Lower minimum age for servers of alcoholic beverages now boosting job opportunities, restaurant group says

DOVER — When it comes to hiring for their soon-to-open Camden location Grotto Pizza will likely be taking into account a recently passed law that lowers the age restriction for wait staffers serving alcohol.

“We’re excited about the opportunity it presents for employees to work certain shifts and positions,” said Vinnie DiNatale, Grotto Pizza’s director of marketing. “Right now we’re hiring for the new Camden location and have over 50 applications and I’m sure we’ll have 18-year-olds among them,” he said.

Employing several hundred servers across their 16 Delaware locations Grotto Pizza is only one of many employers in the state that stand to benefit from the new law.

House Bill 365 was signed into law on July 17 after coasting through both the State Senate and House of Representatives with zero “no” votes.

Server Shannon McCoy places a large pepperoni pie on a table at Grotto Pizza in Dover. Grotto is only one of many employers in the state to benefit from the new law that lowers the minimum age for wait staff to serve alcoholic beverages.

The law lowers the age of persons permitted to serve alcoholic beverages from 19 to 18 years of age for all establishments licensed for the on-premises sale and consumption of alcoholic liquor — except taverns and taprooms.

The Delaware Restaurant Association, which strongly supported the bill, said it had bipartisan support because it benefits employers and potential employees alike.

“Any type of change we can make to encourage more teenagers to work and more employers to hire them is a positive thing,” said association president Carrie Leishman.

“Studies show when teens gain early work experience they’re more successful later in life. Whenever there’s an easy sort of job creating bill, it’s more likely to get bipartisan support. We had no problem working with republicans and democrats on it.”

According to the association, the new law only enables 18-year-olds to serve already opened alcohol, meaning that opening and pouring the alcohol must still be done by people 21 and older.

The bill was sponsored by House Speaker Peter Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, and co-sponsored by Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes. For his part, Rep. Schwartzkopf believed the previous restriction was an unnecessary barrier to the restaurant industry.

“The requirement that you could be 18 and a server at a restaurant but not serve alcohol until you’re 19 was an arbitrary law that prevented young people from being able to work in certain areas of the restaurant industry,” he said in a statement.

Ms. Leishman said restaurants in Sussex County near the beach will be the first to feel the affect as their demand for servers rises during the summer.

“I think it affects the beach restaurants the most at this point, but I think we’ll start to hear more from the northern restaurants too when they do more hiring around the holidays and in the fall,” she said.

According to the Delaware Restaurant Association, the state’s restaurant industry currently employs nearly 50,000 people, roughly 10 percent of the state’s workforce. The association noted restaurant jobs are first jobs for 1 in 3 Americans.

The association also says the hospitality industry is the largest component of Delaware’s tourism industry. Moreover, demand swells at the beach each summer to the point where over 6,000 additional jobs are created for seasonal workers.

According to National Restaurant Association data, Delaware routinely see a seasonal workforce increase of more than 17 percent — one of the nation’s highest in available job opportunities.

Ms. Leishman believes the new law will help prevent 18-year-olds from commuting or moving to neighboring states for work as servers.

“We want more of our teenagers to work and want them here in our Delaware restaurants,” she said. “We want to help our industry grown and hand on to our own homegrown talent.”

The association is hopeful that the new legislation will offer more opportunities specifically for students that are trained Delaware’s ProStart Program.

“It can help support the program because it focuses on culinary skills, hospitality and management,” said Ms. Leishman. “When we have students in their last year of high school studying hospitality management but they can’t get a job serving and gaining that experience, it’s not good for the program or the student.”

The ProStart program, currently reaches over 3,000 Delaware high school students. According to a recent association survey of the ProStart program’s juniors and seniors, only 53 percent are currently employed, with over two-thirds employed by the hospitality industry.

Legislators and stakeholders are hopeful that those numbers will rise in the wake of the recent deregulation.


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