ServSafe Alcohol Primary and ServSafe Alcohol Advanced Study Guide for the ServSafe

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General Information

Whether you are preparing for the ServSafe Alcohol Primary or Advanced test, this study guide outlines what you need to know. Both exams contain only multiple-choice questions and either may be taken after completion of the ServSafe Alcohol coursework. Both exams cover four broad areas of alcohol service:

  • alcohol laws
  • intoxication
  • checking identification
  • dealing with difficult situations

The differences in the tests are mainly length and the required depth of knowledge. Here is a comparison of the two tests:

ServSafe Alcohol Primary

  • Number of questions: 40
  • Proctor required: no
  • Level of content tested: basic knowledge taken directly from the course material
  • Passing score: 75%

ServSafe Alcohol Advanced

  • Number of questions: 70
  • Proctor required: yes
  • Level of content tested: both within and outside of course material; encompasses the whole realm of alcohol service with many “situational”-type questions
  • Passing score: 80%

How to Study for Either Test

Being successful on either the Primary or Advanced test will require you to thoroughly know the most basic information and be able to apply it in questions, as the Advanced test contains basic questions as well as more complicated ones. So, for either test, be sure you really know the basics.

For the Advanced test, you’ll also need to know the more complex concepts and be able to take a given situation and apply them. Questions on the advanced test will require you to think outside of the basics, though, and material tested may not be explicitly covered in course materials. However, if you know the basics plus all of the more complicated material, you should be able to answer correctly.

This study guide provides a combination of really basic and more advanced concepts. Our Practice Questions for the ServSafe Alcohol Tests include 40 questions (the first 40) that could be expected on the Primary test and 30 more that could be seen on the Advanced test.

Alcohol and the Law

Alcohol sales can be a profitable part of the foodservice and hospitality industry, but serving alcohol requires a broad understanding of the server’s responsibility, alcohol laws, and the various costs improper service can have for an establishment.

The Costs of Irresponsible Alcohol Service

The costs of irresponsible alcohol service include actual physical harm as well as harm to the business itself. As a server, it’s important to be familiar with the ways in which improper alcohol service can affect your customers, your business, and yourself.

Human Costs

Irresponsible alcohol service can lead to physical harm, both minor and debilitating. In worst-case scenarios, irresponsible service may result in death.

Your establishment can suffer in the form of fines, lawsuits, and criminal charges. These legal costs affect the owner, managers, and the staff.

Business Costs

Irresponsible alcohol service can affect the establishment’s financial gain. Your liquor license could be temporarily suspended or permanently revoked. Your revenue could decline after a downturn in customers. Your insurance premiums might go up, or insurance on your establishment could become difficult to obtain.


Beyond the human, business, and legal costs of improperly serving alcohol is the personal liability. Breaking liquor laws can result in being liable, which means the individual serving the alcohol is legally responsible for what they do or don’t do if or when a situation occurs. This includes criminal, civil, and administrative liability.

Criminal Liability

Criminal liability can mean jail time, probation, or fines. Towns, cities, counties, and states have specific laws about alcohol service and staff must not break them. If these laws are broken, such as serving alcohol to someone underage or intoxicated, the server can be criminally liable. A server who breaks alcohol laws can be seen as someone who’s committed a crime.

Civil Liability

Civil liability includes lawsuits and compensation for anyone harmed by irresponsible service. If alcohol laws are broken and you contributed to harming a customer, or you didn’t prevent the harm from taking place, you could be sued for damages. Many states have dram shop laws, which are specific to alcohol sales and allow for someone who wasn’t even at your establishment to sue for damages if they are harmed, like an intoxicated person leaving your bar and killing someone in an auto accident. Dram shop laws mean the establishment, owner, manager, and staff can be sued for that death.

Administrative Liability

Each state and most municipalities have liquor authorities. They grant liquor licenses, help enforce liquor laws at the state and local level, and have the power to penalize businesses and staff members who break alcohol laws. These penalties fall under administrative liability and range from suspending or revoking liquor licenses or revoking a server’s right to serve alcohol to fining owners and employees.

Alcohol Service Laws

Liquor laws vary state to state. Town, city, and county laws vary as well, and are often stricter than state laws. You must familiarize yourself with the laws that apply to you and your establishment, and how those laws function.

Prevention of Underage Drinking

In most states, it’s illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase, possess, or consume alcohol, and it’s illegal to sell or give alcohol to anyone under 21. Here are some more things you should know:

  • This law also applies to passing a drink to anyone under 21, and in that case you should stop serving the person who passed the drink and remove any alcohol. However, in some states parents or guardians can pass alcohol to their underage children.

  • It’s also illegal to use a fake or altered ID, so IDs must be thoroughly inspected.

  • Some establishments require customers to be 21 to enter, or may set a minimum age above 21 to enter their bar area.

  • States may require servers to be at least 21 to serve alcohol, but some states allow for younger servers.

Serving Intoxicated Patrons

Customers who are already intoxicated and continue drinking can cause harm that may result in death.

  • When a customer is visibly intoxicated, some states have laws against selling them alcohol, which hold the business and server liable.

  • Most of these laws say that any person involved may be held liable, like a customer passing the intoxicated patron a drink. That customer can face legal repercussions.

  • Some places hold businesses and their staff liable if they serve a known alcoholic.

Other Alcohol Service Laws

Many states have additional alcohol service laws.

  • Drinking while working can hinder judgement and lead to bad decisions, so most companies have a policy against it.

  • Customers must not bring alcohol into the establishment unless allowed by law and your company policy.

  • Both customers and employees must not drink past the hours of service as outlined on the business’s liquor license and this should be strictly enforced.

Illegal Activities

You can be held liable if:

  • You knowingly allow gambling, prostitution, or other lewd behavior.

  • You allow drinking games and contests. These are illegal in most states, including beer pong and quarters, because games like this lead to intoxication.

  • You allow the possession, sale, or use of illegal drugs in your establishment.


You are held liable by state laws if you discriminate against customers due to race, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, or creed. You can’t refuse service to a pregnant individual as that is considered gender discrimination.


All Study Guides for the ServSafe are now available as downloadable PDFs