Worker shortage cited as one reason to lower server age from 20 to 18


A bill that would lower the server age from 20 to 18 passed the House Licensing committee on Feb. 23. It now heads to the House for a full vote. 

Rep. Killian Timoney (R-Lexington) introduced House Bill 252, which would also allow beer distributors to hire those under the age of 20. Rep. Ed Massey (R-Hebron) co-sponsored the bill.

“The gist of this bill is to lower the server age from 20 to 18, and that’s one of the key provisions in this bill,” Timoney said. “The second key provision is it does, and the difference between the original bill and the committee sub is that it does allow beer wholesalers to employee people under the age of 20.” 

Scott Lindsey, vice president of Rafferty’s, also discussed the bill’s importance with the committee. Among the reasons he cited were that neighboring states allow 18-year-old servers, and the restaurant industry simply needs a larger pool of workers due to the worker shortage. 

“Neighboring states, such as Tennessee and Indiana, and in Tennessee, the serving age is 18,” Lindsey said. “In Indiana, it’s 19.” 

The serving age in Ohio is also 19.

Lindsey noted that a Rafferty’s in Tennesee employs eight people that live in Kentucky. They drive across the border because they are old enough to work as a server in the state. 

“In Indiana, we have several employees that come from Henderson, Kentucky to drive across and work at our restaurant in Indiana because they can serve at 19,” Lindsey said. “As with every industry, we’re having trouble finding people.” 

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Lindsey noted that for their restaurants in college towns, it would allow them to attract more students. 

“They’re going to college and waiting tables,” Lindsey said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be drinking any type of alcohol,”

In the alcohol distribution industry, they have also struggled to retain and hire employees, said David Stubblefield, the vice president, and general manager at Kentucky Eagle, a beer and wine wholesale distributor, who testified on behalf of the bill. 

“This opportunity to bring in 18 and 19-year-olds into entry-level positions would be a great help to us,” Stubblefield said. 

While the bill swiftly passed the committee, it didn’t come without disagreement over the bill. Gene Cole, the president of the Kentucky Ethics League, said the bill would make 18-year-olds think that if they can serve alcohol, they can drink it. 

“With this bill, we see the problem is more of a general issue like in the military everyone has heard ‘I can serve my country at 18, so why can’t I drink?'” Cole said. “I can serve alcohol at 18, so why can’t I drink?”