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Seller & server minimum age

Evidence Rating

Insufficient Evidence

Health Factors

Decision Makers

Age of seller and server laws set a minimum age for sellers in off-premise locations that sell alcohol and servers and bartenders in on-premise locations. Some states specify a separate minimum age to handle beer, wine, and spirits, and require a manager or supervisor to be present when an underage employee sells, serves, or dispenses alcoholic beverages (Fell 2015).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced underage drinking

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Reduced alcohol-related crashes

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is insufficient evidence to determine whether age of seller and server policies reduce underage drinking. Available evidence suggests that underage sellers are more likely to sell alcohol to customers under the age of 21 (Forster 1994, ) and to intoxicated patrons (). States with legislation that requires a minimum age of 21 for bartenders appear to have fewer alcohol-related fatal crashes among underage drivers than states with a younger minimum age or no required age (, Scherer 2015); however, regulations that establish a minimum age for sellers and servers do not appear to affect alcohol-related fatal crashes (, Scherer 2015, ). Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

The minimum age required for sellers in off-premise locations and servers and bartenders in on-premise locations varies by state. As of January 2016, the minimum age to serve alcohoic beverages ranges from 17 in Maine to 21 in Alaska, Nevada, and Utah; most states set a minimum age of 18. Ten states require a manager to be present when underage servers are working (APIS).

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Forster 1994 - Forster JL, McGovern PG, Wagenaar AC, et al. The ability of young people to purchase alcohol without age identification in northeastern Minnesota, USA. Addiction. 1994;89(6):699-705.

Forster 1995* - Forster JL, Murray DM, Wolfson M, Wagenaar AC. Commercial availability of alcohol to young people: Results of alcohol purchase attempts. Preventive Medicine. 1995;24(4):342-7.

Freisthler 2003* - Freisthler B, Gruenewald PJ, Treno AJ, Lee J. Evaluating alcohol access and the alcohol environment in neighborhood areas. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 2003;27(3):477-84.

Fell 2016* - Fell JC, Scherer M, Thomas S, Voas RB. Assessing the impact of twenty underage drinking laws. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 2016;77(2):249-260.

Romano 2015* - Romano E, Scherer M, Fell J, Taylor E. A comprehensive examination of U.S. laws enacted to reduce alcohol-related crashes among underage drivers. Journal of Safety Research. 2015;55:213-221.

Scherer 2015 - Scherer M, Fell JC, Thomas S, Voas RB. Effects of dram shop, responsible beverage service training, and state alcohol control laws on underage drinking driver fatal crash ratios.Traffic Injury Prevention. 2015;16(0 2):S59-S65.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

APIS - Alcohol Policy Information System (APIS). Welcome to the Alcohol Policy Information System.

Date Last Updated

Jun 22, 2017