One of the benefits of rounding fifty is the perspective it affords. Having eclipsed that age several years ago, I can honestly admit that all I know is there’ll be no Beatle reunion and the only constant is change. For those of us in the States involved in the food and beverage business, times they’re a changing.
One day last summer I sat in on a deposition of a bar owner in a liquor liability civil case. The matter hinged on whether the plaintiff could show that the liquor licensee, rather the bartender on-duty had acted negligently in over-serving a guest who subsequently caused an accident that resulted in injuries to innocent third parties.
I squirmed in my seat as the plaintiff’s attorney examined the restaurant owner about his bar’s drink pricing, portion sizes and happy hour promotions. Even the staff’s uniforms came into question. By the time the lawyer had finished grilling him about the risks inherent in serving alcohol in a crowded, under-staffed bar, the guy was nearly unintelligible. In the end the owner admitted that he would have no way of knowing whether the person had been over-served alcohol or not. The admission is all it took to sink the guy.
As society continues tightening restrictions on the consumption of alcohol, on-premise operators need to re-evaluate their pouring policies from a risk/reward perspective. Some of the practices permitted behind the bar in the past are now outdated and fraught with liability.
For example, the time has come to prohibit the service of “doubles.” Any way you look at it, doubles are more than twice as potent as a regularly prepared drink. Compounding the problem is that people typically consume doubles at about the same rate as they do regularly prepared drinks, which increases the rate the alcohol is absorbed in the bloodstream by a factor of two.
Now where is it written that beverage operators have to serve doubles? When a guest does request a double, a bartender need only respond that house policy now prohibits serving doubles, and then inquire if he or she would care for a regularly prepared drink.
Equally outdated is the practice of giving bartenders and servers a post-shift drink or allowing employees to drink at the bar when off-duty. It will prevent the bartenders from over-pouring, undercharging, or simply giving away free drinks to their co-workers, all natural temptations when serving alcohol to people with whom they work. The prohibition also reduces the possibility of employees becoming intoxicated at work, or leaving under the influence.
Another problematic area involves how spirits are portioned for drink making. In the United States, free pouring remains the most popular measuring technique with owners and bartenders alike. It involves dispensing liquor without the use of jiggers, relying rather on a bartender’s internal count or cadence to estimate the rate of flow. Free pouring is stylish, highly efficient, and requires minimal training for bartenders to attain proficiency.
From a liability standpoint though, free pouring is the riskiest and costliest measuring technique an operator can institute. The method makes it easy for bartenders to inadvertently or purposely over-portion liquor into drinks, a costly practice that both places the public at risk and greatly increases an operator’s exposure to alcohol-related liability.
Flair bartending notwithstanding, liquor control systems are a foreshadowing technology, a sign of things to come. Between the growing concern over DWI issues and steadily rising liquor costs, strict liquor control will more likely be the standard than the exception, and may even someday become a licensing requirement.
Lastly, complimentary drinks are a time-honored means of acknowledging regulars and contributing to the joy of special occasions, such as guests’ birthdays and anniversaries. Doing away with the tradition would be as wrong as mandating the use of Dixie cups.
On the other hand, indiscriminately doling out free cocktails suggests an operation has run amuck. Excessive comping is a costly practice that squashes sales and gratuities, spikes pour cost, and increases exposure to liability. Make sure that your policies clearly and accurately delineate the company’s position regarding complimentary drinks. Of course, the savvy thing to do is review the policies before they become an issue and read openly in court.