to drink get a new ID.  There is absolutely no cost to the state to fix this problem and the results would be enormous for the industry.

How hard is it to get this right?

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