Can New York Learn from California’s Sweeping RBS Rollout?

California Sweeping RBS Rollout
Photo by Andrey Grodz on

A few short weeks ago, California rolled out its RBS program, requiring alcohol servers and managers in the state to successfully complete a training program and exam. It begs the question: Can New York learn from its “cousin from another coast”?

In this article, let’s examine the details: what is RBS, how does it promote safety, and does New York’s alcohol requirements need an update in the wake of California’s decision? 

What Is RBS? 

RBS stands for Responsible Beverage Service. Following the passage of Assembly Bill 1221, California passed the Responsible Beverage Service Training Act, aimed at teaching alcohol servers and managers how to serve alcohol on-premises and mitigate alcohol-related harm to communities responsibly. The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) created the program, and it went into effect on July 1st of 2022. 

Any server or manager working at an ABC licensee (that is, an establishment licensed to serve alcohol) must complete courses through ABC-accredited RBS training providers, then complete an exam, demonstrating that they understand the laws and impacts surrounding alcohol service. 

Servers and managers can take the training in the evening, from the comfort of their computer or mobile device, then pass the online ABC-administered RBS exam. (Pardon all the acronyms!).  

How RBS Helps Promote Safety – Inside and Out of Establishments

RBS is a fantastic way to tackle alcohol-related issues at the source. By requiring all liquor servers and managers to undergo rigorous training and education, the state hopes to alleviate several issues surrounding overservice and service to minors in California. Alcohol-related car accidents, violence, and personal injury are all avoidable, given a strong enough emphasis on patron stewardship and purveyor education. 

You can think of pharmacy as a good analogy. Pharmacists undergo training and education on the impacts, effects, and use cases of the various medications they dispense – the goal being to mitigate harm. 

Is There a New York Equivalent? 

Yes and no.

New York State does have an RBS counterpart called the Alcohol Training and Awareness Program (ATAP, for short), regulated by the New York State Liquor Authority. The critical difference is that New York’s program is voluntary, whereas California’s – as of July 1st – is mandatory. 

New York takes is more uninvolved regarding certification requirements. Bars and liquor service establishments can make the training a job requirement. But without a mandate in place, many don’t bother.  

For patrons in New York, this can be confusing. As you walk through the door of an establishment, it’s nearly impossible to tell whether you’re in a bar where training has been made a requirement. 

Can New York Learn from California’s RBS Training Programs? 

Yes, New York can and should learn from California’s RBS rollout. New York’s semi-formal system in place right now is fine, but it carries few penalties for non-compliance nor incentives for compliance. RBS Training is a straightforward, state-wide harm reduction strategy. California’s bars are still fun, still profitable, and still packed with patrons. Only now, those patrons can feel a little safer knowing that they – and everyone around them – are served by knowledgeable, trained individuals.

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