New California law demands licensing for beverage service professionals

If your business serves alcoholic beverages, take serious note. In a mere two weeks, on September 1, for the first time in 50 years, all California alcoholic beverage servers will have to be certified by the State. The only previous certification offered for alcoholic beverage servers in the history of California, was a “special” license needed for females to tend bar under certain conditions (widowed, family hardship, etc.) deemed necessary until women were officially, legally, allowed behind the plank in 1971.

Called the Responsible Beverage Service program, it went into effect on July 1 of this year, and as laid out in CA Assembly Bill 1221 and Assembly Bill 82, requires training by all on-premises alcoholic beverage servers and their managers. The training must be successfully completed through an Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) approved RBS training program and an exam, no later than August 31, or within 60 days of initial employment. If you are not certified after that date (or within that 60-day period) it will be against the law for you to serve alcoholic beverages.

In an era of mixology where so much is made of the preparation of drinks, often the actual legalities of the service of those drinks gets ignored. And it is not just the basics, like checking I.D.’s, or knowing when to refuse service. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Act is nearly two inches thick and contains 375 pages of rules and regulations. There are 17 chapters including such arcana as labelling, displays, hours of operation, and dress codes. Some of the rules are frighteningly specific, such as the rules regarding nudity and alcohol service. While others, like the prohibition against serving a “habitual drunkard” are mind numbingly vague. Regardless, all beverage servers are supposed to know all of them. But take it from someone who has been in the industry for 35 years, many of them do not. Partly because it wasn’t required. Suggested, yes, but not mandated.

The RBS program was designed to address that knowledge gap. The online version of the training/test takes – at a minimum – just under two hours, and it can take 4 hours or more depending. 70 percent correct is a passing score and you may take the test multiple times. The program can be done through several different purveyors, but everyone taking the test must register (with a $3 fee) with the ABC first.

The stated goal of the program is “to ensure effective RBS training for servers and their managers to curb harm related to underage drinking and the overuse of alcohol in California communities.” The questions on the exam cover everything from the rate of alcohol absorption according to proof and volume, to the types of stimulants that affect that absorption, as well as the shocking correlating statistics of alcohol consumption and domestic abuse. The test cannot be taken without the training and it is not particularly easy.

Here is one sample question:

Which statement about alcohol’s path through the human body is true?

  1. No digestion is needed in alcohol absorption
  2. 20 percent of alcohol is absorbed through the mouth
  3. The gall bladder processes the most alcohol
  4. All of the above

The California ABC estimates that there are 1 million people in California engaged in the service of alcoholic beverages. Everyone from charities to concert venues, to wineries, to bars and restaurants. That is 2.5% of California’s entire population. However, as of August 1, the ABC’s website had reported that as few as 7500 people had become certified under the RBS program. Meaning that in the next two weeks nearly 1 million people will be accessing the program online. Because, as of September 1, 2022, if you are a beverage server and you are not certified, you will literally be unable to work. The ABC has also indicated it will begin enforcement of the new requirement on that date. The penalty for a first-time offender is a 10-day suspension of their employer’s liquor license. So don’t delay, sign up and get certified, it’s the right thing to do, both from a moral standpoint, and now, a legal one.

More information here: RBS Training Program | Alcoholic Beverage Control (

Note: the answer to the question is “1”