Monday, February 3, 2014

Day 267 - Taking a Responsible Beverage Service Training Course

I have never taken a responsible beverage server training course. To provide a little background, this course offered by many local academic institutions covers laws and proper conduct in the alcohol service industry. As a prerequisite to obtaining a bartender’s license in Wisconsin, the course is mandatory for anyone seeking to serve alcohol at any public location or event around the state. While I will admit I have absolutely no intention of moving into the service industry as a profession, I have always thought having a bartender’s license in a state like Wisconsin is a good accreditation to have on reserve should a person ever need it. As a result, I decided early in my “I have never...” year I would  take the time to obtain a bartender’s license for the first time, hoping I could put it to use at volunteer events, festivals, or other celebrations I encountered in the future.

Heading to class!
As the first step in completing that objective, I started researching potential opportunities to complete the necessary training several months ago. The effort showed that a once a month offering at the nearby Madison College campus was the only choice for anyone seeking to take the first step toward a bartender’s license. After some planning, a little creative scheduling and a cold weather delay I ultimately landed on a course being offered this evening as my choice date for taking my first ever responsible beverage service training course. In turn, I made my way to the Madison College campus this evening and prepared to tackle the latest learning experience in my “I have never...” journey.

Upon arriving at the designated classroom for tonight’s course, I was welcomed by my instructor for the evening who promptly directed me to find a workspace among the open tables in the classroom. In response, I moved toward the middle of the room and set myself before a thick yellow book with “Responsible Beverage Service in Wisconsin Course” scrawled across the front. A bit bewildered by its size, I almost immediately began flipping through the book after coming to rest in my chair. Stopping randomly as I flipped through the pages, I was stunned by the depth of the training material. With text covering everything from the process to determine the metabolism of alcohol in a person to civil and criminal liability under Wisconsin state law, it was clear the contents of the course were comprehensive. While that made sense given the seriousness of the subject matter, the breadth of considerations that any potential bartender must take into account was far greater than I anticipated. A bit overwhelmed at first sight of the course contents, the further I moved into the materials the more I realized tonight’s event was going to be a full educational experience. That prospect left me curious and excited just as our instructor took to the front of the room and brought the class into session.

This looks right...
After welcoming us to the class once again, our instructor, John, was quick to dive into the course book. Explaining his 15 year background in teaching the Responsible Beverage Service Training course, John quickly advised us not to feel intimidated by the length of the materials. “Instead,” he said, “I will be sure to give you the information you need to successfully complete the course, and I will give you some easy ways to remember it.” Pausing briefly he looked over the class before continuing. “What it comes down to is any responsible bartender knows the law, uses common sense, and looks out for everyone, not just their customers; everyone. Now, let’s learn a little bit and have some fun.”

As I looked around the room it was clear John’s message did not fall on deaf ears. With intent, he had set the tone for the course and relieved any concern over the length of the material with a single statement. From that, it was apparent John’s experience teaching the class would lend well to our learning as we dove deeper into the course content. Without delay, John made that assumption a reality as he guided us into the basics of Wisconsin alcohol laws and regulations.

Learnin' books
Over the next few hours, John rapidly progressed through the subject matter, providing everyone in the class essential information on responsible service. Although his pace was much faster than what I expected during the length of the course, John’s approach and comfort presenting the information made it easy to understand and retain. In fact, John’s method yielded very few questions from the body of students, and he used the answers he provided to the few questions that did surface as reinforcement to previously discussed topics and segues into other pertinent information. To my surprise, John’s process in presenting the material led us through the bulk of the bookwork in a little less than half of the scheduled course time. It was fast, but I had learned a great deal of information that I knew would stick with me well after the class ended.

In the final phase of the course, John walked us through a review of Wisconsin law, the science behind alcohol, and the responsibilities of any person acting as a bartender. Through class engagement, he walked us through an assessment of the knowledge we obtained throughout the course and gave us some final reminders to take with us into our future endeavors. “Just remember, your actions and decisions matter, “John concluded, “The safety of your customers and everyone out there is up to you.” The comment carried with it an air of importance that all of us in the room understood. The information John had presented during the length of the class was essential, but the lesson was critical.

With his closing remarks John thanked us all for attending the class and handed out the certificates of completion necessary to take the next step in obtaining a bartender’s license. As I gathered my things in preparation to bring today’s event to a close, I looked over my certificate and thought about the experience that came with tonight’s class. While I expected to learn some from attending my first responsible beverage service training course, I didn’t expect much beyond a typical classroom experience. Frankly, those expectations were wrong. Largely thanks to John’s approach and delivery, I gained a much more comprehensive and impacting outcome from today’s class than I ever anticipated, and the experience offered me the added benefit of gaining a deeper appreciation for the bartenders I encounter when I’m out on the town. What they do takes a lot of knowledge and enough courage to know when to say “You’ve had enough”, which is more than is expected from many people in a lot of other professions. Needless to say, today’s experience was a surprise, and I walked away with some great insight that was unexpected. To all the licensed bartenders out there, much respect. I look forward to joining your ranks in the near future.

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