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Life in the United States being what it is, it's illegal of course to drink or buy alcohol if one is under 21. And of course it's required by vendors-of-alcohol to card those who look under 21. Some regions require carding of anyone who looks, say, under 25 or 30, "just in case", or the carding of folks who act young and in a way that indicates they may be trying to buy alcohol illegally. Each establishment has its own hard and fast rules. But many restaurants have their own unwritten code and are much more likely to card someone or not depending on what they order. So if you're old enough to drink and are carded, don’t take it personally--it could be just what you've asked for.

(Note that this write-up has no bearing on liquor stores, and is kind of invalid in bars/pubs. I'm only writing about restaurants on par with Chili's or nicer that stock a mostly full bar. It is also possible these 'rules' vary from region to region, but I've found them true in both Indiana and Texas.)

standard disclaimer: this node is not to help underage drinkers know what to order, or any other such reason. Just something I learned, through observation and discussion with the bartenders at work, and found interesting enough to pass on. What you do with this is Up To You (TM).

"Low Risk" drinks: reasons why :

Gin and tonic: very few young people order this drink.
cosmopolitan: most underagers aren't even aware this exists.
after-dinner liqueurs: such as Bailey's, amaretto, sambuca, and Frangelico. Many young drinkers just don't like the drinks, or know about them.
wine: IF you know what you're ordering. "a red wine" or "a white wine" indicates you're a novice, but a "house merlot" or a "pinot grigio" or a "dry white wine" or a "full-bodied red" indicate you know what you like.
Drinks where you name the brand, not the type: Bombay Sapphire and tonic gets you further than "gin and tonic", as does "grey goose martini" over just "a martini". Same idea as the wines, above.

"Medium Risk" drinks: reasons why :

martinis: similarly largely unknown like its cosmopolitan cousin, but more popular with a few young crowds so it's a midlevel drink.
long island iced tea: popular with some young drinkers because of its high alcohol content, but not well-liked by many.
coffee drinks: espresso drinks are not popular because espresso is an acquired taste, but on the flipside, frozen coffee drinks are quite popular among younger folks.
MOST mixed drinks: most mixers are fairly non-weighted. Ones with exotic cordials are less likely to get you carded, while very common ones, or ones with popular alcohols in them, are more likely to.

"High Risk" drinks: reasons why :

margarita, especially frozen. A very "trendy" drink among the college crowd, especially during spring break and summer seasons.
Jack and Coke: popular drink among college folks--large parties often lead to the acquired taste.
rum and coke: same reason. Inexpensive and palatable.
nearly ANY shot: younger drinkers stereotypically go for the 'get plastered quick' bit while older ones are content to enjoy something tastier.
most beer: should be self explanatory. Exceptions are beer-on-tap and unusual imported beers.
Mixed drinks/shots with suspect names: screaming orgasm or sex on the beach raise suspicions, since these sexually-themed drinks are very "in" with college students.

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