New Alberta liquor regulations will soon see Den patrons paying more for pitchers of beer Thursday nights.
Announced by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission on July 3, the new regulations apply minimum drink prices while restricting happy hour and the number of drinks that can be purchased after last call. The rules, effective Aug. 1, restrict bars from charging less than 16 cents per ounce of beer (or less than $3.20 per 20 ounce pint) and $2.75 per ounce of liquor. After 1 a.m., bar patrons can only purchase two servings at a time.
"The overall intent was to reduce the level of intoxication and the availability of really cheap drinks and to reduce the impulse type of binge drinking that arises when the bartender announces that you can buy trays of 25 cent highballs," said AGLC communications manager Wes Bellmore. "The rule to limit the number of drinks after 1 a.m. was to prevent people from loading up their table with alcohol at last call and then drinking steadily until the minute they have to leave."
He explained the change in the liquor regulations came after a long consultation process involving provincial government and the hospitality industry aimed at curbing the rising number of violent incidents at nightclubs and pubs related to over-intoxication.
As a result of the regulations, the Den's drink prices will likely undergo adjustments before the fall semester brings students back to campus. A Facebook page for the Den's mid-August one night revival lists $9.75 beer pitchers and $2.99 highballs, but Students' Union vice-president operations and finance Alex Judd noted that the prices were tentative and subject to review before the fall semester.
"It's certainly going to have an impact on us and we absolutely have to follow the provincial policies," said Judd. "At this point, we're looking at our options and we basically want to see how we can continue to offer economical prices for students at the Den while making sure that we're meeting the new regulations."
The last price change at the Den occurred in fall 2006, when the cost of a pitcher was raised from $7 to $8 due to the rising cost of beer. Judd said the price increase did not negatively affect Den business at the time, although she noted the SU is taking a wait-and-see approach this time around. Bellmore said the change may ultimately be positive for business at many bars.
"The consensus among the stakeholders was that, if anything, this would level the playing field amongst [bars] in that none of them could offer the really, really cheap drinks and try to undercut someone else," said Bellmore. "The establishments that cater to, specifically, the really cheap drinks and trying to get as much volume as possible through are just going to have to rethink the way they offer their promotions rather than consider the potential to lose business because now everybody has to charge a minimum price."
Aside from the potential for lost revenue, the rise in drink prices may cause drinking behaviour to change. One concern is that the move may cause students to pre-drink--drinking at home before going out--leading to more patrons heading to the bar already intoxicated.
"The idea of pre-drinking is something that we're trying to see how it fits into the responsibilities that we can control," said Bellmore. "We don't control what people do inside their own homes. Part of our mandate is to encourage moderation; to encourage people to use alcohol as an enhancement to their evening, not as the entire entertainment for the evening."
Campus Security manager Ken Kress explained that while alcohol consumption on campus has long been an issue, a strong collaborative relationship between Campus Security, the SU and Den staff has helped tackle it.
"It's an issue that we deal with on an ongoing basis because there is a bar here, but we think that we have it pretty much under control," said Kress.
Judd noted the Den is in the unique position of having a month to adjust to the new rules before the majority of students head back to campus in September. The SU will monitor adjustments made by other establishments before making any permanent changes.
"We also have to keep in mind because we're a student bar, we do have our own unique set of clients that we serve and so we want to make sure that the choices we make are suited best for them," said Judd.