The RSA Course: Refusing Service - A Delicate But Necessary Skill

Serving alcohol responsibly demands a broad skill set that includes knowing precisely when to say no

drunk man sleeping on counter with glass of whiskey in hand
November 20, 2023

Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) has been part of Australian law since 1830, when New South Wales introduced the Publicans Licensing Acts Consolidation Act. Although much has changed in the last 190 years, the principles set out by this legislation live on today through current regulations.

Australia’s RSA guidelines continue to have a significant impact on consumers and those that serve them. Unless steps are taken to implement responsible service standards, there is an increased risk of patrons experiencing physical harm, which, in turn, can result in financial penalties for the establishment serving them. 

Throughout Australia, RSA certification is required in order to serve alcohol in a commercial setting. While the enforcement of these regulations may vary slightly in each state or territory, the overarching requirement remains the same – compliance is essential.

RSA training is the best route to certification, and among the key elements in the RSA course covered by the Australian Institute of Food Safety (AIFS) is the art of refusing service – something that requires empathy and professionalism in equal measure.

In this blog, we’ll discuss the importance of responsible service and RSA training while focusing on the specific knowledge and skills required in order to refuse service in a sensitive manner.

The Importance of Responsible Service

Responsible alcohol service extends beyond legal compliance; it promotes customer safety and welfare. By encouraging responsible alcohol consumption, you enable your customers to have a good time without jeopardising the wellbeing of themselves or others, creating a win-win scenario for you and your patrons.

The RSA Course

Before we take a closer look at the delicate art of refusing service, let’s explore the wider impact of RSA training and legal compliance.

Understanding the legal landscape is pivotal when it comes to responsible alcohol service, and RSA training offers valuable guidance when it comes to laws and regulations. 

The RSA course provided by AIFS equips students with the knowledge and skills necessary to meet legal obligations while providing outstanding service. It's not just about compliance; it's about creating an environment where everyone can enjoy alcohol responsibly.

The Art of Refusing Service

Beyond the act of pouring drinks, serving alcohol responsibly demands a broad skill set that includes knowing precisely when to say no. As a hospitality professional, you will undoubtedly encounter situations where refusing service isn't a choice but an ethical responsibility. From identifying signs of intoxication to recognising underage patrons, your ability to navigate these scenarios can significantly impact the safety of both customers and the community at large.

Refusing service can be a challenging task. The best strategy is to remain professional and take a methodical approach based on techniques you learn from the RSA course. This will ensure that the right course of action is taken. 

When evaluating your options, consider the following RSA principles:

  • Signs of intoxication: Recognise when a customer has had enough.
  • Handling challenging situations: Employ strategies for dealing with difficult customers with an emphasis on communication and de-escalation techniques.
  • Laws and regulations: Accurately interpret the legal requirements regarding age verification, serving hours, intoxication limits and the legal consequences of non-compliance
  • Importance of responsible alcohol service: Consider the broader impact of your role on public safety, community wellbeing, and the industry's reputation.

Signs of Intoxication

A primary focus of RSA training is to develop your ability to identify signs of intoxication. These may include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Unsteady movements
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Bloodshot eyes

By recognising these indicators early on, you can take proactive steps to ensure the safety of the individual and those around them; this might involve refusing to serve them more alcohol.

Handling Challenging Situations

Dealing with challenging customers is an inevitable part of working in hospitality. The RSA course provides practical tips for handling such situations, with an emphasis on communication and de-escalation techniques. Remember, refusing service doesn't have to be confrontational; it can be a diplomatic and firm decision made in the best interest of all parties involved.

Laws and Regulations

The legal aspects of alcohol service are wide ranging and can vary from one jurisdiction to another. Your RSA training ensures that you have a firm understanding of regulations concerning the following:

  • Age Verification

Discover techniques for identifying fake IDs and verifying a customer's age before serving them.

  • Serving Hours

Know your legal hours of service and be prepared to relay this information to customers when necessary.

  • Intoxication Limits

Learn how to calculate a customer's Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) and understand the legal limits associated with it (e.g. drink driving laws).

  • Legal Consequences of Non-Compliance

Understand the law and reiterate your legal responsibilities to customers when refusing service.

Being informed is your best protection against legal complications and is essential for creating a safe and responsible drinking environment. It’s also easier for you to refuse service if you have a legal reason for doing so.

Refusing Service In Real Life

Case Study 1: Intoxicated Customer

Ryan is a bartender at a bustling nightclub in Sydney. One evening, he notices a patron slumped on the bar, exhibiting clear signs of intoxication. Shortly after making this observation the bartender is abruptly called over by the customer, who then slurs his words as he requests another beer.

Instead of serving the customer his drink right away, Ryan decides to uphold the principles of responsible alcohol service he learned from the RSA course he participated in a few weeks before.

Approaching the situation with tact and professionalism, Ryan politely addresses the visibly intoxicated customer, expressing genuine concern for their wellbeing. Understanding the importance of preventing further intoxication, he makes the decision to refuse further alcohol service to the individual.

Rather than leaving them without support, Ryan offers the customer a non-alcoholic beverage and encourages them to take a break and enjoy a more comfortable space away from the bar. This approach not only helps to mitigate potential disturbances but also prioritises the welfare of both the intoxicated individual and other patrons.

This case highlights the practical application of the skills acquired through the RSA training and shows that responsible alcohol service extends beyond legal compliance. It underlines the significance of creating a culture within the hospitality industry that values the wellbeing of patrons over immediate profits, demonstrating a commitment to creating a safe and enjoyable environment for all.

This proactive stance not only aligns with legal requirements but also reinforces the establishment's dedication to social responsibility and the promotion of a culture that prioritises the health and safety of its customers.

Case Study 2: Underage Customer

Selena is a waitress at a popular pub in Brisbane. She is working her usual Saturday night shift when a young woman approaches the bar to order a glass of wine. Selena asks to see the customer’s ID. 

After taking a close look, she notices that the customer’s face doesn’t really resemble the photograph on the driver’s licence provided. Selena suspects that the customer has borrowed it from an older friend or relative.

Recalling a technique from her RSA training, Selena decides to ask the young woman what her star sign is – her answer doesn't align with the birth date listed on the licence. Subsequently, Selena politely explains to the customer that she is not going to serve her alcohol as she is unable to verify her age as required by law.

This case highlights the importance of RSA training in teaching hospitality staff simple techniques for verifying a customer’s age without causing confrontation.

Societal Benefits of Responsible Alcohol Service

Beyond individual scenarios, the impact of responsible alcohol service can be felt across society:

  • Reduced Alcohol-Related Incidents

By refusing service when necessary, establishments contribute to a decrease in alcohol-related incidents, fostering a safer environment for patrons and the community as a whole.

  • Positive Industry Reputation

Businesses that prioritise responsible alcohol service can build a positive reputation within the community, attracting more responsible customers and contributing to the overall success of the industry.

  • Healthier Communities

Responsible alcohol service plays a role in creating healthier communities by minimising the negative consequences of underage drinking and excessive alcohol consumption.

Take Responsibility with RSA Training

Knowing when to refuse service is just one of the many valuable skills that can be developed through RSA training.

The Australian Institute for Food Safety provides comprehensive RSA training that empowers alcohol servers to confidently uphold responsible service practices in accordance with the law.

Key elements of the RSA course include:

  • Legal Compliance

Learn about the legal requirements regarding alcohol service and stay on the right side of the law.

  • Risk Assessment

Understand the risks associated with alcohol service, such as overconsumption and underage drinking.

  • Communication Skills

Discover effective communication and conflict resolution techniques for dealing with customers in challenging situations.

  • Preventing Underage Drinking

Learn how to identify fake IDs and verify the age of customers.

  • Refusal Techniques

Know when and how to refuse service.

  • Alcohol Content Knowledge

Understand the alcohol content of various beverages in order to make informed decisions when serving customers that may already be intoxicated.

Remember, your role goes beyond simply serving drinks – it's about ensuring the safety and wellbeing of your patrons and the community. Embrace the responsibility, and master the art of responsible alcohol service.

By enrolling with the Australian Institute of Food Safety’s RSA training program, you’ll be opening the gateway to the knowledge and skills you need in order to navigate the challenges that come with responsible alcohol service.

Register with AIFS today and take the next step on your path to RSA certification. Want to find out more before enrolling? Contact us and discover all the benefits of the RSA course.