Last Updated on May 9, 2022 by Bill Allen
Montana Bar Laws
Whether you own a bar or restaurant, or you want to work in a bar or restaurant that serves alcohol, you should be clear on what Montana’s bar laws are so you’re not inadvertently breaking them.
Working in a Bar
If you want to be a bartender in Montana, the good news is you only need to be 18 to legally work in one. You do not have to be 21 to work in a bar or even a restaurant that sells alcohol.
At 18 you are allowed to work in any establishment that sells, distributes or serves alcoholic beverages. See 39-2-306 MCA. And there is no age limit to sell closed container alcohol, for example a store employee who is 16 can legally sell a 6-pack of unopened beer to a customer.
But this does not mean you are allowed to drink at any of these establishments. If you are under 21, you are not allowed to drink alcohol in any public place, regardless of who is giving you the alcohol. The only caveat to this is in a church for religious reasons.
Laws to Know as an Employee
There are very clear laws when dealing with consuming and selling alcohol in Montana bars and breweries. First I will go through laws you should know as an employee, then as a bar owner.
As an employee, regardless of you age, you are still responsible for your customer’s drinking limits. Meaning, you need to understand when the cut off point is for a customer and when you are personally liable for the customer’s actions if you continue to serve the customer.
1. Check ID if you are not 100% completely sure if the person you are serving is of legal drinking age. Even if your bar or restaurant has a bouncer, it is still the individual who actually hands the customer the drink’s responsibility to know they are of legal drinking age.
If you knowingly or “unknowingly” serve a minor, there are severe consequences including fines and community service and possible jail time. So take this seriously.
Here is a list of acceptable ID in the state of Montana;
- Current state or Canadian driver license or identification card
- Current armed service identification card
- Valid passport or passport card
- Montana temporary driver license and identification card
- Montana probationary driver license
2. It is legal for children to be in a bar, as long as they are not consuming any type of alcoholic beverage. This includes an 18 year old being given a drink by a parent or legal guardian. Although it is legal for them to give their child some alcohol in a private setting, it is never legal in a public one. A minor is never allowed to drink in any public place other than a church.
3. In order to legally work in a bar in Montana, you must go through responsible alcohol sales and service training. These trainings are state certified and are required by law for anyone who sells or serves alcohol regardless of age or position (servers). The training must be completed within 60 days of being hired. This training also needs to be updated every 3 years.
4. Note that all establishments serving alcohol in Montana must close between the hours of 2am to 8am. If you are open during these times you are breaking the law.
Laws to Know as an Employer
1. Understand that your staff need to be properly trained by a state certified responsible alcohol sales and service training program within 60 days of hiring them. It is up to the owner of the establishment to decide who will pay for the training, there is no obligation on either party. This also includes all types of liquor licenses.
Penalties for not following the law include a $50 penalty for the first offense, a $200 penalty for the second and a $350 penalty for the third offense in a three year period. There is no criminal penalty for the employee. And this does count against your license.
2. Never sell alcohol to a minor, under 21. Period. The consequences are serve whether you know the person is not of legal drinking age or not. In fact, according to Montana Revised Statute 27-1-710, you are responsible for any actions a minor commits once you have served them alcohol.
So if they had just one sip of beer at your bar, leave and get into a car wreak, you are responsible. And although by law a parent or legal guardian can serve their child some alcohol, this is still illegal in any public place including bars, whether it is a private party or not.
Here are the penalties for selling to a minor:
- 1st offense – $250.00 fine
- 2nd offense – $1000.00 fine
- 3rd offense – $1500.00 fine or 20 day suspension of license
3. Under the same revised statute, Montana Revised Statute 27-1-710, you can also be liable if you continue serving someone who is visibly intoxicated. It does seem counter intuitive as many people go to a bar to catch a buzz, but once you know that the person is truly intoxicated, if you continue to sell them alcohol and they go out and cause damage, you can be sued by the effected party and be held liable. And this doesn’t just need to be a car accident, even a bar brawl counts.
There are a lot more laws that you should understand clearly if you’re in the bar business in Montana. You can find additional help here at the Government Alcohol Control Board website.