Top 10 Best Practices for Alcohol Sampling Promotions

Alcohol sampling promotions, while an effective method of introducing your product to an ever expanding and discriminating consumer base, present unique challenges and risks for both staffing agencies as well as the clients they serve.

Over the past decade, craft beer, wine and spirit brands have been rapidly gaining market share in their respective categories. New breweries and distilleries are opening up almost daily and competition is fiercer than ever, with massive alcohol sampling festivals featuring hundreds of different brands popping up across the country. On-premise and off-premise samplings are an excellent method of introducing your brand directly to consumers. Unfortunately, this promotional method is one of the riskiest for both agencies and their clients: something as small as a ¼ ounce spirit sample given to an underage individual or intoxicated patron can result in major civil and criminal repercussions for ALL parties involved. While brand ambassadors and their staffing agencies can never fully eliminate these types of risks, the following best practices are strongly encouraged for every brand ambassador staffing agency and should always be demanded by their producer, distributor and wholesaler clients.

1. Make Alcohol Training Certification Mandatory Mandating that brand ambassadors be certified in responsible alcohol serving and sales by an approved provider is – without a doubt – the #1 best practice when sampling alcohol to patrons. This certification not only greatly reduces the risk of intoxication, drunk driving and underage consumption, but it also can lower insurance premiums and reduce penalties for alcohol violations. The TIPS (Training for Intervention ProcedureS) program is widely approved by many – but not all – states, while some states provide their own program, such as RAMP (Responsible Alcohol Management Program), which is administered by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. Check with your state alcohol control board to find out if alcohol training is mandatory for sampling and which programs are approved.

2. Create Age Verification & ID Checking Policies It goes without saying that serving alcohol to anyone under the legal minimum age carries serious consequences. Even in an establishment where there is a bouncer or a door person checking ID, the brand ambassador serving the product to the patron is often the one directly responsible for validating that the patron is of legal age for consumption. Creating a policy of carding everyone can greatly reduce the risk of serving an underage person. Table signage and a “no exceptions” policy will reinforce to patrons that they must provide ID. ID Checking Guides can also be used to reduce the chance of fraudulent ID usage.

3. Have Liquor Liability Insurance While liquor liability insurance is most often designed for “brick and mortar” retail locations where alcohol is either served or sold, the staffing agency that is serving your brand to the public should also have it as well. Why? When I was first seeking insurance for our agency, Polaris Brand Promotions, an insurance agent said to me “I don’t think you need insurance when you’re only serving a small sample,” to which I replied: “What if one of our team members serves alcohol to a patron after they’ve quickly consumed a number of shots, then the patron gets into a car and drives away intoxicated? We served them last; our client and I could both be sued!” By having liquor liability insurance, the staffing agency is not only protecting themselves but also protecting their clients whose product they are contracted to serve.

4. Define Sample Number and Quantity The quantity of ounces that are poured in a sample and the number of samples served to a patron are not only a matter of common sense but are also often regulated by the state and municipality in which the product is served. Generally speaking, without laws or regulations dictating otherwise a good guideline would be no more than ¼ ounce of liquor, two ounces of wine or three ounces of beer per sample and no more than one sample per patron provided during the promotional event.

5. Be Aware of State and Municipal Laws Laws regarding the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages vary greatly from state to state. For instance, in New York State a marketing permit is required for the manufacturer, importer or New York state wholesaler to conduct samplings but is NOT required of the sampling agency itself. Municipalities within the state – counties, cities and townships – can have their own regulations that go above and beyond those of the state. Check with the state control board, local health department and the venue itself to ensure that the brand ambassadors are fully compliant prior to the sampling.

6. Reduce Sexual Harassment Risk The days of scantily-clad young female models promoting big domestic beer brands are (mostly) behind us, with many alcoholic beverage promoters now focused on hiring enthusiastic brand ambassadors to both educate the consumer and sell units of product. Despite this shift, many staffing agencies still mostly hire attractive females in their early twenties to promote at bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, meaning patrons are more likely to act and behave inappropriately towards the brand ambassador staff. If a brand ambassador ever feels uncomfortable during an interaction with a patron, the venue staff as well as the agency should be contacted immediately and corrective action should be taken as quickly as possible. The brand ambassador should never be expected to work in an environment where the do not feel safe, and their staffing agency should have policies and procedures in place to provide for the safety of their staff.

7. Properly Market The Sampling Event Most of the patrons consuming product at an on-premise or off-premise sampling will be regulars at the sampling location. Occasionally, samplings are conducted at a private ticketed event such as a large public festival. Regardless, if either the venue or staffing agency is marketing the sampling event to the public, they should be aware of any laws or regulations related to the marketing of alcoholic beverages. Most alcoholic beverage websites make visitors enter their age to verify they are over 21 years old. Similar or stricter rules may be in place for print or digital marketing of alcohol consumption depending on the location of the venue.

8. Know any Venue-specific Rules As I mentioned above, laws and regulations at the state and municipal levels vary greatly and can change frequently, often without notice. Bars, restaurants and nightclubs may have their own, stricter regulations above and beyond the state and municipal requirements. For instance, a nightclub might make it mandatory for all servers of alcoholic beverages to be alcohol training certified. An agency should confirm any rules or regulations that the brand ambassadors should abide by while conducting the sampling on the venue’s property.

9. Create an Incident Report Policy Whenever alcohol is served, there is always a risk of liability! Despite strong practices and a well-trained staff, incidents involving alcohol misuse can and do happen. Staffing agencies should have a policy documenting any incident involving alcohol, such as a patron attempting to consume with a questionable ID or who is intoxicated. The policy should include a written incident report, which includes key details regarding the incident as well as who the incident was reported to at both the venue and staffing agency.

10. Share Knowledge With Your Team All parties involved in alcohol sampling – whether it be the client, the venue, the staffing agency or the brand ambassadors they hire – should be well educated in all laws and regulations regarding the promotion and sampling of alcoholic beverages prior to the promotion. That being said, the staffing agency should always share relevant resources to not only their staff members but also their clients to ensure that everyone is compliant. If one party fails to follow a law or regulation, everyone involved could be held liable, so be sure to work together as a team to make your sampling event a safe and successful one!

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The above article is not legal advice and is only intended to be a general guide regarding nationwide alcohol laws and regulations. These laws vary greatly among states and municipalities and are also constantly being changed and amended. Before engaging in any alcohol promotions, it is advised to consult with an attorney that specializes in alcoholic beverage marketing, sale and consumption in the market where the product is being served. All information contained in this article is subject to change without notice. Polaris Brand Promotions LLC, its employees, agents and representatives are not liable for the content of this article as well as any errors or omissions contained within.

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