TIAO Member of the Month: Smart Serve Ontario

We’re featuring a special TIAO Member each month to share with the #TourismFamily what they do, and how they connect with TIAO. Learn something new about your tourism industry colleagues, and the value of a TIAO Membership!

Member of the Month: Smart Serve Ontario 

This month we spoke with Richard Anderson, Executive Director at Smart Serve Ontario, to learn more about how Smart Serve is advocating for a safer and healthier Ontario. 

Please note that this interview has been edited for clarity.

Tell us about your organization and its role within Ontario’s tourism industry.

“Smart Serve Ontario was established in 1995, and is recognized across Canada as a premier program. Our program is authorized by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) as the sole provider of the Responsible Alcohol Beverage Sales & Service Training Program.”

“We have a staff of 11 and we manage the program that currently trains approximately 100,000 people a year, and certainly with the modernization of services in Ontario, those numbers will likely go up.”

“The program is part of the curriculum across most school boards in Ontario. We have also built the Smart Serve program into the curriculum at a lot of colleges and universities across Ontario that have hospitality, culinary, or tourism programs.”

“As a charitable organization, we take the proceeds from the sale of our program and we support charitable causes through bursaries and scholarships at 22 different colleges and universities. We also have a division called ‘DrinkSmart’, which is specifically focused on campuses to address the issue of binge drinking and educate students on proper consumption.”

“As we’re approaching our twenty fifth anniversary next year, it’s worthy to note that Smart Serve’s price point hasn’t changed since its inception. It was $34.95 when the program launched and it’s still the same today - we’re committed to always keeping it at that level. Even when the government began selling alcohol in grocery stores, we provided the retail component of our program free to current Smart Serve trained people. This is a continuous example of our commitment to support training.” 

Role Within Ontario’s Tourism Industry:

“We see clearly with changes in regulations, that there’s an even greater need to be aware of service issues and be aware of the various challenges that are attached with serving alcohol. With tourism, alcohol is a key component to it, and we know about the social challenges attached to alcohol [such as health issues], but at the end of the day front line service providers have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders and we want to ensure that they are prepared, aware, and knowledgeable of what their role is in serving alcohol.”

“We know that liability today is a big challenge for anyone that sells or serves alcohol, so we want to continue to educate them. We know that when it comes to the tourism industry, good, and fun times is attached, and we believe that there is a really good balance between the social responsibility and enjoyment factor. Though educating people in safe and responsible service, we support the industry in ensuring that their customers have a good time.”


How long have you been a TIAO Member and why did you join?

Smart Serve has been a TIAO Member since November 2010. 

“I have been with Smart Serve for two years, and when I first joined I had the opportunity to review our partnerships and look at the ones that made sense. There was no question that being partnered with an organization like TIAO – one that is very welcoming and supportive, great at connecting me to our partners to help them navigate regulations [most recently cannabis regulation changes] was beneficial to Smart Serve.”


How has being a member of TIAO provided value for your organization?

“Through being a TIAO Member, I’ve had the opportunity to attend a lobby day [Tourism Day at Queen’s Park], which was new for me and allowed me to learn a great deal.”

“Since education is a huge focus to what we do, TIAO helps support getting us into some of the more rural markets that maybe don’t always hear our message but can hear TIAO’s message, so it’s important to be attached there.”


If you had to give one piece of advice to someone that wanted to get involved in advocacy, what would you recommend?

“I would say that there is a lot of people that don’t believe that advocacy works and I can say first-hand in my connection to TIAO and lobby days, that your voice really does make a difference. Don’t believe that your one voice can’t make a difference, because you can and you can do this by being involved with an organization like TIAO.”


What’s your favourite thing about TIAO and why?

Richard pointed to the connections that TIAO provides as his favourite thing about TIAO.

“TIAO Members are directly the clients that use our program, that deal with liability issues, that sell, serve, and handle, so it’s the right place for us to be to have direct conversations with our ‘client’ to understand their concerns and for us to understand how to best support them.”

“There are really supportive and knowledgeable people in this industry, that all understand Smart Serve and the impact that it has on their organization. Something that we have learned, is that knowledge of Smart Serve, and the responsibility to take that training program is very high in Ontario.”


What are you working on right now?

Online Proctoring:

“We’re the only Canadian online alcohol training program that does proctoring. One of the changes we are making to our in-class facilitated courses is the requirement to complete a paper test. We would like to filter them through the online proctored test. This will ensure that everyone is meeting the same levels of standards and we can ensure that they get certified a lot quicker.”

Importance of Re-Certification:

“We have always been a strong believer that re-certification is very important in Ontario. When we do a scan of Canada, most certifications require re-training. We continue to work with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) and the government, and we’re hopefully that they support our view that re-certification is important. We see that on the horizon to support responsible service.”

Refreshed Program:

“There is no question that this has been a main focus of our organization – it has been a 2+ year journey in working with our partners, coordinating the updated information, getting updated information from government [such as new cannabis regulations], and when you put that all together, it was time for an update of our program.”

Learn more about the Smart Serve Ontario training program: SmartServe.ca


“DrinkSmart is a program operated by Smart Serve Ontario that is expected to be on over 25 campuses in Ontario this year. DrinkSmart’s goal is to build partnerships with every post-secondary institution across Ontario.”

“DrinkSmart implements awareness campaigns as it relates to responsible drinking on campus and provides a toolkit to partners, the schools that we work with [including TIAO Members Centennial College, Conestoga College, and Humber College], to engage with students. The engagement piece is really about educating students and giving them simple tips [on things like what a standard drink is] that they can use if they are partaking in drinking alcohol.”

“DrinkSmart’s organic messaging is actually developed for students by students. We work with students through their co-op placements to develop messaging that are brought to campuses.”

Click here to discover more about DrinkSmart.


Thank you to Richard for explaining Smart Serve Ontario’s role in the Ontario tourism industry, for sharing support for TIAO, and for being our member of the month for July!