Liability of Serving Champagne

Do you include wine in romantic packages? What about welcome champagne? While these can greatly enhance the guests’ experience when done correctly, they can also provide a surprising liability issue for inns. For example, a guest consumes the glass of champagne and then has an automobile accident later that evening. Could your inn be held responsible? Or what if after drinking a glass of wine, the guest becomes violent toward another guest? Could your inn be liable for the other guest’s injuries?

To further complicate matters, the typical inn liability insurance policy does not always offer you the protection you need. “Liquor Liability” insurance has to be purchased separately or specifically requested as an addendum. This means that unless you have thought through the way you deliver alcohol to your guests, you may not have proper insurance coverage. If that is the case, and you are brought into a lawsuit because of an alcohol related injury, you may have to pay for your legal bills out of your savings.

Here are some steps the Inn experts at Merriam suggest to properly protect your inn.

  • Discuss with your liquor authority or local law enforcement what you are allowed to do as far as beverage service under your state and local laws. Different states and communities have different standards for who needs a liquor license. Being found non-compliant by state and local officials after the fact is a hassle no innkeeper needs.
  • Some communities have no issue if you give complimentary champagne/beer/wine, provided you make sure all guests are at least 21.
  • If you do provide alcoholic beverages, consider having the innkeeper serve the wine, as opposed to it being self-serve.
  • Have a list of written rules/protocol for who gets to receive the complimentary champagne. These should include: verifying age, not serving to anyone who appears already intoxicated, and limiting the number of drinks a person can receive.
  • If your romantic packages include wine bottles, consider buying directly from a local store and not charging a mark-up. Doing this helps the argument that you are not selling alcohol – merely picking it up for a guest as a favor.
  • Make sure you get confirmation in writing from your insurance company that they are comfortable with the way in which you provide incidental alcohol to guests, and that there would be protection from them in the event of an alcohol-related injury. When it comes to insurance, “It’s not real unless it’s in writing.”

Many of the inns who work with Merriam serve champagne and wine baskets in a way that is safe and enhances their guests’ experiences. If you are concerned you may not be taking the correct precautions for your inn, contact our expert Inn team today.

James Dick, CPCU, AAI