Bartending Lesson: Checking IDs

how to check identification

As a bartender it is your obligation to ensure every customer you serve alcohol to is over the legal drinking age. Regardless of whether you have a bouncer working at the entrance of your bar, you still have to check IDs for people who look under 21 years old (or whatever the legal drinking age of your state). The law applies to everyone who serves alcoholic beverages, for example servers, store clerks, food runners, etc. If you are found breaking this law you can be held criminally responsible.

You always have the right to ask

As a bartender, you might be expected to serve to everyone in your establishment if IDs are checked at the door. You should understand that you have a legal right to ask the individual to show legal identification if they look underage. This means that your boss cannot force you to sell or serve to anyone if you are not comfortable with it. Do not allow yourself to be pressured into serving to questionable customers. Take the time and check IDs for anyone who looks under 30 years old.

What are the requirements that the ID must pass to be acceptable?

Valid IDs need to be current, government issued, and showing a photo ID of the person presenting it. The description of the individual should be current as well. It should also list their birth date, height, sex, weight, and color of eyes and hair. With all of this information at your disposal you can then make an educated decision on whether the individual is over the legal drinking age.

Acceptable IDs can be a driver’s license, passport, state identification card, military ID, and immigration card. Secondary forms of ID can be requested if you would like to verify the individual is who they say they are. Ask for bank cards, credit cards, school IDs, anything you feel would confirm the individual in question.

Never accept expired IDs

The ID needs to be current. If it is beyond the expiration date or if the ID has been stamped or sealed as no longer valid by the agency which issued it then you have the right to refuse service. If it has been altered in any way then this is also reason to turn them away. Bending the ID just slightly when you check it is a good way of recognizing cheap fakes.

How to check the ID

Asking customers to show ID is part of the job. It doesn’t have to be a bad experience either. Younger customers expect to have to show them and older customers are usually flattered by the question. Here are a few tips to follow:

Remember to only accept the forms of picture ID mentioned above. School IDs and secondary forms of ID should only be used to help further identify the individual if the primary government issued ID is questionable.

Check the expiration date to ensure the ID is still valid. To make things easy on yourself, note the threshold date someone needs to be born before to be legal prior to working your shift. This will relieve yourself of calculating it on the spot and save a bit of time.

Now check that the individual matches the person in the picture. Check features such as shape of nose, earlobes, and shape of face and forehead. Hair and eye color can change slightly, so try to note other distinguishing factors.

Are you sure you’re you?

If you’re not certain that the customer is presenting a legitimate ID, ask some questions. What’s your birthdate? What astrological sign are you? Can you please spell your middle name for me? These are all verification questions you can ask. More intelligent underage drinkers will memorize this type of information, don’t be afraid to get creative.

Beyond this point if you are still not comfortable serving alcohol to the person in question, talk to your manager. Show them the ID being presented and let him make the final decision on the issue. Don’t risk getting a citation just to cut a few corners. The entire process will take less than 2 minutes. You may even be out of a job if the underage drinker gets into an accident.


The Supreme Court has upheld the law that states the process of sending decoys to attempt to order alcohol at bars and clubs is legal and not entrapment. The Decoy Program allows local law enforcement agencies to use persons under age 20 as decoys to buy alcoholic beverages from licensed premises. The decision to use the Decoy Program is up to each law enforcement agency.

Decoys must answer all questions truthfully. A simple way of verifying if an individual is a decoy is to simply ask their age! While you check someone’s ID just ask the question to find out if they are working for the decoy program. This is the most commonly used tactic.  DECOYS ARE REAL! Don’t ignore this tip! You will at some point encounter at least one.

Fake IDs

With the availability of fake IDs over the internet nowadays, you don’t want to spend too much time analyzing the ID to verify if it is counterfeit. By simply bending the ID and checking for state-specific insignias, you can do a quick check and see if it looks legitimate. However, if you find that an ID is obviously fake, you have the right to hold onto the ID and contact your local ABC or Alcohol governing body to turn the individual over. They will usually reward you for taking action against the underage customer.

Customers who don’t have valid ID

If a customer at any point becomes hostile over denied service, contact your manager and let the customer know that you do not want to risk your job. Smile and kindly let them know that you are legally not allowed to serve someone if they don’t present a valid, recent, and recognizable ID. When people change their hair color, address, or weight to an extent where they are not recognizable, then it is their responsibility to update the photo.

Apologizing to the individual and reassuring them that it is simply to avoid legal action will usually help the situation. Remain calm the entire time, even if they become loud and obnoxious.

Checking for ID is entirely your responsibility. Do not expect anyone to cover this requirement for you. It doesn’t have to be painful and most customers expect for it to happen.


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