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Responsible Service Makes Sense, Happy Hour Bans Don’t

Responsible Service Makes Sense, Happy Hour Bans Don’t

New York Times

June 26, 2015

In the beginning of my career as a bartender, I worked in a solid establishment with great food and beverages that offered a happy hour. I appreciated it because it brought in clientele fairly early in the evening when bars are often quiet.

Annual certification in an alcohol management program should be required for all food and beverage employees, to keep customers safe.

During that hour, the average check was two drinks per person, and they frequently would order an appetizer. After it was over, some guests stayed on and ordered a meal. But more often than not, many of the guests made their way home without much fanfare.

Yet, happy hour or not, the one thing that I was always diligent about was serving water and frequently checking in with my guests to make sure that they were in good shape. One of the owners was always on-premise and frequently checked in at the bar to ensure all was going well. In general, offering food and water and frequent check-in’s with one’s patrons is not just a good preventative — at the core, it’s simply responsible hospitality.

At this point in my career as an bar owner, I can appreciate it for similar reasons. From a financial perspective, bars can often be fairly quiet places the first hour or two after opening. Now, when various states are considering a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour, a short selection of drinks offered at a slight discount can help to stimulate business and offset costs.

It’s a bit narrow minded to think that a happy hour ban is going to drastically reduce problems. An establishment that offers food can avoid happy hour restrictions by leaving their drinks at full-price and discounting their food instead. A guest can beat the system by simply patronizing a bar that offers inexpensive drinks during all of its hours of operations.

We should instead be addressing this issue at the core with responsible service. In lieu of happy hour bans, I’d like to see legislature that requires all food and beverage establishments to annually certify all employees who serve alcohol through an accredited alcohol management program. New hires should be put through the program before they start.

I’ve participated in a number of such certifications, and I require that my entire staff be certified. Every establishment has an obligation to ensure the safety of its guests at all times — not solely during happy hour.

Audrey Saunders is the owner of Pegu Club New York.