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Seller & server minimum age

Health Factors: Alcohol & Drug Use
Decision Makers: Local Government State Government
Evidence Rating: Insufficient Evidence
Population Reach: 10-19% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: No impact on disparities likely

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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 beverages (Fell 2015).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes

Reduced underage drinking
Reduced alcohol-related crashes

Evidence of 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 21 (Forster 1994, Forster 1995) and to intoxicated patrons (Freisthler 2003). 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 age (Fell 2016, Scherer 2015); however, regulations that establish a minimum age for sellers and servers do not appear to affect alcohol-related fatal crashes (Fell 2016, Scherer 2015, Romano 2015). Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.


United States

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 working (APIS).


As of January 2016, Wisconsin requires sellers, servers, and bartenders to be 18 or older (APIS).

Citations - Description

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. Accessed on June 27, 2017

Citations - Evidence

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. Accessed on July 19, 2017
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. Accessed on June 27, 2017
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. Accessed on June 27, 2017
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. Accessed on June 27, 2017
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. Accessed on June 27, 2017
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. Accessed on June 27, 2017

Citations - Implementation

APIS - Alcohol Policy Information System (APIS). Welcome to the Alcohol Policy Information System. Accessed on June 27, 2017

Page Last Updated

June 22, 2017

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