When does a bar or liquor store have to ID you for alcohol sales? What California law says

Bartenders and servers always have to ask for your ID when you order alcohol because it’s the law, right?

Well, not entirely.

The California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control states alcohol licensees should “ask for I.D. from anyone who appears youthful,” leaving plenty of room for interpretation — and bruised egos.

Devin Blankenship, a spokesperson from the department, said the only reference in California law regarding an ID check is California Business & Professions Code 25660.

When licensees ask to see someone’s ID to verify their age, this law only states that a consumer should provide bona fide identification.

“There is no specific California law that directly mandates the checking of identification when purchasing alcohol,” Blankenship said.

Can you use your passport to buy wine, beer and liquor?

Licensees have the legal right to refuse service to anyone who cannot show proof of their age, according to the California Alcohol Beverage Control website, because people do not have a legal right to buy alcohol.

In order to prevent illegal alcohol sales to minors, businesses and their staff should know what to look for when checking an ID.

A bona fide identificaition card should contain the following characteristics, according to the department’s website:

  • Issued by a government agency

  • Name of the person

  • Date of birth

  • Photograph

  • Physical description

  • Not expired

Examples of bona fide identification include:

  • California Real ID

  • Driver’s license

  • U.S. Military identification

  • U.S. and foreign passports with photograph

“It is all up to the licensees to set policies regarding selling to people 21 and over,” Blankenship said. “Licensees have the right to set any parameters of ID checking as they are not required to sell alcohol to anyone except on their terms.”

How do businesses choose when to ask for ID?

While the ABC’s website states businesses should ID those who appear “youthful,” Blankenship said licensees are the ones who officially decide when to ID in order to protect their alcohol license.

California Business & Professions Code 25658 states any person or business who sells or gives an alcoholic beverage to a minor can be guilty of a misdemeanor and receive a fine of $250.

Businesses can also have their licenses suspended or revoked for selling to minors or allowing them to consume alcohol on their property, according to the ABC’s website.

Mike Smith, a bartender from Bonn Lair at 3651 J St. in Sacramento, said the restaurant’s policy is to ID anyone they doubt is old enough to drink.

“If they look under 30, I usually ask for their driver’s license or some identification,” Smith said in a phone interview.

To ensure that the identification is valid, Smith said he checks to make sure it follows all of the characteristics of a bona fide identification.

“If [the ID] looks shady, I might ask them to verify their address,” Smith said.

If the customer cannot verify their own information on the ID, Smith said he does not serve them alcohol.

Roberto Ruiz, a salesperson from Bevmo at 1700 J St. in Sacramento, said the store policy used to require employees to ID everyone who wanted to purchase alcohol regardless of their age.

“That policy just ended,” Ruiz said in a phone interview. “Now, we have to ID anybody that looks under the age of 50.”

What do you want to know about life in Sacramento? Ask our service journalism team your top-of-mind questions in the module below or email servicejournalists@sacbee.com.