Bar staff to be banned from asking 'Same again?' in drinks crackdown

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FIRST smokers were told to stub it out. Then happy hours were deemed out of order. But now – in perhaps the greatest assault yet on Scotland's traditional pub culture – bar staff are being told to stop asking patrons if they'd like "the same again".

The move is the result of new licensing laws coming into force next Tuesday to clamp down on "irresponsible promotions".

In measures described last night as "arrant nonsense", some training companies preparing staff for the new laws have warned the traditional prompt may be deemed irresponsible.

Instead, bar staff are being advised it would be better simply to ask "what would you like?", or "what can I do for you?"

It is also understood that trainers are telling staff that if a drinker is looking for a refill, he should be given a glass of water.

Bars and restaurants are being warned that offers such as "buy two glasses of wine and get the rest of the bottle free" should not be displayed. They have also been warned that they should not offer free drinks to customers, perhaps because they have waited too long for a meal, it is understood.

Licensees warned there was utter confusion about how the new laws should be interpreted when the 2005 Licensing Act comes into force on Tuesday, making it illegal for pubs to provide Happy Hours or offer buy-one-get-one-free offers. Bar staff all have to attend training programmes, teaching them about how to serve alcohol.

Training firms appear to be providing wildly different interpretations of what constitutes an irresponsible promotion. The Act classes it as anything which "encourages, or seeks to encourage, a person to buy or consume a larger measure of alcohol than the person had otherwise intended to buy or consume".

Steve Carr, of Personal Licence Scotland, said his firm was one of those that had been advising staff not to ask "same again?" The company has held courses in recent weeks across the country, in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness, Stirling and St Andrews.

Mr Carr said: "The whole idea is to try to curb excessive drinking. What a lot of people could say is not "same again?", but "what would you like?" or " what can we do for you?"

He added: "If you say "same again?" all you are asking is for that person is to nod their head. It's a leading question."

However, another trainer said he had interpreted the law differently. Eddie Tobin, of Security Scotland, said: "There is nothing in the training programme that requires this to be done. Personally, we would never suggest this. It isn't required at all."

But he added: "It is true that the Act is open to interpretation in a number of areas."

Conservative justice spokesman Bill Aitken said: "This is absolute arrant nonsense. People should be treated as adults and not in this patronising manner. Do they actually think that this approach is going to change people's drinking habits?"

Labour councillor Ian Murray, who runs a pub in Edinburgh, added: "On the whole I welcome this legislation, because we and many others run a very tight ship, and it's those who don't who have got us to this position. But training courses telling staff not to offer someone who's had half a lager and lime another one is ludicrous."

It has emerged that some Scottish Licensing Boards may opt to interpret the laws on irresponsible promotions so that they also apply to off-sales premises.

However, the Scottish Government and local authorities have offered no further advice.

LICENSING CHANGES'BIGGEST IN 30 YEARS'

THE Licensing Act 2005 has been described as the biggest change in Scotland's licensing laws in 30 years.

For the public, the main aim is to give people more say over the siting of pubs and bars in their areas, with more powers handed to local boards. New Licensing Forums will be set up to check up on any problems with licensed premises.

The Act is also aimed at tightening up on irresponsible drink promotions, such as happy hours, or free drink offers designed to tempt people into bars and pubs. For most people, the biggest impact may be felt at their supermarket. Anyone trying to buy a bottle of wine at their supermarket early on Tuesday morning will be disappointed: sales are to be banned before 10am.