Pubs balancing safety and profit amidst global rise in alcohol consumption

By Scott Roblin
May 15, 2019 - 5:31pm Updated: May 15, 2019 - 7:05pm


MEDICINE HAT, AB – For the better part of two decades, The Garage Pub and Eatery has served as one of Medicine Hat’s preferred watering holes.

Whether it’s drinking a beer, vodka or something stiffer, general manager Fred Hoehnle said saddling up to the bar is a tradition most people feeling comfortable doing.

“People are always going to wind down and relax,” said Hoehnle. “And, the perception of the alcohol is... acceptable.”

It seems like people are drinking more worldwide as well, according to a newly published study released by Canadian and German researchers in ‘The Lancet’ medical journal.

The study claims that an average person drank around 6.5 litres of alcohol in 2017, which was up 0.6 litres compared to numbers from 1990.

That number is expected to rise to 7.6 litres by 2030, while the percentage of people who abstain from alcohol is expected to decrease from 43 percent in 2017 to 40 percent.

Medicine Hat College’s addictions counselling program coordinator Colleen Hillock said alcohol abuse has been put on the back-burner, as other issues like the opioid crisis and the legalization of marijuana have taken centre stage.

She added she’s not surprised by the global jump in alcohol use, as it’s become normalized in everyday culture over the years.

“It is the number one drug to go to, mood-altering drug to go to,” said Hillock. “It's accepted, it's integrated into families, into marriages, into workplaces.”

The World Health Organization’s goal of decreasing worldwide alcohol consumption by 10 percent over the next six years likely won’t be met according to the authors of the study.

Hillock said there’s a cost to that which goes beyond the general public consciousness.

“When there's more consumption, there's more alcohol-related deaths, hospitalizations, law enforcement, family breakups,” she said.

In 2016, more Canadians were hospitalized for alcohol-related issues than heart attacks, with the Canadian Institute for Health Information reporting over 77,000 cases in that year alone.

Binge drinking also appears to be on the rise, with 20 percent of respondents claiming they consumed four or more drinks in one sitting at least once a month in 2017.

That number has grown from 18.5 percent in 1990 and is expected to spike to around 23 percent in 11 years time.

“Some of our students are very shocked to know that binge drinking means four or more drinks in one sitting,” said Hillock. “It's become more and more normalized, the bar keeps going up.”

For establishments like The Garage, Hoehnle said it’s up to them to curtail over-serving and binge drinking.

Although he didn’t believe his pub had seen any drastic increase in binge drinking cases, he said all servers and bartenders are required to possess AGLC certification to know when to cut customers off.

“Sometimes the servers have to tell you, ‘Nope, that's enough for tonight, we'll see you tomorrow,’” he said. “But, get them home safe.”

As a money making business however, Hoehnle did add it’s a tight rope to walk.

“It's been the business model of a pub for thousands of years,” he said. “But, in a modern world you got to focus on safety, government regulations that are designed specifically for that.”

Along with limiting over-serving, The Garage also points to its designated driver program as a way to curtail dangerous behaviour resulting from a night of drinking.

Between opening and last call, Hoehnle said they have both a legal and moral responsibility to their customers to keep them safe.

“Yes you want to make the money, there is that,” he said. “It's staying on top of the servers and reminding them that we are responsible, we have to be.”

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