25 things restaurant owners should never do

8
Feb/10
4

Awhile back, I wrote about Bruce Buschel’s New York Times article on the 100 things restaurant staff should never do and the sometimes vitriolic debate surrounding the piece. Quite rightly, a lot of folks felt the list was pretentious and Buschel’s lack of experience certainly didn’t help matters.

He was roundly mocked by many people in the industry (and quite a few patrons) but just as many clueless freaks chimed in with support proving to me that a large segment of the population clearly has no idea how challenging it can sometimes be to a good server.

While I’m no hater (hell, at least a third of Buschel’s advice was solid) everything else he said left me with flashbacks to the motley assortment of owners and managers that I’ve had the misfortune of working with. Like many things in life, the service industry has far more bad eggs than good ones and it gets stinkier the higher you look.

Leaving aside the bickering between staff and guests (some things never change) and a certain segment of the workforce that will never amount to anything (I like to call them “the doomed”) the blame for staff performing poorly can almost entirely be laid at the feet of the owners and those power-hungry assholes they hire to manage their venue for them.

Training is clearly lacking here and while I’d like nothing better than to put together a helpful, concise training manual nobody who matters is going to pay attention and it’s way more to fun to right a shit-list of no-nos anyway…

And so, I present the twenty-five things restaurant owners should never do (I initially considered adding seventy-five more but there’s something to be said for brevity). A lot of this applies to managers as well and quite frankly, I see no harm in lumping ‘em all in together. To my mind, if the manager sucks, the owner’s either not much better or wilfully ignorant.

1. Don’t charge your staff for food while eating whatever you want. Sure you might have paid for it but they’re hungry too and if they’re working a long shift, they should get something at some point. This doesn’t mean you have to give ‘em the steak but leftovers are fair game. Pasta’s cheap. If they want to order something off of the menu, give ‘em a discount.

2. Also, get your staff a drink when they’re done. This doesn’t mean the night-cleaners are going to find you guys sprawled out in a booth in the middle of a high-stakes poker game (but that can be fun every once in awhile). Offered food and drink will cut down on casual theft and they will feel appreciated.

At this point, a cheap owner will exclaim that they can’t afford to do this every night to which I call bullshit. Man up. Show your staff that you’re with ‘em in good times and bad.

3. Everyone has things that get on their nerves but there’s no need to rub it in. Regarding procedures it’s all important but obsessing about clean glassware, table-placement or elbows on the bar will annoy your staff and they’ll cut corners elsewhere. Think big picture but remain detail-oriented.

4. Leave the tables alone! Any decent server will be closely monitoring their section and when you come in and ask their guests how they’re doing for the third time, you’re interrupting the flow of their night and our steps-of-service!

5. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with getting involved if you know the table or if something’s gone horribly wrong but even if the server’s fucking up, go to them first. I can’t think of anything that will make it more apparent to your guests that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.

6. For that matter, don’t take orders unless the server asks you for help and if you do, don’t forget to tell them. Even better, go pick up that drink if the server is busy with another table, they’ll love you for it and your guests will appreciate the hands-on touch.

7. No special, eight-course tasting menus at the last minute for that table of VIPs without covering it at the beginning of the shift! Nobody likes surprises and both sides of the house will hate you if you spring this kind of shit on ‘em.

8. Too much white puts you in the red. Coke and booze can be fun but when you take a break during the dinner rush for a line in your office, you’re sending the wrong message to your staff. Wait till after close and share.

9. Don’t give away too much free shit to your guests. They won’t appreciate it and when you run out of money, they’ll do nothing more than shake their head and reminisce about the good days.

10. On a related note, if you do invite your friends to dinner to show off your restaurant and you’re going to promo their meal, make sure they know that they’re supposed to tip. They’ll be gone by the end of the night but you’ll still look bad.

11. Don’t piss off your regulars! They’re your bread-and-butter and when you mess with what they like about your place, you’re saying you don’t care whether they come or not (and guess what, they won’t).

12. If you’re contracting with an outside performer or company, be sure to get back to them with all of the information they might need in a timely fashion, assumptions being related to fuck-ups and all. Contracting will always necessitate extra work but it can be worth it if you’re prepared.

13. Just because your potential staff may be unaware of labor laws doesn’t give you the right to screw with them. Minimum wage is there for a reason. Pace of business notwithstanding, your staff deserve breaks, should get a decent night’s sleep before their next shift and shouldn’t have to perform any tasks they’re not comfortable doing.

14. Trying to get a cut of their tips through devious means such as breakage, walkouts or “house tips” has no place in any establishment. These are called “the costs of doing business” and you’re responsible for ‘em.

15. Don’t pretend that the idea of the servers tipping out the kitchen and bussers has anything to do with your egalitarian notions of sharing the wealth. Those guys deserve a proper wage from you and if the servers want to give ‘em a little extra, that’s their prerogative. It’s no secret that proper wages and longer periods of employment will make everyone richer and happier.

16. Your staff aren’t responsible for promoting your business. There’s a big difference between having them let their guests know about upcoming events and the specials that day and being forced to join a Facebook group where they have to invite all of their friends or risk punishment.

17. Collecting e-mail addresses from guests should be voluntary. Forcing minimum quotas on your staff is demeaning to them and irritating for your regulars.

18. Don’t schedule three staff for a day-shift when you know you only need two and then force the other unlucky bugger to clean and organize inventory all day (unless you’re going to make it up to them by bumping them up to a laborer wage).

19. Daily meetings are not a cattle call for who will get a section that day. Schedule fairly and appropriately. If you treat your staff well, you might even get them coming in on their day off when you’re really in a bind.

20. As an owner/manager, you should never be handling your staff’s cashouts until they’re done with them. They might become suspicious if you lock yourself in the office with all of their money and stay holed up for two hours while they clean downstairs. (Come to think of it, that’s where the coke is too.)

21. While there’s nothing wrong with surrounding yourself with eye candy, that doesn’t give you the right to slap ‘em on the ass or make jokes about CPR training. We know you didn’t have all that much fun when you were younger but that doesn’t mean you can join in our reindeer games. We chose a job that allows us to indulge in as much sex and drugs as we can handle and you chose to run a business. The only thing that connects us is the industry (barely). Suck it up!

22. Verbally abusing your staff, whether it’s in front of guests or not, is always wrong. Why should they respect you when you don’t reciprocate?

23. Fuck double standards. Treat everyone well but reward staff that go the extra mile. And this doesn’t mean you get to reward yourself first.

24. If you’re coming into an established venue, change what clearly doesn’t work and get rid of the dead weight but leave the rest of it the hell alone; no tinkering!! This is not play-time.

25. Every owner/manager should have an understanding of each part of their business. Spend a week as a busser and you’ll be a better man for it.

If you don’t work in the service industry, you might be tempted to think I’m exaggerating. While humor obviously plays a part in this list, there are many restaurants operating right now that have no respect for their staff.  O’Grady’s on Church, owned by Jimmy Georgoulis, is, by my count, guilty of at least half of these. (Full disclosure, I worked there for nearly three months so I know of what I speak.) On the Toronto Restaurant Blacklist, a Facebook group dedicated to complaining about staff exploitation, O’Grady’s is the biggest offender. Where there’s smoke…

While some of my don’ts will probably never change, I can’t help but hold out hope for a future where serving is seen as an honorable profession and they become standard practice. Many of them have been reiterated by colleagues from all sorts of establishments and I’d like to thank Erin, the bartender at Hoops Sports Bar & Grill (my local at Yonge and Carlton, go have a drink on Sunday) for suggesting some particularly good ones.

Like in any business, those who fail to heed the bottom line will pay for it but treating the people who support you well, staff and guests alike, is just as important.

(Image: “The Brains” by Thomas Nast.)

Should the Ontario government sell the LCBO?

24
Dec/09
3

I was quite surprised to read in The Globe and Mail that the Liberal government has hired two banks to look into selling the LCBO and other Crown assets to cover this year’s deficit.

After all, wasn’t this brought up before by Mike Harris et al. (and Ernie Eves before him?) and dismissed when the government realized that selling valuable assets to raise money may help cover their deficit now won’t do much for balancing the budget the next year?

But leaving aside whether it’s smart for the Liberals to divest themselves of one of their best and brightest cash cows, which is best for the citizens of Ontario; sale or no sale?

Judging from the comments on the G&M article, a lot of people are confused as to whether this would be a good thing and while I’m not an unabashed fan of the LCBO, I’m also not about to jump on the privatization bandwagon unless I’m sure that it would really benefit us.

So let’s look at the three of the biggest points being raised and see whether they have any merit or not.

Booze would be cheaper.

Really? That would be nice but most consumers don’t realize is that there In the US, each state has its own laws concerning the distribution and sale of alcohol. Some places are cheaper than others but I still have fond memories of brown-bagging tall-boys in NYC; I went to quite a few variety stores and prices ranged from $1.25 to$2.50 for a Coors Light which is not that radically different but you obviously pay more for the “convenience”. A case of mass-market, domestic beer that costs $36 in Ontario typically costs $22 in Quebec and about $18 in New Jersey.

The reason it’s generally cheaper down in the States has everything to do with taxes. Here in Canada, we pay a 26.5% tax on alcohol which includes a 5.75% liquor mark-up fee. In the US, the percentage of taxes applied to alcohol varies from state to state but they’re nowhere near as high.

I’d be the last person to suggest we get rid of the taxes that pay for our health care system (amongst other things) but I do think the mark-up is ridiculous. Still even if the LCBO were sold and the mark-up was removed, we wouldn’t be looking at the same price levels they have in the States; we would probably be a lot closer to Alberta or Quebec. (Strangely enough, spirits are cheaper in Alberta but wine and beer aren’t. Wine and beer are cheaper in Quebec thanks to provincial subsidies that favor local products.)

And there’s no guarantee the mark-up would disappear. If anything, it’s unlikely it would go anywhere since pricing is regulated by the government to ensure socially-responsible consumption of alcohol which, along with store hours, is one of the primary methods they employ to prevent us from degenerating into a bunch of booze-soaked rummies (so we’re told).

Worse yet, if the entire company was sold and allowed to continue as a monopoly except in private hands, we’d have yet another Beer Store on our hands and you only have to look at Hydro One and the telecom companies to see where that gets the consumer.

Looking at the graph above (snatched from the LCBO website) it’s clear that the LCBO controls too much of market to allow it operate as a second private monopoly, answerable to no one but its stockholders.

The selection would be greater.

Yes and no. While the opportunity for specialists to open shops catering to niche markets is greater, there’d be just as many people carrying the same mass-market swill we see everywhere. With the exception of the bigger stores, most LCBOs only stock what they know consumers in their area will be likely to buy. Most private operations wouldn’t be any different.

One big concern is that while the bigger cities in Ontario would probably have no worse selection than they do now, many smaller towns in outlying areas would see their stores close with no guarantee of any replacement.

The sale of alcohol needs to be controlled.

Deciding who buys booze and when they can buy it is an age-old concern. Some people say there’s no harm in having convenience stores sell beer and wine while others argue that public drunkenness and under-age drinking will become bigger problems.

I’ve always argued that kids should be exposed to alcohol sooner rather than later (presumably limiting all of that surreptitious, binge drinking) but as that’s generally an unpopular opinion to have, I’d also like to point out that those same stores seem to do a pretty good job of preventing kids from smoking too.

Fact is, people will do what they want to do and the best results have always come from education and integration, not prohibition. The laws we already have in place will take care of the egregious offenders; why persecute anyone else?

Despite my beefs with the LCBO, I’ve come to realize that the provincial government is responsible for nearly all of ‘em… the insane mark-up, lack of inter-provincial distribution (where the hell are my Quebec beers and my BC wines?) and inconvenient store hours.

Selling the LCBO doesn’t change any of that.

The powers that be will still regulate the fuck out of whomever’s selling us our booze and unless they decide private operators to cater to niche consumers, we’ll be looking at another monopoly. We don’t need another Beer Store.

What we do need is a reexamination of the liquor laws and regulations that have their background in Ontario’s Scottish-Protestant roots and adjusting them to fit a society that, over the past decade, has become a lot more conscious of when and how they drink, what they want to buy and where they buy it from.

(And a little store downtown selling me limited-release tequila, absinthe and bitters would be nice too.)

How to open a bottle of wine with your shoe + six other links + four more links

8
Nov/09
0

For those of you stuck on a street with no corkscrew and a crowd of friends eagerly awaiting to imbibe.

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Do you know the difference between whiskey and whisky? The Kitchn fills us in.

The Pegu Blog reveals just how close we came to losing Angostura Bitters in the latest economic crisis.

In case you can’t find enough uses for apples this fall, SLOSHED! gives us the Bum’s Rush. I think I like apple juice with tequila even more than with Zubrowka

In more serious news, we’re now being told that mixing cocaine and alcohol is bad for you ‘cos it forms a whole new chemical in your liver. There’s a definite British vibe, seeing as this is the Guardian and all, but I can’t say Canada’s on the level with our neighbors across the pond, seeing as our coke’s really quite shitty at the moment (hearsay, I swear!).

In Spain, there’s a bit of a debate going on regarding teenagers and their right to throw public parties called “botellons”. Neighbors talk of noise and vandalism, teens say they’re being scape-goated. Regardless, it sure beats that period of my youth where I hung out in this public park in Whitby, furtively smoking joints and wishing I had some kind of booze.

And proving yet again that Canada’s one of the most efficient squelchers of fun ever, the City of Richmond, the B.C. liquor board and even Ottawa are burying the Dutch in red tape when all they want to do is bring their beloved Holland House tradition to the 2010 Olympics.

God forbid we should let people have a good time. I’m sure these policy-Nazis are afraid that if Canadians realize how much fun the rest of the world is having, they’ll stop putting up with some of the most draconian alcohol laws around.

One day, I’d like to walk around town with a beer in my hand. One day, I’d like to be able to bring my favorite bottle of wine with me to a restaurant for a reasonable corking fee without having the owner jump through bureaucratic hoops. One day, I’d like to be able to decide for myself which liquor store to patronize (and that will be the one that offers stuff I can’t find anywhere else). Hell, I want to be able to buy it at the corner store and then walk back up to my apartment and share it with my friends! One day, I’d like to be able to drink past 2 in the morning because I had work till last call and maybe I’m not quite done yet.

One day…

It seems like it’s been a busy day for booze and I have some more links. Instead of putting up another post, I’m going to add ‘em to this one.

If you’re a construction worker, you probably drink a lot. Top three professions are: construction, agriculture and general labour which is not much of a surprise. The report by the group appropriately titled Ensuring Solutions to Alcoholic Problems also found that male-dominated industries had more incidences with excessive-drinking and job absenteeism.

As far as I’m concerned, the only really interesting bit of information was that service and sales (my area if you will) ranked a solid fourth and fifth, respectively. (I knew we were all drunks but I didn’t know we ranked that high.)

The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, based out of Oregon, had not 1 but 12 themed cocktails for their latest event. When not drowning your sorrows in The Yog-Sothoth, you could order everything from a Twisted Tentacle to the Pamakazi of Ibn-Ghazi. While some of them look fairly derivative, I still dig the idea.

Fancy a taste of the world’s strongest beer? Utopia, produced by Samuel Adams, reigns in at a hefty 27% ABV and is a veritable stew of yeasts, malts and hops with a bit of Triple Bock. It’ll cost ya $150 but at that strength and price range, it’s more like a spirit than anything.

Honesty in wine signage + eight other links

29
Oct/09
0

After international wine critic Jancis Robinson accused the wine industry in B.C. of being misleading when it comes to clearly differentiating between wines produced in that province and wines blended there, their version of the LCBO and several wineries have pledged to improve their labeling practices.

I’m happy to report that this is already a standard in Ontario. While at the LCBO today, I noticed that the blends were on the left and the VQAs on the right which, while it may seem a small step, is important when it comes to helping consumers make an informed choice.

In other semi-serious news, scientists at the University of Colorado have determined that there’s a genetic difference between people who are alcohol-dependent and those of us with a tendency to consume high amounts of alcohol. Just show your friends this article whenever they call you an alcoholic!

Over at SLOSHED! they’re doing their best to keep us warm this winter with two excellent recipes; the Green Tea Toddy and Pumpkin Cider. My sore throat is thanking them already…

Mixology Monday featured vermouth and I’m happy to say they found some uses for that bottle that many people reach for last. The Old Town Alchemy Co. offers up the White Ladder while Tiare of A Mountain Of Crushed Ice presents the Signora Rossa. Both are delicious!

Normally, I wouldn’t bother with this kind of thing but I can’t help but notice that The Washington Post is busy trashing a reality show that features s0-called bartenders competing against each other in “a showdown of skills, smarts and spirits”. Yes, it’s as stupid as it sounds and contributes to the bartending-until-I-get-something-better mindset.

I don’t read the Toronto Star for reasons I won’t go into here (involves one of their columnists trashing a guy’s reputation in what was an on-going court case) but this is a damn tasty recipe. Tamarinds add a whole new dimension to the margarita.

Lastly, if you’re really into making clear, pretty ice, Alcademics.com has figured it out for you. Me, I just want my drinks cold but I admire the ingenuity on principle.

(Photo taken from dogwelder’s Flickr photostream.)

929 gallons of moonshine confiscated in North Carolina + six other links

10
Oct/09
0

Swimming-drunk-282x300A man in North Carolina recently had all of his moonshine confiscated which the director of ALE (Alcohol Law Enforcement hah!) is calling the “biggest seizure” of his career. How big is big? 929 gallons equals 118,912 ounces which would keep quite a few bars running for awhile.

Restaurants in Vancouver can now extend last call from midnight to 1 a.m. during the weekdays and from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. on the weekends. I don’t really see this as a big deal because their bars can already stay open till 3 a.m. but I suppose if an owner wants to extend his service by an owner, it’s up to him. I wish Toronto had a 3 a.m. last call

A fellow by the name of Paul Dickson has written a dictionary of 3,000 synonyms for “drunk”. Eponymously-titled, it’s charmingly illustrated by Brian Rea and deserves a place in every self-respecting drunkard’s library. Kingsley Amis would have a copy!

Jamie Boudreau of spiritsandcocktails.com makes Cherry Old-Fashioneds to accompany an Old-Fashioned in an inspired bit of molecular mixology. It sure beats those liqueur-filled chocolates you get during the holidays.

Sloshed! shares the recipe for the Corpse Reviver #2 just in time for Halloween. I’m no fan of hair of the dog but this could work for me.

I love orgeat so it’s only fitting that Rick of Kaiser Penguin, who pointed me in the direction of the first recipe I used, should come back with what he claims is an even better version. Enjoy and remember, the darker the sugar you use, the better it will turn out!

Equally indispensable when it comes to making quality cocktails is ginger syrup. Tiare of A Mountain Of Crushed Ice wants to know how you make your ginger syrup. While I mostly muddle or shake mine, I’d be interested in trying pressed ginger juice.

(Illustration by Brian Rea.)

No more payola for LCBO workers + six more links

13
May/09
2

boozeThe LCBO has stopped its employees from accepting gifts from distilleries and breweries in order to fall in line with the Public Service of Ontario Act. Does this mean families will actually be able to afford Leafs tickets once more? (Probably not but it’s a start.)

When does an awareness campaign become an advertisement? Is this placement by Droga5 that aligns the Victoria Bitter brand of beer with Anzac (a day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand for servicemen and women who died during military duty for their countries) appropriate?

Pete Brown thinks so and I happen to agree with him; it sure as hell beats anything we have over here.

Over at A Good Beer Blog, Alan McLeod talks about a proposed law in Alberta that would allow bar owners to collect and trade information about their customers. While it’s designed to stop gang activity, we all know someone who got banned from a bar for a misunderstanding. Who watches the watchers?

Greg Clow of Taste T.O. reviews the newest beer in town, Palm Ale, which is the first in a new line (hopefully) and the result of a deal between Brick Brewery and Latis Imports.

Oh Group shares the recipes for Hellfire bitters (and a resulting cocktail, the Mexican Standoff).

Next week (Friday, May 22nd) is the C’est What Spring Festival of Craft Breweries! Bartowel News has the details. I can’t wait to try Flying Monkeys’ Hoptical Illusion…

The next time sometime disputes my claim that America is far, far ahead of us when it comes to cocktails, I’ll send ‘em this link. Kaiser Penguin shares some recipes whipped up during Thursday Drink Night.

(If you’re in Ontario, you’ll probably be missing at least one of the ingredients from every, single one of these recipes but substitutions are always possible.)

(Image taken from the_thirsty_moth’s Flickr Photostream.)

The 86 rules of boozing + six more links

30
Mar/09
0

drunkensailorNormally, these kind of lists take up space (and Modern Drunkard isn’t known for the quality of their writing) but these drinking rules are great. I found myself nodding from the perspectives of both sides of the bar.

Wayne Curtis over at The Atlantic talks to Eric Seed about his knack for raising long-forgotten liqueurs from the dead. I’d really love to try some violet liqueur…

A whiskey collector in Tennesee is facing a fine and the loss of part of his collection after he sold a rare bottle of his which is apparently illegal in his state without a license.

In a related article, people all over America are fed up with stupid liquor laws and some of the more antiquated ones are getting repealed. Hopefully this will start to happen north of the border as well; so many of Ontario’s laws were instituted by stiff, Scottish Protestant bastards.

That being said, we do do some things right… as you may have noticed the LCBO has banned plastic bags from its stores. Despite some pansy-ass whimpering from the plastic bag industry, I’m betting this kind of thing will spread amongst retailers. Now if only they’d bring back those cloth six-pack wine bags…

Although they won that fight, they’ve lost another against Diageo after refusing to pay higher prices for several of the latter’s scotch products. Personally, I won’t miss any of ‘em; maybe this will give Centennial Rye or some other deserving product a shot.

Lastly, this might seem rather basic to some of us but Sloshed! offers some good advice for the amateur mixologist on creating cocktails from scratch. (Sure it’s riskier when you’re paying for the booze…)

How to make simple syrups + four more links

17
Mar/09
2

Umami Mart’s Happy Hour tells us all about making simple syrup and some interesting variations. The sage is amazing! (edit: Part 2 is up now which delves into fruit-based simple syrups. Check it out!)

The New Brunswick Liquor Corporation rolls out a new line of government-branded beer to compete with that cheap Quebecois stuff. Too bad it’s $18.67 for 12 (I don’t get “socially responsible pricing”) when you can pick up a two-four for $25 across the border. They might want to rethink that one…

Hired Guns show us some interesting wine label designs. I particularly like the braille label (wine cultivated by the blind!) and the ghoulish “Return of the Living Red”.

I’d really like to try The Last Word. Any cocktail that takes you on a ride sounds good to me!

Why can’t we have more venues like Schiller’s Liquor Bar in Toronto? Surely there’s got to be some interesting aspect of our city’s history we could mine for that collective sigh of nostalgia?

Plus one more thing:

My local, the Rasputin Vodka Bar, is offering a new special to celebrate Toronto’s first taste of spring.

You can get $2.50 mixed drinks and half-pints from 6pm to 9pm, Tuesday to Friday. They’re also keeping with their regular specials which include $6 Russian Mojitos on Tuesday, $2.50 mixed drinks on Thursday and a $6 classic vodka martini on Friday.

I plan on heading there Wednesday so stop and say hi if you’re in the area.

Facebook & Google sell booze ads to raise funds.

27
Feb/09
0

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The Telegraph recently posted an article about how some companies such as Facebook and Google, the NBA and American television companies are relaxing their restrictions on alcohol advertising in order to generate new streams of revenue.

This is apparently a big deal although I fail to see why as long as they’re not misleading and they don’t market it to minors. Facebook tends to skew to an older crowd anyway although I’d wager it’s a pretty tight demographic (18-25?) that’s likely to install any applications offered by the likes of Anheuser-Busch or Bacardi.

Apparently, most of these apps offer allow users to win contests that get them into sponsored parties. I wouldn’t know because the Bacardi Mojito Party was unavailable to me (likely due to it being restricted to American users) and Miller’s Today I’m Toasting was under construction. In fact, none of the applications that have been developed were available which leads me to wonder if they’re specifically targeted at an American and not Canadian audience because we get to legally drink two years before they do?

The only application I’ve seen anyone use is Booze Mail, a particularly stupid bit of code that allows you to send drinks to your friend’s walls which is just as retarded as those gifts that get exchanged. Two apps I find much more appealing are Bottlenotes and RateBeer, both of which allow like-minded users to rate and talk about wine and beer they like (or dislike), respectively.

This doesn’t really help us Canadians, with our limited options for purchasing alcohol, and I’d be surprised the LCBO hasn’t jumped on this marketing opportunity except that I’d bet anything that they’re a) too cheap and b) far too old-fashioned. It’s too bad because an app that tracks new product releases with links built into their website allowing people to find what stores carry them and then contact those stores seems like a natural to me… Or maybe not but I don’t think I’m the only one who finds the LCBO website irritating.

But moving on, what about television? We’ve all seen our fair share of beer ads, ranging from stupid to offensive, but how is this regulated in Canada? The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has a code that specifically deals with what can be broadcast and what cannot. Here are some highlights.

“Commercial messages for alcoholic beverages shall not:

(a) attempt to influence non-drinkers of any age to drink or to purchase alcoholic beverages;

(b) be directed at persons under the legal drinking age, associate any such product with youth or youth symbols, or portray persons under the legal drinking age or persons who could reasonably be mistaken for such persons in a context where any such product is being shown or promoted;

(e) attempt to establish the product as a status symbol, a necessity for the enjoyment of life or an escape from life’s problems, or attempt to establish that consumption of the product should take precedence over other activities;

(f) imply directly or indirectly that social acceptance, social status, personal success, or business or athletic achievement may be acquired, enhanced or reinforced through consumption of the product;

(g) imply directly or indirectly that the presence or consumption of alcohol is, in any way, essential to the enjoyment of an activity or an event;

(k) use imperative language to urge people to purchase or consume the product;

(n) contain inducements to prefer an alcoholic beverage because of its higher alcohol content;

(o) refer to the feeling and effect caused by alcohol consumption or show or convey the impression, by behaviour or comportment, that the people depicted in the message are under the influence of alcohol;

(q) contain scenes in which any such product is consumed, or that give the impression, visually or in sound, that it is being or has been consumed.”

Now, far be it from me to be a negative fuckin’ nancy but don’t they regularly break (e), (f), (g) and (q)? Doesn’t the Molson ad I just linked to fit the bill? How about this one? There are good ads out there.  Arrogant Bastard Ale released this campaign that pretty much made fun of mainstream beer drinkers and companies they support that release “outrageously conniving, intentionally misleading, blatantly masturbatory and fallacious ad campaigns.”

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I don’t know about you but I’ll take that their brand of arrogance over what the other guys are offering any day; even if it treads dangerously into that extreme, stressed graphic style I find distasteful. At least it has some credibility.

We’re way past the days when Anheuser-Busch et al. could lay any claim to putting out a “premium product” and in a way, their advertising is a perfect example of that. They can’t really claim to have the best-tasting beer but they sure as hell can sex it up.

So what’s my point with all of this? I guess I’m saying that I’m in favor of allowing spirits advertisers back into mainstream media and I’d argue that having those ads play during prime time television and be printed in newspapers isn’t going to raise a nation of underage binge-drinkers.

No, we have the stupid neo-prohibitionistic notion that children must be protected at all costs from the dangers of alcohol to thank for that. These ads will bring in important revenue and if the product is good, I see no harm in it. However, I have one proviso and it’s a biggie.

The ads should deal directly with the quality of the product. They should make you want to drink it because, goddammit, it’s the best product of its kind and you’d be a fool not to. The ads can be funny, serious or clever as long as they’re honest. Maybe I’m asking too much but I don’t think so. I’d like to see both advertising and it’s retarded cousin, Facebook apps, up their  game and start treating consumers with a little respect.

They can be the cooler, older brother if they want to.

The battle to educate consumers on the content of their alcohol

9
Feb/09
0

Over at bevlog, they’re asking what readers think of a ongoing proposal by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to change the labels of all beer, wine and spirits by including “Servings Facts” information on each and every bottle.

monavie_nutritionBasically, it would indicate “typical serving size, number of servings per container, calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat”. It would also be divided into two sections, ingredients and alcohol facts.

Even though this is an initiative proposed by the TTB of the USA and doesn’t effect Canada (at least initially), I’m generally in favor of more information being released to consumers to help them make decisions about the products they want to purchase.

First and foremost, the “alcohol by volume” percentage which is already printed on the label is supplemented by a box informing you of the “fl oz of alcohol” per serving. Despite some comments declaring that this might be mathematically confusing for consumers, I think it’s a fairly important piece of information to be including on the product, especially when you think about how most people don’t know how much alcohol is in individual servings of whatever they’re consuming and this can vary from product to product.

Sure, there will be lots of people who won’t give a damn but a conscientious person who wants to monitor their intake because they have to drive will be able to measure that a whole lot better or refuse a drink that would put them over the legal limit.

The other boxes don’t really matter so much although I suppose some people monitor their calorie intake closely enough that a drink will make some difference and it could be argued that people don’t pay enough attention to the empty calories they consume through drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. The one exclusion that really catches my attention is the lack of any information concerning the amount of sugar in a product.

Surely this is a rather large oversight; sweeter drinks are often cheaper, mask the taste of alcohol and include more nasty congeners, the by-products of fermentation which are toxic and, along with dehydration, are largely responsible for hangovers. (On an unrelated note, I was surprised to find that bourbon drinkers like me are especially at risk; our favorite tipple contains thirty times as many congeners as vodka.)

Criticism of the proposed regulation has come from at least two different groups; another post on bevlog that featured Bluemont Vinery’s opposition from the viewpoint of a small business and a PDF posted on a government site by Wine America, a national association of wineries. Both of them are opposed because they claim adhering to these standards would result in untenable costs to smaller producers and lead to general consumer confusion due to excess labelling. They go on to state that because there is little variation in alcohol content and carbohydrates of most wines, there is no point in releasing this information and since most people already know how much they can generally handle, telling them how much pure alcohol is in a serving would also be unhelpful.

I call bullshit. I’m generally in favor of labeling for most food and drink. Most people now appreciate being able to determine the nutritional content of products they purchase at the grocery store and I would imagine they would feel the same about alcohol. Hell, I’d go further and add regulate the spread of GMOs as well as the food we’re served in restaurants but that’s another issue. As for the cost, I don’t see why it couldn’t be passed on in part to the consumers if this is something that people are truly interested in.

I’m well aware that regulations often favor the big guys like Diageo who have the money to spend on laboratory testing and label redesigns but I don’t see why both the American and Canadian (when the time comes) governments couldn’t subsidize the little guys with grants and tax breaks.

Bevlog also linked to a video of former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop talking about why adding this information to labels is important and although it’s rather dry, I agree with them; this video deserves some attention as well.

Madison Beer Review put together a great post talking about this issue and they presented several things I didn’t know at the time of writing this: one of the biggies is that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the group who originally petitioned the TTB to change these regulations has been accused of having a “neo-prohibitionist” stance by many “beer supporters” and is of the opinion that alcohol is ruining America. I don’t doubt that their voice would be moderated by the presence of health organizations and industry lobbyists but it’s still something to consider.

However, both sides have some explaining to do. It’s also pointed out that while the Beer Institute “objects to publishing alcohol content” because said content “in most beers is in a very narrow range” this is hardly true when one considers the beer “can range from less than 4% ABV (alcohol by volume) to over 20% ABV”. As we move away from the the narrower definitions of beer that its members (who include Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors and Heineken) generally espouse, it makes sense to include this information on the label without it hurting the same folks whose products warrant its inclusion.

Also, as Madison Beer Review notes, it’s hardly realistic to reduce serving portions proportionally in terms of the ABV-2 oz for a 20% ABV brew is just silly-it would make sense to consider how beers with a higher ABV are meant to be shared and incorporate that information onto the label somehow.

In the end, I agree with them. Full disclosure of ingredients would be a nice step and would also tie in nicely with the trend to more natural, healthy products. After all, I’d take a St. Peter’s Organic English Ale over a Smirnoff Ice cooler any day.