Mandatory Identification Bar Checks: How Bouncers Are Doing Their Job

Article excerpt

In the United States, it is illegal to purchase alcohol if one is under the age 21. Still, issues related to the consumption of alcohol are considered by many as the most pressing problem among youth--especially on college campuses (Wechsler, Davenport, Dowdall, Moeykens, & Castillo, 1994). There are two primary outlets for alcohol sales. On site outlets, such as bars and restaurants, have alcohol for sale in the establishment while off site outlets market alcohol. Off site venues include liquor stores and other establishments that sell alcohol to the general public. Much past field research employs pseudo-patrons, "customers" sent into establishments by researchers or law enforcement officials to check compliance with the law; however, less field work aims to better understand how well bars comply with alcohol laws (Forster, McGovern, Wagenaar, Wolfson, Perry, & Anstine, 1994; Grube, 1997; Lewis, Paine-Andrews, Fawcett, Francisco, Richter, Coople, et al., 1996; Montgomery, Foley, & Wolfson, 2006; Preusser, Williams, & Weinstein, 1994; Wolfson, Toomey, Forster, Wagenaar, McGovern, & Perry, 1996). Our work, utilizing observational methods, explores how well bouncers enforce mandatory identification checks in bars.

Factors That Shape the Likelihood of Being Carded

Being "carded" is oftentimes used as a slang term for requesting identification from patrons ordering alcohol. McCall, Trombetta, and Nattrass (2002) emphasized the importance of the decision to request identification because of the consequences associated with making an error and allowing the purchase of alcohol by a minor. Besides personal, financial, and social consequences tied to the sale of alcohol to minors, establishments may lose their liquor license. Researchers have examined how the type of establishment, physical attractiveness of the customer, kind of items purchased and training programs shaped the likelihood of being asked for identification when buying alcohol. Lang, Lauer, and, Voas (1996) found that the venue type shaped the likelihood of being carded. Women were more likely to be carded in nightclubs; however, male customers were more likely to be carded in hotel bars. Wolfson et al. (1996) argued that bars in general were less likely to require customers to produce any type of identification compared to off site establishments like liquor stores. Preusser and Williams (1992) found that chain stores were more likely to ask customers for identification when purchasing alcohol compared to other retail establishments. Exploring how the physical attractiveness of a customer shaped the likelihood of being carded, McCall (1999) found that bartenders were less likely to ask for identification if the customer was physically attractive. Grube and Stewart (1999) found that purchasing behavior, specifically what one purchased along with alcohol, shaped the likelihood of being carded. When minors purchased alcohol, diapers, and bran cereal, they were less likely to be asked for identification than those who aimed to purchase alcohol with chips or candy. Notably, Howard-Pitney, Johnson, Altman, Hopkins, and Hammond (1991) found that employees who were trained by a responsible alcohol-service training program were no more likely to ask for identification from customers under the age of 30 than those establishments that had no training policy in effect.

Thombs, Olds, and Snyder (2003) argued that survey data, which often relies on self-reported information about drinking behavior, limits our understanding of this problem. Nevertheless, self-reported drinking behavior among minors remains high and contributes to health problems including alcohol-related accidents (NIAAA, 2002). Boyd and Faden (2002), Cooper (2002), and Dowdall and Wechsler (2002) maintain that it is important to develop field research designs that allow a different insight into actual behavior. Few studies have examined the prevalence of identification checks at bars-- one option for the on site sale of alcohol. …