Semantics matter. As a writer and editor, I know word choice is crucial to conveying meaning, getting attention and evoking a response.
The phrase “tackling the anti-alcohol movement” in the title of a recent Cheers Roundtable Discussion evoked a powerful response among those invited to the session in September. Several jumped at the opportunity to participate in a proactive discussion of how to thwart the anti-alcohol movement by conveying this industry’s commitment to responsible service and consumption. Others expressed regret that they had previous obligations, and contributed questions to frame the discussion. They considered it a topic of vital importance.
The high level of interest came as no surprise, but the fact that some chain operator invitees were not permitted to attend did. The apparent sticking point was that phrase, “tackling the anti-alcohol movement.” Their companies wanted to maintain distance, saying that participating was ill-advised from a public relations standpoint.
Do these organizations have their heads in the proverbial sand? Do they not realize there is a movement afoot to snuff out a good portion of their beverage business? No. They’re active supporters of the American Beverage Institute and other industry groups dedicated to protecting their right to serve adult beverages. They’re well aware of the existence and efforts of the anti-alcohol movement.
Are they fearful of being construed as “pro-alcohol?” Perhaps. To be literal, these chains are pro-alcohol—they devote tremendous energy to product selection, drink development, merchandising, marketing and server training, with equal weight given to salesmanship and responsible service.
What they are not is pro-alcohol abuse (there’s that semantics issue again). These chains and this entire industry are strongly anti-drunk driving and antiunderage consumption. The hospitality industry as a whole would not support outlawing a glass of wine with dinner or a beer at the bar, which anti-alcohol proponents are working to accomplish, but it does support responsible service and consumption.
This distinction was made loud and clear during the roundtable, as was the need for partnership among all those involved in alcohol sales and service in this country. But if some companies don’t participate in any discussion of the topic, no progress will be made. To ensure the future of on-premise consumption, alcohol marketers and restaurant operators—even those leery of being near the topic—need to address the issues and sit down with representatives of M.A.D.D. and other anti-alcohol groups. Perhaps then we’ll realize we agree on a crucial detail: we’re all anti-alcohol abuse.
How’s that for semantics?