Could on-the-door breathalysing spell the end of pre-loading?
Source: The Spirits Business
by Annie Hayes
12th January, 2016
The latest weapon in the battle against alcohol-related antisocial behaviour in the UK involves breathalysing patrons at bar entrances. We explore the issues at hand.
As police crack down on alcohol-related misbehaviour across the UK, staff on the doors of select clubs and bars have recently had a new string added to their bow in the form of a handheld breathalyser.
The scheme is centred on tackling the increasingly popular phenomenon of “pre-loading”, whereby revellers – one in five of us, according to a recent report from Drinkaware – drink at home before venturing out on the town. The pilot has graced the doors of bars and cities across the UK, requiring door staff to breath-test anyone who “appears to be intoxicated”.
If the suspect registers at more than twice England’s legal drink-drive limit, which is currently 35 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath, they’ll be refused entry.
According to the police, people who are “excessively drunk” are more likely to be assaulted or get into trouble because their inhibitions have been lowered, therefore, by introducing the initiative, the opportunity for these incidents to occur is reduced.
This may be true, but with so many factors affecting an individual’s blood alcohol level – from weight, height and fitness level, to how recently you’ve eaten – it’s impossible to know whether you’ll register as over the limit or not unless you turn up sober. Still undergoing trials, the potential success of the scheme is largely unknown, but it has certainly split opinion across the industry, with varying levels of support from venue owners and punters alike.
One destination implementing the scheme is the coastal town of Brighton, home to “VIP superclub” Shooshh – the first venue in the area to adopt the policy. Albie Saliba, Shooshh manager, says the venue “strongly believes” in the initiative. “Hopefully it will help people to drink responsibly so they can enjoy their experiences within a safe, friendly environment.”
Sergeant Ben Hearth, from the Brighton and Hove police licensing team, backed Saliba’s message. “The vast majority of people have an enjoyable time without causing any trouble for themselves or others,” he adds. “However a number of people do drink excessively and then find themselves getting into arguments or fights that a more sober person may not. Drinking heavily also makes people vulnerable and increases their risk of becoming a victim of a crime.” Hearth is correct – a report by the Office for National Statistics found that 53% of violent incidents recorded in 2014 involving adults were alcohol-related. In addition, the proportion of violent incidents that were alcohol-related increased as the evening progressed – peaking at 84% between the hours of 12am and 6am.
Spokesman for nationwide pub chain JD Wetherspoon, Eddie Gershon, believes the scheme will boost the safety of venues. “It is important that our staff and customers work and enjoy themselves in safe and comfortable surroundings,” he explains. “The idea of breathalysing potential customers to see if they are over the limit seems a good idea.” Generally, all pub operators want to ensure that troublemakers are not given access to their pub, and the initiative will no doubt assist in this aim. “Wherever possible we are always pleased to take part in police initiatives, however we would only do so if we felt it was appropriate for the individual pub,” Gershon adds.
The safety benefits are clear, although sceptics highlight that ensuring people can only begin to drink once inside the venue, and not move onto another for fear of being breathalysed, is a moneymaking “goldmine” that is not exactly ethical business practice.
T Cole Newton, owner of Twelve Mile Limit in New Orleans, is concerned the practice, which he labels as separatist, may be implemented in the States if trials prove successful. “Having a drink or two while getting ready or waiting for your friends to come over is a perfectly normal way to start an evening,” he says. “Even if it is motivated by the savings, is that a problem? Not in my eyes. Creating a policy that ensures only people that can afford to drink in your bar all night are allowed to drink there at all reeks of elitism,” he argues.
That said, Cole appreciates there are benefits to the initiative: “One of the hardest things in the world is trying to convince a drunk person that they are drunk. Having concrete evidence could help bouncers be more effective in denying entry to guests who are clearly intoxicated.”
Of course its effectiveness hinges on the level of responsible service practiced behind the bar. There’s no use letting sober patrons into your establishment only to turn a blind eye as they down shot after shot in a bid to make up for lost drinking time. Furthermore, breathalysing could yield the opposite effect and encourage partygoers to indulge in illegal, and undetectable, substances to get their kicks instead.
Lately the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), a body which represents UK brewers and pub companies, has been working with the aforementioned alcohol education charity Drinkaware, to take a different approach. Rather than condemning patrons, the organisations have developed a series of posters for pubs, bars and clubs, to raise awareness of the regulations already in place to help venues handle any customer who they suspect may have had one too many, highlighting the laws on buying for, and selling to, people who are drunk.
Tom Aske, co-owner of London’s Worship Street Whistling Shop, believes this is the best way to operate. “Breathalysers can’t replace common sense and a good door policy. The manner in which individuals respond to alcohol varies drastically, and as such, entry should be based on their coherence, manner and courtesy rather than a standardised blood alcohol level.”
Just how efficient the pilot schemes have been in helping to curb alcohol-related violence will be revealed in due course, but for now, revellers thinking of enjoying a few drinks at home before hitting certain bars or clubs ought to be careful – because a G&T too many may see their night shut down before it has even begun.