A recent article in the Orlando Sentinel raises the question of whether Orlando bars and restaurants – especially those in the area surrounding the University of Central Florida – can play a greater role in stopping underage drinking and driving.

We have provided below some helpful tips and resources that we hope local establishments and their employees will consider using. After all, we need servers of alcohol to be a part of the solution to what could be quickly becoming a serious traffic safety issue in Orlando and throughout Orange County.

Report Casts Light on ‘Spike’ in Underage DUI Arrests

According to the April 26 Orlando Sentinel report, 209 drivers under the age of 21 were arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in Orange County in 2013.

That arrest total marks a 48 percent increase from similar arrests in 2012, according to sheriff’s office records reported by the newspaper. More than 90 of those DUI arrests were made within two miles of the UCF campus, or more than twice as many as were recorded in 2012.

Law enforcement officials expressed little surprise at seeing the “spike” in underage DUI arrests in the UCF area in east Orange County. For instance, Chief Richard Beary of the UCF Police Department said the combination of more student housing and more bars in the area had simply created more of an opportunity for underage drinking.

With more than 48,000 students, UCF’s main campus is the nation’s second largest, just behind Arizona State, the Orlando Sentinel reports. As a result, many restaurants and bars are popping up to take advantage of business opportunities in the growing area, and they are catering to the younger crowd.

Are Bars Checking for Underage Drinkers?

Yolanda Larson, the executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving of Central Florida, described the increase in DUI arrests to the newspaper as being “a good thing” in the sense that they reflect increased law enforcement efforts.

However, in her comments, she suggested the need for a more comprehensive solution to the issue.

One aspect the article analyzed was whether bars in the area are doing enough to check for underage drinkers, including those who may slip through the door, use a fake ID or get someone else to buy drinks for them.

Two local bar managers – Ben Dennis of The Public House and Chad Biller of Knight Library – discussed their establishments’ approach to the issue.

Dennis said that any patron who enters his bar must be age 21 and insisted, “We’re not a college bar.” Biller said that his bar admits patrons between ages 18-20, but in order to consume alcohol, they must be age 21. Biller added that Knight Library bartenders “must attend an alcohol-training workshop” that the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco provides.

It’s important to note that bars or restaurants can face serious consequences if they serve alcohol to underage patrons who, in turn, drive away.

First, a bar could face a process that ultimately leads to the loss of its license to sell alcoholic beverages (and, presumably, the loss of its business).

Second, and perhaps most significantly, the bar could face liability if the minor causes an accident that injures or kills others. This is known as Florida’s “dram shop law.” The law also extends liability to establishments that knowingly furnish alcohol to those who are “habitually addicted” to alcoholic beverages.

How Bars Can Help Themselves (and the Community)

There are several online sources that provide advice on how to avoid serving alcohol to minors in bars and restaurants.

For instance, James Palinsad of 360training.com provides a few excellent, highly practical tips in his article, “A Bartender’s Guide to Underage Drinking.” As Palinsad points out in the piece, going through an alcohol seller certification course can help to sharpen one’s ability to detect underage patrons.

The Florida Responsible Vendor Act actually provides a solid incentive for bars, restaurants and stores across the state to require their managers and other employees to undergo such training, which would cover subjects such as:

  • A review of the laws governing the service of alcoholic beverages
  • Development of standard operating procedures for dealing with underage customers
  • Methods of assisting employees in dealing with underage customers and in maintaining records that relate to such incidents.

By completing the training as outlined in the Act and meeting other requirements, bars and restaurants can qualify as “responsible vendors” and may avoid suspension or revocation of their alcohol license based on an employee’s sale of alcohol to a minor.

Even if they do not participate in a formal training course, bars and restaurants in the UCF area could help themselves – and the community – by:

  • Rewarding employees who are diligent about checking IDs and identifying intoxicated customers.
  • Establishing guidelines for serving and drinking, including efforts to let patrons know about the dangers of drinking and driving and the availability of designated drivers and taxis.
  • Offering “happy hour” only around mealtime when people are likely to eat and be able to absorb the extra alcohol.
  • Cutting down on cheap drink nights when young people can spend a few dollars and drink all they want.
  • Building rapport with law enforcement and seeking help with identifying underage drinkers and over-intoxicated people.
  • Prohibiting employees from drinking on the job.
  • Establishing “last call” long before closing time and cutting down the total number of drinks a customer can order.

The college experience should be an enjoyable one. But underage drinking and driving too often leads to disaster – not fun. Nobody wants to see a young person arrested. Nobody wants to see a senseless automobile accident. We are hopeful that Orlando bars will take extra precautions to address this issue.


Frank M. Eidson P.A. has been tirelessly representing the rights of Central Florida victims since 1989.

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