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Bangor requires TIPS certification to serve alcohol

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Bangor requires TIPS certification to serve alcohol (edge photo by Kevin Bennett)

BANGOR – If you’ve ordered a drink at a bar or restaurant in Bangor lately, you may not have noticed your server keeping a closer eye on you. A new ordinance involving those who serve alcohol, which was passed by the Bangor City Council on April 9, officially took effect this month. The new rules require all staff of city-based liquor licensees who serve alcoholic beverages, including servers and bartenders, to successfully pass a Training for Intervention ProcedureS (TIPS) course.

According to Cathy Conlow, Bangor’s city manager, the ordinance was the result of efforts by Bangor Public Health and Community Services to better prevent alcohol-related problems. City councilors agreed with the concept and passed the ordinance while the City took steps to help establishments get the needed training over the summer for their employees to meet the new requirements.

“We get significant amounts of money for alcohol and drug education, and one of the things we do with that money is server training,” Conlow said. “The Public Health Department really feels like server training and knowing when you’re overserving is an important function if you’re serving alcohol.”

Upon its passage, Bangor joined Portland as only two municipalities in the state to require such training by ordinance, and city-based establishments had about six months to complete the training before the new rules took effect. Now, all employees who handle alcohol must be certified and newly-hired employees have 90 days to complete the training from their hire date. Bars and restaurants need to keep all certifications on file and present them upon renewal of their liquor licenses beginning this month.

“In order to get their license, they supply us with a list of folks who are serving alcohol,” Conlow said. “We know people change, obviously, so the next year they’ll update that list.”

For chain restaurants that have multiple locations, such as the ones located near Bangor Mall, Conlow said those employers will need to get any servers who transfer between locations certified to work in the city as well.

“If they transfer employees, you just have them take the test as soon as you can,” she advised.

The effort to require server training came on the heels of a liquor enforcement operation conducted earlier this year by the Bangor Police Department, which resulted in nearly 70 citations being issued to on-premise locations as well as retail sellers. Many of the violations were for on-premise overconsumption or sales to minors. According to Sgt. Wade Betters, spokesman for Bangor police, the training can only help to reduce the number of incidents resulting from alcohol.

“We ticketed several convenience stores for selling to an underage person – there were some not checking IDS,” Betters said. “Then there were a few bars we hit for allowing visibly intoxicated people to be inside the bar, serving to visibly intoxicated people, or allowing those people to remain and drink.”

Betters said the department’s goal with the new rules is just to get servers and bartenders to recognize the warning signs early and take steps to prevent overconsumption that can lead to bigger problems later.

“We want servers, bartenders, management and bouncers to be able to shut them off or act more quickly to remove people from their establishments to keep them from getting worse,” he said. “My hope is that once these businesses receive this TIPS training, we will see a decrease in the number of violations and ultimately a decrease in the number of calls for service to these establishments for alcohol related issues.”

For the City’s public health department, the effort to require TIPS training for all servers can only help the public at large while also helping establishments protect themselves against liability. Robin Carr, the city’s substance use prevention coordinator, said that while the State of Maine doesn’t mandate the training, it does allow municipalities to require it and it helps provide employers with the tools to prevent the abuse of alcohol, especially by minors through illegal sales.

“The things we’re looking to accomplish are the reduction and elimination of youth access to alcohol, sales to minors and the availability of alcohol to minors in the community,” she said, adding the new requirements also help prevent issues related to adult impairment, whether it’s impaired driving or over-intoxication. “Everyone is on the same page about what Maine law says about alcohol sales and understands what their responsibilities are as really a purveyor of a drug in the community.”

Carr said about 300 servers have gone through the program throughout the summer, and she’s pleased the city’s establishments have made the effort to comply with the new rules. It’s also provided a chance for servers to share ideas of how to better handle issues when they arise.

“It’s real professionals doing this work and they know what they’re doing, but it’s been great in providing them with opportunities to be able to talk with each other about issues they’ve encountered and strategies they’ve adopted to deal with them,” she said. “Our plan is to continue to offer training on a quarterly basis so that as new employees come on, they’ll be able to have an avenue for free training.”

What’s still a bit ambiguous about the new ordinance are the rules surrounding events held within Bangor by vendors who aren’t licensed through the city. According to Lisa Goodwin, Bangor’s city clerk, the new rules don’t cover caterers or restaurants based outside the city that seek off-premise permits to serve alcohol at an event within city limits. It’s an area that may have to be reexamined by the City Council.

“That’s something I had actually asked our city solicitor about this past week,” Goodwin said. “When an entity from another community comes in to do an event, say they have a business in Brewer and they come to Bangor and TIPS isn’t required in Brewer, it isn’t covered under the ordinance.”

Goodwin feels it’s unfair to tell Bangor-based businesses that their servers must be certified while other businesses can come in lacking such certification. Since the ordinance is silent on that, she can’t enforce it with those seeking catering permits.

“I don’t think it was something that was thought of at the time, but that’s with any ordinance you do,” she said. “You do the best you can to get it up and running and then say, ‘Oh, we can make this better.’”

For Bert Follero, general manager of the Sea Dog Brewing Company in Bangor, the new requirements aren’t new to his company since TIPS training is already required for all new employees within 30 days of their hire date. As a brewery, he feels the requirements should be mandated statewide so there’s consistency between municipalities and employers.

“With more breweries popping up left and right, it just makes it easier for each company to have educated employees going from one place to another,” he said. “It educates your employees – the more training, the better the employee. The more educated the employee is, the more educated the customer is.”

Follero said Sea Dog has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes serving underage customers and overconsumption, and that is made clear to all employees through their training. He feels it also empowers employees and gives them a sense of ownership when it comes to dealing with customers.

“The last four or five months, my employees have noticed customers coming in already intoxicated and we won’t serve them. We’ll try to give them water, we’ll give them food, but we’ve truly gotten to the point where [our staff] won’t serve them. They know what to look for,” he said. “A liquor license is important to every restaurant that has one, so you have to protect it.”

With the new rules in place, Betters said liquor enforcement checks will continue – both together with the state as well as independently – and he expects to see fewer problems. Still, he realizes it’s tough to tell if someone is on the edge of intoxication and hopes the training will better educate bartenders and servers to make the right call at the right time.

“We’re going to be out there, and we encourage all staff and employees in that business to recognize the signs and symptoms of alcohol impairment,” he said. “Challenge people and don't be afraid to shut somebody off if you think they've had too much to drink.”

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