Seller & server minimum age

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Insufficient Evidence

Strategies with this rating have limited research documenting effects. These strategies need further research, often with stronger designs, to confirm effects.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

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 beverages1.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Reduced underage drinking

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Reduced alcohol-related crashes

What does the research say about 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 212, 3 and to intoxicated patrons4. 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 age5, 6; however, regulations that establish a minimum age for sellers and servers do not appear to affect alcohol-related fatal crashes5, 6, 7. Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated 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 working8.


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1 Fell 2015 - Fell JC, Thomas S, Scherer M, Fisher DA, Romano E. Scoring the strengths and weaknesses of underage drinking laws in the United States. World Medical & Health Policy. 2015;7:28-58.

2 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.

3 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.

4 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.

5 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.

6 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.

7 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.

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