A Pamplin College of Business course this semester offers students the opportunity to gain a highly sought certification in responsible alcohol service.

“Alcohol is an integral part of the hospitality industry, and having our students trained and certified in safe and ethical alcohol policies is critical,” said Rick Perdue, head of Pamplin’s hospitality and tourism management department.

The initiative, Perdue said, is a result of recommendations from the department’s advisory board members, most of whom are industry professionals.

Students taking the Food and Beverage Management course, taught by hospitality and tourism management assistant professor Kimberly Mathe-Soulek, are instructed on the “Training in Intervention ProcedureS” program, known as TIPS.

TIPS is widely recognized as the leading education and training program for the responsible sale, service, and consumption of alcohol, said Mathe-Soulek, who is a certified TIPS trainer.

Alcoholic beverages typically provide restaurants and bars with their highest profit margins, Mathe-Soulek said. “As future hospitality professionals, students need to understand the importance of alcohol to business and — above all else — its impact on customer behavior and lives,” she said.

“When people serve alcohol, they are furnishing a desired service to the public, while also being in a position to monitor drinking behaviors and create an environment conducive to responsible drinking.

“The purpose of TIPS is to help our students create the kind of environment that promotes safety and responsibility wherever alcohol is sold, served, or consumed.”

More than that, she said, TIPS helps students develop customer interaction skills and knowledge. “It is a way for our students to better understand difficult customer service interactions, in particular, with those who have lost control of their inhibitions and judgment.”

The people serving alcohol, Mathe-Soulek said, are the logical starting point to change the behavioral patterns of those they serve.

“As owners and managers of bars and restaurants, we not only have a legal responsibility — which we thoroughly discuss in the class — but an ethical responsibility to our guests and to the community in which we operate.”

TIPS certifications “have high demand in the hospitality industry,” said Mathe-Soulek, who plans to become a master trainer (to train those interested in becoming TIPS trainers). “Colonial Williamsburg, for example, requires all their food and beverage staff to be TIPS certified to ensure the best and safest possible experience for their guests.”

The training program has drawn strong interest from students in her course, almost all of whom plan to take the certification exam. As a result of the program’s popularity, the department plans to implement a small fee for materials and the certification exam when the course is offered in fall 2014 and beyond.

Food and Beverage Management, a required course for all hospitality and tourism majors, is currently the only course where TIPS instruction is offered. “Ultimately, we hope to offer it as a training service throughout campus,” Perdue said.

Another required course, Purchasing, Production and Management, he added, offers training for ServSafe certification, which focuses on safe service and management of food.