SECOND LOOK: Liquor responsibility among hazards of bar ownership

Published on Wednesday, 19 September 2018 21:21
Written by Art Secondo

During the 1980s, an influx of drinking establishments kept the former Liquor Control Commission busy, with strict enforcement of underage patrons, bar operations and training of bartenders.

The state Department of Consumer Protection now oversees the operations of restaurants and bars.

Enforcement of former strict rules pertaining to bars has diminished. Years ago, towns including Plainville and Cheshire were notorious in cracking down on DWIs (driving while intoxicated) and late night party goers were alerted not to travel in those communities after drinking.

However, even those patrons who observed the laws wondered how bars could make a profit while restricting underage patrons from slipping through security, normally called bouncers or doormen.

Let’s be honest. If every bar restricted patrons to a minimum of two drinks an hour or never served intoxicated people, they’d have to close their doors.

Owning a bar before the show, “Bar Rescue,” hosted by John Taffer, arose, meant owners had to worry about unannounced raids by liquor control agents and local police.

Taffer has be able to highlight the selfish bar owners who neglect cleanliness, over-pour drinks and operate less-than-professional businesses.

Bar owners are under continued pressure to make a living. Liquor prices have soared from the 1980s, when a whiskey drink cost less than $5, to today’s average of $8 to $10. Owners have had to use various methods to attract and retain customers.

Health inspectors can close down a bar if food servers aren’t properly trained and refrigeration is not controlled.

Competition today for bar owners is fierce, especially when beer breweries are popping up throughout the state. These breweries fashion their own beers and have attracted a huge following, taking away potential patrons from traditional bars.

In addition, have you noticed there are fewer male bartenders today? Owners have been forced to staff more women behind the bar. It is a cold fact that female bartenders make more tips and are more pleasing and polite.

In the 1980s, when live top-40 music groups were popular, the bar crowd drank more. Obviously,, a dance floor with thirsty patrons can rake in big money, but it also spikes the danger zone, with intoxicated patrons who leave and cause accidents. Lawsuits were and are common against bars and restaurants, which must take responsibility when one or two patrons out of 200 or more leave and crash. A designated driver sounds nice but seldom do drinkers tap one friend to drive and drink cola all night.

Making bar ownership even tougher is the new competition from chain restaurants that construct expensive and inviting bars.

Although drink prices are higher, these places swarm a community with good food and nice atmosphere, encouraging people to stay and drink rather than leaving. Smaller bars no longer can afford extended happy hours.

Liquor permits for a average bar costs over $1,000. Insurance and employee pay are top expenses, but do not include maintenance, ice machine problems, electricity, trash removal, cleaning crew and, of course, liquor and beer purchases that must be paid within 30 days.

Bars owners often accuse increased liability insurance rates, often jumping from $5,000 annually to five figures, even with no claims, of being blackmail. It’s difficult to tell who’s drunk because so many patrons arrive under the influence, not only of drink but drugs.

Owners are on the defensive, especially since patrons are getting younger and harder to control.

Yet, owners are morally on the side of the insurance companies. Nobody want claims brought against them, primarily when bartenders are taught not to serve patrons who appear intoxicated.

As a former bar owner who dealt with several claims and made repeated attempts to find a simple solution to verifying fake IDs, it was only after a Friday night raid by liquor agents, when six minors were found on my premises, that I was given a large monetary fine but also a special code to effectively spot fake licenses.

I became determined to warn prospective customers of not only my responsibility but their own. I began giving cash bonuses to my doormen to secure fake IDs and had a large sign installed near the outside main entrance.

There isn’t enough insurance to soften the guilt imposed upon an owner when it may appear that a patron caused grief to innocent people when someone was served liquor beyond the legal limit.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Southington Herald on Wednesday, 19 September 2018 21:21. Updated: Wednesday, 19 September 2018 21:23.