Compliance Holiday season
Curbing holiday season excess
Cutting off an intoxicated patron is one way to prevent serving one too many. Compliance expert Sandy Yates shares other practical tips on how you can protect yourself from overservice-related fines and closures this holiday season
or many bars, restaurants and nightclubs, the lead up to Christmas and New Year’s is more than just an opportunity to provide patrons with a respite from the gloomy days of winter, it can mean the difference between an average year and an absolute boomer. More drinks, more fun, more tips, more profits… it’s the ultimate win-win situation. That is, until something goes wrong.
During the holiday season, many people adopt something of a ‘big night out’ mentality, where the expectation is that they’ll be drunk by evening’s end. Problem is, if they happen to ‘get drunk’ at your establishment, there’s a very strong chance you’ll be held at least partially, if not entirely responsible, for events that take place as a result of intoxication. The penalties of ‘overservice,’ or what the courts define as “sell, serve or supply any alcoholic beverage to a person who is, or appears to be intoxicated,” differ dramatically by province. For example, Quebec and Prince Edward Island, with first-offence penalties of $175 to $425 and $200 to $400 respectively, are far less punitive than Ontario where licensees can be closed down for seven to 45 days. In British Columbia, first offences result in a four- to sevenday closure and possibly a $5,000-$7,000 fine. These penalties, it’s worth noting, are simply for the offence of overservice, yet they pale in comparison to the liability you may face if these patrons come to or cause any harm while in their drunken state. It takes a certain amount of vigilance to walk the fine line between serving alcohol and serving too much alcohol and both owners and staff are required to master that tightrope on a daily basis. So, as the party bookings begin to roll in, you may want to keep in mind a few of these ideas to protect yourself from accusations of knowingly overserving: Staff meetings and training – your employees must follow the province’s responsible service policies but it’s your duty to ensure they are put into practice.
Compliance Holiday season Early intervention – enlist one staff member whose primary role is to observe and interact with patrons to determine their behaviour and intoxication levels. This way they can amiably suggest slowing down as well as letting bar staff and servers know who needs to back off the booze. Recommend premium, top-shelf brands as a ‘special occasion’ drink instead of doubles and high-alcohol mixes. Offer water and provide free soft drinks and/or snacks to slow down alcohol consumption. Encourage and promote the concept of designated drivers (DDs). Provide free soft drinks or even a free meal to all DDs. They can be your greatest asset in controlling the behaviour of their colleagues before things get out of hand. Be aware of issues specific to your venue. If late-night intoxication is a problem, consider a “no shooters or doubles” policy after 11pm. Ensure door staff is extra vigilant in determining a person’s state of intoxication, especially as the night wears on. Better to deal
with it at the door than to eject a feisty inebriate. If you are forced to deal with an unruly patron – calm is key. Professional and courteous beats authoritative or patronizing every time. If possible, engage the assistance of his/her friends by asking them to ‘slow things down a bit’. That way if you do have to remove the person, you’re less likely to meet resistance from the whole crowd. Avoid any promotions or activities that encourage rapid, excessive or irresponsible drinking – they are a surefire path to a closure or fine. While we all hope Christmas and New Year’s bring partygoers in droves, keep in mind that police and liquor enforcement is also heavily boosted at this time to cater for the increase in crowds and alcohol consumption. With a little strategic management, you can ensure your guests have a great time, indulge in some Christmas cheer and most importantly, stay safe.
Sandy Yates is a managing partner of BHARhouse Solutions, a solutions-based company providing clients with assistance and advocacy in the areas of liquor licensing, staff training, risk and crisis management and media relations
Multimillion-dollar mistake The Liquor Act in each provincial jurisdiction deems it an offence to serve intoxicated individuals, but the consequences of allowing patrons to get drunk or continue to drink while intoxicated are much more far-reaching than the penalties imposed by the province. While a lengthy closure or a significant fine is a major setback to any business, the outcome of litigation following an incident of overservice can be devastating. In March 2005, the B.C. Supreme Court found the owners of the Steveston Hotel in Richmond, B.C., to be 50 per cent liable in a civil case relating to a drunk-driving incident and its dire consequences. This is the largest portion of blame ever to be assigned against a pub in a drunk-driving civil suit in Canadian history. The damages were in the vicinity of $7 million. The events of the 1999 midsummer evening resulted in a patron of the pub driving off in his vehicle and ploughing into a crowd of youths gathered on the street nearby. Five people were injured, with one crashing through the windshield and another suffering brain damage and requiring permanent professional care.
The facts of the case indicate the driver was “grossly intoxicated,” yet was still being served alcohol at the bar until well after midnight. As he stumbled into the parking lot, he was met by an acquaintance who returned him to the pub, in an attempt to find a sober driver to take him home. She asked other patrons and bar staff to help find him a safe ride. Her requests were ignored, so the driver chose to drive himself as well as two intoxicated passengers. The fact that bar staff were notified of his condition and did nothing meant the hotel breached its duty of care. Staff was legally required to intervene and prevent him from driving. This negligence was the main cause for the judgment but the presiding judge was also strongly critical of the pub in the way it was operated, stating that the hotel “flagrantly ignored its responsibilities as a commercial host.” Permitting a patron to get drunk was its first mistake, allowing him to get in his car and drive was catastrophic. While this may seem like an extreme case, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility for any licensed establishment. It is also a stark reminder – prevention and due diligence is your best protection.