Guide to Serving Alcohol in California

In California, there are many alcohol-serving laws to help protect Californians and their communities from alcohol-related harm. You may feel that in California, alcohol-serving laws are generally “common sense” laws when it comes to alcohol. Don’t drink and drive, don’t serve or sell alcohol if you are under 21, and so forth.

However, many unique laws strictly for California need to be followed if you are going to serve alcohol. We’ve compiled a handy list of the biggest ones universal to California as a state, but each county may have different rulings. Ensure your research is accurate before taking any action. So, what are the California alcohol-serving laws?

Serving vs. Consumption

What is the difference between serving laws and consumption laws? In California, alcohol-serving laws go hand-in-hand with consumption laws–as one leads to the other.

Serving Laws

Here are some of the most common alcohol-serving laws in California. Each county may have some variations, but these are the accepted California alcohol-serving laws.

Employees Must be 21 Years of Age

The legal age to serve alcohol in California without penalty is 21. Employees who serve, prepare, and take orders for alcoholic beverages must be 21. Exceptions can be made for servers over 18 but they cannot prepare or work behind the bar.

An employee who violates this law will subject their manager to disciplinary action in the form of a criminal misdemeanor. This can also result in a suspension of service, revocation of your California Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control (ABC) license, and a fine.

You Cannot Serve or Sell Alcohol Between 2 A.M. and 6 A.M.

According to California alcohol-serving laws, it is unlawful to sell, serve, or knowingly help purchase alcohol between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. Alcoholic sales during these hours are a misdemeanor and include a maximum financial penalty of $1000 and/or six months of jail time. That’s not exactly something you want on your permanent record, especially when a misdemeanor like that should be easy to avoid.

These rulings affect only the point of sale, which is the point when an alcoholic beverage is delivered, not when it is paid for. Customers in a restaurant are allowed to take home partially consumed bottles of wine.

Selling Alcohol to Intoxicated Individuals

Anyone who gives, sells, or enables the sale of alcoholic beverages to someone who is intoxicated is committing a misdemeanor. The penalty is the same as selling alcohol during prohibited hours–$1000 and/or six months in county jail.

This does not only affect restaurants and bar owners. Anyone who purchases alcohol for an intoxicated person is guilty of a misdemeanor, even if they are a family member, friend, or neighbor.

All Employees Must Be RBS Certified

California alcohol-serving laws require all alcohol servers, managers, owners, and staff who operate a bar or deliver alcoholic beverages to attend and complete an RBS training program. An RBS training program must be completed even if the employee is of the legal age to serve alcohol in California–21.

RBS certification must be documented, recorded, and saved on company property in case of an audit or inspection by the ABC. RBS training must be completed before any alcohol service can be done by an employee, even if they are not of the legal age to serve alcohol in California. Failure to have employees show their RBS certification while serving alcoholic beverages can result in a fine, suspension, or revocation of ABC licenses.

Penalty Recap

If you violate any of the above, you can be subject to the following:

  • Fines
  • Suspension
  • Criminal Charges (Misdemeanors)
  • Jail time

Consumption Laws

Here are some of the most common consumption laws in California. These relate to California alcohol-serving laws because, as a bar owner, you must be aware of what and how people consume alcohol in California.

Legal Age to Drink

The legal age to drink in California is 21. Individuals under the age of 21 are allowed to drink in private areas with the supervision of their parent, guardian, or relative above the age of 21.

A private area, by this definition, is a residence or venue without public access to alcoholic beverages. That being said, anyone under 21 cannot be found with alcohol on their person.

Alcohol in Vehicles

Drinking in a small vehicle is illegal in California. All open containers must be out of sight or in the vehicle’s trunk. The only exception to this is if the passengers are in a bus, camper, rideshare (Taxi, Lyft, Uber), or motorhome.

Individuals under the age of 21 cannot have alcohol in their possession while operating a vehicle unless they are with their parents or someone who is above 21.

California does not have an “open container” law while boating. If you are caught operating a boat or having alcohol on a boat, you will be penalized as if you were driving a car. There is no distinction between the two in California.

Driving While Intoxicated

If you consume alcohol before driving, your BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) must be below 0.08, though 0.05 is the maximum in some counties. If you are caught with your BAC above these levels, you will face several penalties and suspensions, which we will discuss shortly.

If you are serving alcohol in California, you must be aware of the penalties others will face if they violate these mandates. One of the largest

Penalty Recap

If you violate any of the above, you can be subject to the following:

  • Fines
  • Suspension of license
  • Criminal Charges (Depending on the severity)
  • IID Installation (An ignition interlock device that suspends driving through a breathalyzer)
  • Jail time
  • Revocation of license

What Can You Do to Prevent Penalties?

Start learning more about California alcohol-serving laws and how you can avoid the penalties for yourself, your business, and your clients by ensuring you have completed your RBS training and received your RBS certification and ABC licenses. Starting July 1st, 2022, all ABC-licensed establishments must have employees complete and certified with an RBS certification.

Once you receive penalties for any of the above, they remain a permanent part of your credentials. They do not go away and very rarely can be expunged. Everything you need to know about alcohol safety and service can be learned through an RBS training program, so sign up for one immediately and encourage your employees to do the same.