Alcohol makes our behaviour unpredicable, so why don’t we limit its potential impact in public houses, asks Jim Duffy
Who remembers Cheers? Ted Danson played Sam Malone, the jocular bar owner in Boston who not only had some wildly funny staff, but he also had some real characters as punters. Many actors went on from Cheers to go on to bigger and better things. Kelsey Grammer, who played Frasier Crane, stands out as one punter who made something of himself. And I just loved the waitress - Carla - whose acerbic wit was just awesome in her put downs of both Malone and the patrons.
The Cheers franchise was fun and as I thought about it, it was indeed set in a downtown bar where alcoholic drink was served. No-one liked a pint more than big Norm Peterson. But at no point did I see people swinging from the rafters, so drunk they could not talk or fighting with bottles or each other.
Yet in many bars here in the UK, on a Friday and Saturday night, we have huge amounts of drunks, fights, skirmishes and general disorder. This made me think about how we serve alcohol in bars and clubs and whose responsibility it is keep some form of order. Alcohol is a legal drug. We all accept that. The government, despite all its warnings on alcohol, likes the taxes that it generates.
I like my alcohol in the house and the older I get the less safe I feel drinking in city bars. As an ex-cop, I’ve seen some horrendous sights as a result of alcohol, or to be more precise, excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol changes the state of the human brain. It creates different sensations and heightens awareness in some people, while altering the mood of others. So, it is fair to say that when it is sold for consumption in a public bar, there should be some kind of regulation on it.
Publicans and licensees will tell you that the premises license and the personal licence procedures are fairly strict and adequate. It’s their living and I guess the more alcohol they sell, the more profit they make. But asking someone to drink responsibly on a wild night out is like Chamberlain asking Hitler not to invade Poland. It’s just not going to happen. And we’ve all been there and seen it. Drink gets spilled, tensions rise, guys get loud and then it kicks off and someone says something provocative to another. Before we know it, we have a situation. So, exactly whose responsibility should it be to curb excessive drinking in bars? Perhaps we should take a leaf out of the American rule book.
In the USA, which we know has a litigious side to it, a bar tender can be liable and held responsible for over-serving you. In effect this means that they have to have a closer understanding of your state of intoxication and if they feel you have had enough, refuse to serve you. So what does ‘had enough’ actually mean? In essence, that you are visibly intoxicated. In certain parts of the USA, if a bar tender serves a patron who is visibly intoxicated and who thereafter causes trouble, the bar tender can be held criminally liable. Which makes me think about some of the scenes that are still being played out in our towns and cities between midnight and 5am at the weekends. Who told these people they had had enough? No-one, it would appear.
But when they are on the streets, it’s then the responsibility of the police and CCTV camera operators to deal with the aftermath of no-one saying ‘no more drink’. So rather than playing around with minimum pricing, why don’t we disrupt the drinking model that exists in our pubs across the UK and give bar tenders more powers to say ‘no’. Certainly, it’s still an offence to refuse to quit licensed premises having been requested to do so by bar staff. But I wonder if catching people two drinks earlier would have a positive effect on disorder and general public behaviour. Would our paramedics have more time to deal with real emergencies as opposed to the aftermath of drunken brawls? Would our A&E departments be able to admit and treat more serious ailments from sober individuals, rather than drink-fuelled revellers who have spilled out of pubs and ended up locking horns with other drink-fuelled revellers?
The term ‘public house’ is exactly that: a house that is open to the public with a bar that serves alcoholic drink. So why then do many of us not fully appreciate that drinking in one of these means we have a responsibility to others as we begin to drink and alter our mindsets? I like the idea of bar staff having more power to say ‘no’ earlier. It’s the difference between a man having four pints and being told ‘no’ or having six pints and not knowing what day it is. It’s the difference between a young girl having three bottles of strong cider and being told ‘no’ or having six and throwing up in the street.
Yep, even big Norm in Cheers always managed to leave the bar and walk home unaided, not shouting at taxi drivers and verbally abusing kebab shop owners.
Maybe it’s time to change the rules of the game in our public houses.