Talking to thousands of hotel patrons over the past two years has convinced Sam Coffey that dialogue rather than police action is the way to diffuse anti-social and violent behaviour in and around licensed premises.
He founded The Hangover Squad in late 2009 to assist venues in dealing with drunk customers and lists the Coogee Bay Hotel, Tea Gardens Hotel, Piano Room, Cock ‘n Bull Hotel and Kirribilli Club amongst his clients.
Here Coffey (below) tells TheShout that the responsible consumption of alcohol is just as important as its responsible service.
Operation Unite has a feeling of angst about it, a palpable sense of anger and exasperation that drives it.
Although this is perhaps understandable it is not the correct approach to get the desired outcome at the venue or customer level.
The approach that gets the desired response is a persuasively assertive, hospitality-based one.
I know this as I have developed a business called ‘The Hangover Squad’ over the past 18 months that helps venues effectively manage their Responsible Service of Alcohol obligations through the proactive care of their patrons.
Since this business began, we have literally dealt one-on-one with many thousands of occasions where drinking customers are at risk of approaching intoxication and hundreds of others where the drinking customer has already approached intoxication and are asked to leave.
Our approach has developed over time in response to what’s worked in the field and what hasn’t, so that today a proven effective method is now employed that achieves the desired RSA Management outcomes for the venue, the drinking customer and the surrounding community.
We began with changing the whole angle that we were looking at the task at hand.
Instead of judging our RSA Management success on the number of drinking customers who are asked to leave (ATL) a venue for approaching intoxication, we began to judge our success on the amount of drinking customers we save from getting to the point where they are ATL.
We do this by way of a proactive approach. If one of The Hangover Squad’s RSA Hosts see a drinking customer displaying risk tell-tale signs that they’re going to be reaching a point where they’ll be ATL for approaching intoxication, then we intercept them before they get to that point and help them not to reach it.
We do this through conversation with the drinking customer, advising them on the best course of action so as not to reach the point of being ATL and by implementing proven methods that work.
We put water into people, we remind people to have something to eat, we advise rapid drinkers to slow down, etc.
The Hangover Squad’s RSA Hosts are especially trained on how to deal with the many different case scenarios they encounter.
Putting the sole onus on drinking customers to take care of themselves is naïve.
It’s common knowledge that drinking will diminish your rational thinking and self-control with people sworn off cigarettes often having one when having a drink a good example of this.
Their ability to stop themselves is diminished by the affects of the alcohol.
In this same way, many people when under the affects of alcohol find it a struggle to correctly judge the right amount of drinks they should be having.
Many times these drinking patrons need help in this area and there’s really no shame in that being provided or being accepted.
This is where we come in, to help the drinking customer effectively manage their drinking choices so instead of us focusing on RSA Management it becomes more about focusing on RCA (Responsible Consumption of Alcohol) Management.
We specialize in just doing this task. We work in collaboration with security and venue management. We are the missing ingredient that makes up the solution to successful RSA Management of venues.
Many people ask if we get aggressive responses from the patrons; them telling us to mind our own business etc.
The answer to this is that we don’t.
Drinking customers continually appreciate what we do for them as they recognise that our actions keep them in the venue, keep their groups of friends together, help create a palpably safer / friendlier environment and ultimately help people to avoid hangovers both of the physical and regret variety.
Out of the literally thousands of conversations that I’ve personally had with drinking customers I’ve only ever had three which have gone wrong and all three of those taught me valuable lessons with regards to the importance of the approach.
All three were done in an initially authoritarian way and this is a mistake.
When my business began it was called ‘RSA Monitors’. This name sounds great to hotel management and to authorities but it doesn’t come across well to the drinking patrons.
They associate such a name with being watched over or monitored and generally being made to feel uncomfortable.
It effectively causes an ‘us and them’ mentality which in turn causes a friction. The same can be said for the RSA Marshal name.
Changing the name to ‘The Hangover Squad’ may sound a little odd to sober ears but to those affected by alcohol, or those out to have fun, it effectively breaks the ice.
Patrons think it’s funny and it immediately has them identifying us as friends not foes.
We pride ourselves on being the drinkers’ friends and having them view us as such.
Nowadays, it isn’t uncommon for patrons to ask us for a bottle of water without our offering it, which to my mind represents the beginnings of a very minor shift in the drinking culture as a direct result of the education we impart. It also shows that they trust us.
The name ‘The Hangover Squad’ name also sobers up drinkers’ thinking as it has them pondering the dreaded hangover which awaits the over indulgence of alcohol.
The staff members of ‘The Hangover Squad’ are called ‘RSA Hosts’. The word host has friendly connotations to it and it is another signal to the patrons that we’re there for them.
We don’t wear uniforms that have us stand out. Instead we are inconspicuously dressed but can be identified as people who work there by the radio on our belts, the earpiece in our ear and by ID on our belt.
The whole way we go about the job is subtle. This causes minimal embarrassment for those who we have to talk to and it also has patrons effectively forgetting about us, relaxing and having a good time.
‘The Hangover Squad’ is all about drinking customers having a great time out, without that time being spoilt by the over indulgence of alcohol.
We represent an evolution in the Responsible Service of Alcohol Management of venues and are an effective win-win-win-win solution to the venues, the venues’ patrons, the surrounding communities and to the authorities overseeing the safety and wellbeing of the whole area.”