By Ian Neubauer
A controversial new restriction that requires 48 NSW licensed premises to stop serving alcohol for ten minutes every hour after midnight stemmed from Diageo’s SmartShout program, licensing officials have said.
Replying to allegations that it failed to consult with venues over what operators are describing as an impractical and potentially dangerous restriction, the NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing (OLGR) claimed time outs have been working successfully at licensed venues in the state since last year.
“The evolution of time-outs stems from the SmartShout program developed by Diageo,” the spokesperson said. “OLGR believes this program encourages best practice and has been promoting it to licensed venues.
“It involves venues stopping alcohol service for up to 15-minute intervals during peak trading times and offering their patrons free chilled bottles of water,” the spokespersons said, adding that it had been successfully trailed at the Mean Fiddler and the Coogee Bay Hotel (CBH) — two Sydney venues slapped with the time-out rule.
But CBH general manager, Tony Williams, said comparing the voluntary SmartShout program to the new mandatory restriction was like comparing chalk and cheese.
“[SmartShout] was a program we hosted last summer in an effort to provide responsible service of alcohol,” he said. “We worked with Diageo for months to get it going. They supplied us with small bottles of water and we stopped service [of alcohol] for five minutes at 11:00pm and again at 1:00am. It was a good thing and it worked.
“But now it has backfired on us. There has been no communication with the public and we have some very angry customers. They want to know if it is just here or in other places too. No one knows what’s going on.”
Diageo external relations and public policy manager – Ailish Hanley, agreed.
“SmartShout was always a tool that licensees could choose to use on their terms,” she said. “But, it’s a far cry from the 10-minute shutdown imposed on our customers without consultation.
“Like many licensees, we are concerned that mandatory time outs will have unintended and undesirable consequences.”
Hanley explained how Diageo used the full beef of its marketing resources to create and distribute specially branded bottles of chilled mineral water to patrons at participating venues when time-outs were called. She said the program was so successful that it would be brought back this year, with a quarter of a million of bottles earmarked for distribution in NSW alone.
“Our sales force distributes SmartShout [water bottles]. Our only stipulation is that patrons are given the product for free, at our cost.”
The OLGR is encouraging venues affected by the new restriction to follow suit, saying “it is more attractive because it is chilled” and “patrons appreciate the venue’s efforts to provide them with a safer and more enjoyable environment”.
But Exchange Hotel licensee, Darren Hickey, who has also been directed to implement time outs, said it was ludicrous to expect his venue to supply bottled water for free.
“We are here to be in business. We are not here to open the door and supply people with free entertainment and free drinks that we have to pay for,” he said. “It is a very strange thing to do economically.”
Hickey also refuted an OLGR claim that he and other licensees had been consulted by way of recommendations and educational workshops dating back to 2006.
“It has all been a shock. No one approached me and said ‘You have a problem venue, how can we improve things?’ We’re all in the same boat,” he said. No one was consulted.”
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