The atmosphere is the general mood or feeling of a place. It begins to affect the customers from the moment they come in and can influence the way they drink and their ongoing behavior.
Part of creating the right atmosphere is about encouraging people to behave in a manner that is in keeping with the style of your premises. To do this, you must set standards.
Drinking behavior depends on three different factors:
- The drink
the amount and strength of alcohol
- The drinker
the characteristics of the person drinking the alcohol
and his or her state of mind and personal circumstances
- The environment
the atmosphere and prevailing rules of the establishment where the drinking is taking place
Removing or changing any one of these factors will alter the drinking behavior. For example, a person’s behavior at a fine restaurant is likely to be very different from that person’s behavior while watching a sports game at a bar. The environment has changed, even though exactly the same amount was drank in both circumstances.
Or the same person’s behavior watching a sports game in the bar will change with the amount of alcohol he or she consumes. Customers are likely to behave differently if they were not drinking at all (perhaps because they’re driving) compared to if they did have drinks with a group of friends.
The manager and staff are in a position to control or influence at least two of the three factors above: the amount and type of drink served and, in particular, the environment. The layout of the premises, whether there are more people sitting or standing, the lighting and the music are all things that create the drinking environment.
For instance, there is evidence to suggest that vertical drinking (i.e., where people stand) promotes more rapid drinking than when people are seated. Certainly, the environment that you set can influence whether the customer is more likely to drink in a relaxed, social way or in an aggressive or competitive way.
Protective and Risk Factors in Bars
Research carried out in Scotland in 2005 examined the factors associated with alcohol-related problems in licensed premises, such as drunkenness and violence.
The findings were in line with a number of other studies (e.g., in Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand). The study found that there is a range of factors that protect against problems in a premises, and that there is a range of factors that increase them. No one factor by itself causes or can eliminate violence, but having a range of the protective factors and making sure there are as few risk factors as possible mean the likelihood of problems is much reduced.
- Lack of congestion, not overly crowded
- Inappropriate persons (e.g., intoxicated or underage) being refused entry or refused service
- Good standards of cleanliness and housekeeping
- Friendly staff
- Quick and efficient service
- Calling last orders in plenty of time
- Managing the exit of patrons
- Monitoring patrons, including at entry, the bar and the exit
- Promotion of food (full meals and snacks)
- Higher percentage of customers sitting
- Staff trained in responsible service
- Good range of reasonably priced soft drinks
- Good communication between staff
All these factors encourage relaxed, social drinking.
"Part of creating the right atmosphere is about encouraging people to behave in a manner that suits your premises. To do this, you must set standards."
- Unsupervised pool tables
- TV showing aggressive, offensive, sexual or intoxication-related images
- Music with a lot of offensive or sexually explicit words
- Congestion anywhere in the premises (at the door, bar, stairs, toilets, dance floor, etc.)
- Higher percentage of customers standing
- Drunk or underage persons allowed in and served
- Drug dealing or drug use
- Drunk customers in the premises
- Staff being hostile or aggressive towards patrons
- Staff allowing aggression or watching conflict
- Staff sending people outside to fight
- Late intervention in situations by staff
- Patrons served double at closing time or served after closing time
- Smokiness and/or lack of ventilation
- High level of noise and movement
- Lack of bar wiping, table clearing, toilet cleanliness
- Openly sexual or sexually competitive activity (such as “pulling”)
- In-house promotion or entertainment focusing on alcohol and “sexy dancing”
In summary, premises that have high standards, are clean and tidy and can control the negative behavior of their clientele are more likely to have a good atmosphere and prevent problems.
Having worked your way through the previous sections, you will already know it can be quite complicated to understand when and to whom you can sell alcohol. One of the best ways to make this clear to everyone is to create a house or store policy poster.
This will summarize to both customers and staff when alcohol can be sold, who can purchase alcohol, what forms of age identification are acceptable, etc. An example can be found on the next page and can be used as good practice.
Prevention of Crime & Disorder
A place that sells alcohol is also part of the local community and therefore has certain social responsibilities. In some countries, these issues have become so important that they are included in the law.
Preventing crime and disorder can cover many things from disorderly behavior to drink-driving and assault. You firstly have to think about which behavior is most likely to cause problems or is a crime in your country, city or area.
Ask your Licensing Authority or chamber of commerce for information on any partnerships with police or other
community services (garbage collection, noise control) to ensure that you are fulfilling your community
By maintaining high standards and refusing entry to people with undesirable behavior, you will already be preventing many problems. However, it is important that you look out for signs of trouble and try to prevent it from happening. This will be covered more in the next section. There are also good practice systems you can put in place:
Good Practice in Both On-License and Off-License
Incident Diary – this is a record / diary of any incidents that occur (such as arguments or fights) so that any problems can be identified to prevent them from occurring again. It also gives an accurate picture for company communication and passing on to any authorities that may need details. The diary should be kept in a handy place where everyone knows where to find it. Old records should be filed for possible use in any legal actions that may follow. See Recording Incidents on page 27.
Refusals Book – This is a record of the instances when you have refused service because customers are underage, drunk, etc. This record book is then signed by the manager and shows you are abiding by the laws. It also helps to build a picture of any problem patterns.
Risk Assessment – in some countries, this will have to be completed to abide by health and safety laws. However, even if it is not legally required, it is good practice to walk around your workplace on a regular basis, list any potential risks and then work out how these could be minimized. Remember, things can be very different at peak times, when the premises is full of people. Customers themselves can be a potential hazard.
Good Practice in On-License Premises
Drinking Games / Shots Policy – certain drinking styles and products can lead to irresponsible drinking patterns. Drinking games where people “down” drinks or drink more than they would normally intend to can be dangerous and lead to drunkenness. Some drinks, such as shots or shooters that have high strengths, have the specific aim to get people drunk. You should ask the question whether selling these products can ever be responsible. It is a good idea to have a policy on which products are sold and how many drinks customers are allowed to purchase of these high-strength options. Your workplace should also have a policy on how to control such things as drinking games if they are talking place in your premises.
Promotions or “Happy Hours” - It is never good practice to promote alcohol as “drink all you can” for an amount of money or length of time. These types of promotions only encourage drunkenness and its associated problems.
Closing Time Strategy – This is set best practice procedure for your workplace to minimize problems at closing time. As this is the time most often listed in problem incidents, this policy should be carefully thought through and always followed in practice.
Large premises, such as late-night venues with music entertainment, may also plan the dispersal of the customers to ensure that people leave in a safe and orderly manner and to reduce the likelihood of “bottlenecks” and other problems. For an example of a dispersal policy, see www.beda.org.uk.
Best Practice for Closing Time in Bars
Contrary to popular belief, closing time doesn’t start when the bar or premises shuts, but well before then. It is important to control the atmosphere of the venue and the mood of your customer and to think about neighboring properties and the transport mechanisms to get customers home safely.
If music or some other form of entertainment is on offer, then you don’t want to save the best for last. This is likely to lead to your customers being “hyped up” and not ready to leave. While you want them to have had a good time, you need them to be calmer at the end of the night. Many places play slower songs to wind things down. Some larger venues start to close off sections of the premises in order to control crowds.
It is good practice to call “last or
ders”. This lets people know they only have a certain amount of time
remaining if they wish to buy more alcohol. Call this in plenty of time, so you can serve all those who require
a drink. For example, many places call last order 15 minutes before they have to stop serving by law
throughout the week. At weekends and when it is busier, they call last orders 30 minutes before to avoid
disappointed customers and complaints.
As you approach the last few sales, it is good practice to gently bring the lighting up. Turning all the lights on bright as bar shuts can cause people to get angry and feel aggressive, so a slow gradual approach is better.
Display any bus timetables or call taxis for customers (whatever is appropriate for your area). The main point is that you are assisting people to leave safely and trying to prevent a mass exit all at the same time.
"If music or some other form of entertainment is on offer, then you don’t want to save the best for last."
Drinking-up time – the law for your country may state that customers have to finish their drinks within a specified time. Even if this is not the case, you may have a company policy as to what time your premises needs everyone to have vacated it.
Find out what the regulations are around closing time from your manager or local licensing authority for your country or area.
Once you finish serving, it is important that the customers know they cannot buy any more alcohol. Some premises screen off the sales area with shutters; others remove staff from behind the counter, making it clear that no more sales will take place.
The next step is to inform customers of the time remaining. You may need to remind them several times - for example, “10 minutes drinking-up time left”, “5 minutes drinking-up time left”, etc. That way they are not surprised when you ask them to leave.
Outside your premises, as your customers leave, there is often noise as people chat, decide what they are doing next or say their goodbyes. Sometimes these customers can create litter problems or attempt to carry drinks outside with them.
Where possible, have staff near your exits thanking customers and preventing them from taking drinks outside (where appropriate). If these staff are considered “Door Staff”, there may be laws or regulations that they have to abide by and training that may be compulsory.
Find out what regulations apply to door staff in your country or local area.
It is important to remind customers to respect neighboring properties and the people who live nearby, especially at night. Some companies send 1 or 2 staff on to the street with high visibility jackets to direct customers to nearest taxi ranks, bus stops, late night food premises, etc. Some premises feel it is worthwhile to give out free sweets to customers to help control noise. There are many creative, friendly ways of dealing with these issues without causing frustration or conflict.
The aim is for everyone to leave safely, having enjoyed their experience
Responsible Hospitality and HIV/AIDS
Responsible hospitality training programs are essentially directed at providing a safe and comfortable drinking environment. Such programs are often directed specifically at helping owners, managers and employees of licensed and retail venues to reduce the incidence of consumption of alcohol by young people under the legal drinking age and service to intoxicated customers. But responsible hospitality can also help reduce other types of alcohol-related harm - e.g., through the prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which leads to AIDS.
Unsafe sex, often referred to as “high-risk” sex or “risky sexual behavior”, is defined by the World Health Organization as including multiple partners, together with lack of condom use and the type of sex acts involved. Some evidence supports an association between problematic alcohol consumption and risk of STIs. Problem drinking (intoxication) may be a critical contributing factor both to heightening the degree of susceptibility a person might have to transmitting or acquiring HIV and to increasing one’s vulnerability to the behavior of those infected with HIV.
In the context of r
esponsible hospitality, owners, managers, servers and other employees can help reduce the
risk of harm by helping individuals make more informed and responsible decisions about their drinking
and sexual behaviors. In particular, they could:
- liaise with local NGOs working on HIV/AIDS
- display educational materials about HIV/AIDS at the bar and in bathrooms.
Summary / Action Points
- Find out what disorderly behavior is a crime in your country or area
- Discuss with friends and family the aspects of the drinking environment that can annoy you as a
customer, then think about whether any occur in your workplace
- Complete your House / Store Policy poster so you have a clear summary of the laws you must follow
- Read through the protective and risk factors, highlight any that apply to your workplace and think about their impact
- Discuss and put in place the best practice tools appropriate for your workplace
- Write a closing time strategy suitable for your workplace