U professors help restaurants limit drinking

by Jessica Weaver

University researchers are working to help Minneapolis restaurant managers enforce drinking laws.

Epidemiology professors Alexander Wagenaar and Traci Toomey at the School of Public Health are teaching managers how to look for signs of intoxication, identify fake IDs and measure how much a person has drunk in a given period.

With management training, it might be more difficult for underage and heavy drinkers to consume alcohol in Minneapolis bars, Wagenaar and Toomey said.

They said other tactics, including Operation NightCAP and tracking kegs, might also increase the chances of ticketing underage drinkers at parties.

Big 10 restaurant and bar in Stadium Village participates in the study and said it will be effective.

“It’s absolutely helpful,” employee Tom Nelson said. He said all Big 10 employees go through alcohol training.

Although it is illegal to serve clearly intoxicated patrons, three-fourths of outlets still sell to them, Wagenaar said.

He said police and researchers send “pseudo-drunks” into restaurants to test whether restaurants are enforcing the law. With each additional drink after a person is intoxicated, the risk curve for injury and poor decisions increases, Wagenaar said.

“Retailers have a responsibility to sell alcohol in a safe way,” he said.

Wagenaar recently received national recognition when he was reappointed to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving board of advisers. First appointed to the board in 2001, Wagenaar advises MADD on policy positions to prevent drunk driving.

Toomey, who is also working on the study, said management support – which can include guaranteeing a tip to servers who refuse service to overly intoxicated or underage patrons – is key to enforcing drinking laws.

She said Operation NightCAP, compliance checks and management training will help decrease student drinking.

“I don’t think there’s one magic pill that will change everything,” Toomey said.

Another way to prevent underage drinkers, Toomey said, is to crack down on people supplying them alcohol. Liquor stores can use numbers on kegs, track them to the buyers and ticket them if they provide to underage drinkers.

Toomey said changing attitudes is also important in combating underage drinking.

“We’re trying to change societal norms of drinking,” Toomey said. “You see ‘Animal House’ and identify that with college. College is about getting a degree and becoming a responsible adult.”

Wagenaar agreed.

“The environment around a campus influences underage drinking,” Wagenaar said. He said things like ladies’ nights, cheap drinks and oversize drink containers influence excessive drinking patterns.

Wagenaar and Toomey said the importance of combating excessive drinking is evident in debacles such as the last two years’ riots following the Gophers’ NCAA hockey championships. Both Wagenaar and Toomey said alcohol was a key factor in the riots.

“When people are intoxicated, I think they make different decisions,” Toomey said.