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How to ask for ID without alienating young customers

By Tim Ogle , 28-Aug-2012
Last updated on 29-Aug-2012 at 10:27 GMT

Tim Ogle, European chief executive at customer intelligence company Market Force Information , outlines ways that pub, restaurant and hotel owners can educate their staff to best ask for ID when selling alcohol to young customers without alienating them.

It is vital for businesses to show due diligence in the sale of alcohol products and ensure that employees perform the necessary age verification checks to avoid the illegal selling of alcohol to under-18s. 

However, there is a crucial element that is often overlooked when selling age-restricted products in pubs and bars, and that is how staff ask customers for ID and how this makes their young customers feel.

A recent Market Force (Europe) survey of 1,506 UK consumers aged 18-21 found that: 

  • One in five young customers feel embarrassed and intimidated when entering locations where alcohol is sold and when asked for ID whilst purchasing it. 
  • Fifty per cent of young customers feel the way they are asked for ID directly affects their experience. 
  • One in three young customers will not return if an establishment leaves them with a negative impression. 

It is apparent that we are creating an uncomfortable experience for young people and must do more to ensure the age verification process does not put off potential customers. 

Hospitality business owners need only imagine how an 18-year-old entering the pub to buy a beer for the first time will feel, if met by doubt and suspicion from staff. Yet employees are wary of situations that pose a potential threat to their job, just as employers are fearful of under training staff in the importance of age verification checks.

So how can businesses educate staff in the best way to ask for ID, without making it embarrassing for them or the customer? 

  • Greet them with the same warm welcome you would extend to a loyal customer of 20 years. Young people form very quick impressions of businesses and there is a huge opportunity to create a good relationship with this age group instead of alienating them. Give consistent, good service now and you will create customers for life.
  • When asking ‘John’ if you can see his ID, do so in a friendly, non-accusatory manner. Be mindful of what his experience looks like from the other side of the bar. He may be on a first date and if you embarrass him in front of his prospective new girlfriend, you can be sure he won’t drop by again any time soon.
  • Be sensitive when checking ID. Apologise for any inconvenience and explain you are obliged by law to double-check date of birth. Make young customers feel they are on your side in protecting your business and are not being accused of attempting to purchase alcohol illegally.
  • If the customer shows signs of embarrassment or intimidation (such as failing to make eye contact, becoming defensive or aggressive), strive to convert this potentially negative customer experience into a positive one. Remain calm, keep the interaction light and friendly, reiterate that you have to ask for ID and apologise for any inconvenience.
  • Last but not least, if the customer cannot produce a valid ID, do not make the automatic assumption that they are under 18. This manner of thinking has contributed to one in three 18-21-year-olds stating they will not return to an establishment if they have a negative experience when being asked for ID. Apologise that you cannot serve them on this occasion and invite them to visit again with their ID, so they can enjoy a refreshing pint, tasty glass of wine or classic cocktail.