Required alcohol server training course draws mixed feelings

Jon Kellogg serving at The Jesters Bar in Helena

Those selling alcohol in the state of Montana need to go through an alcohol server training course. The state has required such a course for about a year after a law was enacted by the 2011 Legislature.

The usefulness of the course has some mixed reviews.

Bartender Jon Kellogg took the state’s alcohol server training course soon after it became law to do so.

He’s quick to give his opinion.

“Did you learn anything from that?” I asked.


He’d only been working as a bartender for about six months before he took the course. He says he already knew the ropes.

“It was common sense and basic laws,” Kellogg said.

Lawmakers passed the law in 2011 to require anyone selling alcohol in the state be trained to comply with state law, particularly regarding sale to minors and to those who are already too intoxicated. The courses are operated at the County Level. In Lewis and Clark County, the organization Youth Connections facilitates the course, because of its work to limit alcohol sale to minors.

Organization Director Drenda Niemann says hundreds have taken the course offered once every two months in Helena over the last year.

It’s offered not only bartenders but to “individuals who work in a grocery store or convenience store setting–as well as a bar setting,” Niemann said.

She argues the course has been helpful, teaching new bartenders about the law and reinforcing the rules for long-time servers. Lewis and Clark County has been offering the course for five or six years and in that time she says underage drinking has gone down.

“We can’t attribute that to one thing, because we do a lot in our community to help prevent underage drinking,” she said, adding it probably helps though.

The course does have a curriculum set by the state. Local law enforcement assists in the instruction. But Niemann says the course does not have a strict schedule the whole time and instructors draw on the knowledge of veteran bartenders.

“It is definitely not a setup of instructors just speaking to or lecturing to the class, it’s definitely conversational and we learn from each other.”

Back at The Jesters Bar, that’s where bartender Jon Kellogg works, he’s serving to Jesse Athearn, who also got certified through the alcohol server program. Athearn pretty much has the same opinion as Kellogg about the training.

“‘If somebody’s really really drunk, don’t serve them,’ and they just beat that into your head. Every bartender on the world knows that.”

Athearn describes the $15 course as just another way for the government to get some of his money.

Across town at Van’s, a local grocery store, cashier Christel Dinges says the course did not help her personally, because she’s been doing this for awhile. Yet, she agrees with the program.

“Yes, it does help, the program does serve everybody actually,” she said.

She says even the people in her checkout line not buying alcohol are affected by how their cashier checks the IDs of the people who are buying it.

Youth Connections Director Drenda Niemann says these courses add confidence to those serving alcohol by recognizing them as professionals.

“We tell them during the class that Pharmacists go through years and years and years of schooling in order to administer drugs,” she said, “and really, alcohol is considered a drug and they’re going through a four hour course.”

A four hour course in a state with one of the highest alcohol-related fatality rates in the country.