Responsible alcohol service and management

Protect your liquor licence – serve alcohol responsibly

If you’re a liquor licence holder, your licence is probably a critical business tool for you. If your liquor licence is taken away, your business would probably fold, unless alcohol sales makes up a very small proportion of your turnover. What do you need to do to ensure you carry out responsible alcohol service  and never put your licence in jeopardy?

The responsibility for the liquor licence does not rest solely with the business owner. All members of staff within licensed premises need to understand their role in the responsible service and management of alcohol. However, the buck stops with the licence holder, so it’s important that they ensure all staff are trained and aware of their duties, and have the right attitude to support the business owner in upholding the licensing criteria. This applies whether the outlet is an on-consumption licensed business (e.g., a restaurant), or an off-consumption licensed business (e.g., a liquor store). 

Legal responsibilities

What must a licence holder do to comply with national and provincial laws surrounding sale of alcohol? In serving and managing the sale of alcohol, a licence holder plays a number of roles. They are:  

  • A “police officer”, ensuring no one breaks any laws
  • A salesperson, knowledgeable about the products they sell
  • A cleaner, keeping premises clean and tidy (not always an easy job when customers consume alcohol!)
  • A good host, creating a friendly and welcoming atmosphere
  • A safety officer, always concerned about the wellbeing of customers and reducing any risks

Alcohol can cause harm if misused. Therefore, it must be sold in a way that minimises any potential abuse. The licence holder must be aware of the nature of the customer, the quantity of alcohol being purchased, and ultimately the wellbeing of the customer.

Liquor licensing legislation governs the sale of alcohol. It defines who can sell alcohol, when, where and to whom. The purpose of the legislation is to protect the general public from disruption to public order or risk to public health. 

Trading hours

There are often restrictions on the days and hours when alcohol can be sold. It is illegal to sell alcohol outside the time specified by legislation. The Western Cape Liquor Act 4 of 2008 states that the authority to regulate the trading days and hours for the sale of liquor falls under the jurisdiction of the municipality where the premises are located. The hours may differ depending on the type of licence, so the licence holder must ensure compliance with the time during which the business is allowed to sell alcohol. 

Age and other restrictions

In South Africa it is forbidden to sell alcohol to any person under the age of 18 years. The licence holder is responsible for confirming the age of the person being served. Breaking this law may result in a fine and/or a prison sentence. It is also likely to result in the loss of the liquor licence.

However, responsible alcohol management extends beyond checking the age of the customer. Serving alcohol to a person who is already intoxicated is an offence. Once drinkers have consumed sufficient alcohol to display signs of intoxication, their normal judgement is impaired. Therefore, it is up to the server, not the customer, to decide whether or not more alcohol should be served. Breaking this law could result in fines, warnings, loss of the liquor licence, or imprisonment.

In summary

To ensure responsible alcohol service and management, the licence holder should always:  

  • Be familiar with the applicable liquor legislation for their business 
  • Be familiar with the applicable trading days and hours for their business 
  • Refuse to sell alcohol to any person under the age of 18 years, checking valid identification if in doubt 
  • Be familiar with the applicable conditions pertaining to the sale of alcohol to intoxicated persons 
  • Be familiar with the penalties that apply to the liquor legislation relevant to their business
  • Display information or other materials to discourage drinking and driving

Get legal help with your liquor licence application here.  


The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. Simon Dippenaar & Associates takes no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.