U study finds high percentage of drunken patrons served

Craig Gustafson

A man reeking of booze stumbles into a bar and, slurring, asks the bartender for a double vodka. The bartender hesitates, but pours the drink and walks away.
After staggering to the bathroom and back, the drunk asks the bartender for another. The bartender obliges.
According to a University study, this scenario occurs more often than not. Heavily intoxicated bar patrons have little problem ordering another round in Minnesota bars.
The study, conducted in 24 urban bars, found bartenders serve 68 percent of drunken patrons despite laws against such practices.
A similar nationwide study showed 79 percent of businesses sold alcohol to customers showing obvious signs of intoxication. The 336 businesses surveyed included bars, restaurants, liquor stores and grocery stores.
Other studies have shown more than half of all drunken drivers are pulled over after leaving licensed establishments.
University Police records indicate that 606 alcohol-related arrests took place on campus in 1998.
Lt. Mike Listul, a University Police officer, said he is surprised that the numbers are so low.
“I don’t believe the liquor industry is observant of people who are intoxicated,” he said.
Alexander Wagenaar, professor of public health, and Traci Toomey, associate professor of epidemiology, conducted the 1997 University study and will present their findings to the American Public Health Association in Chicago tonight.
Wagenaar said more laws prohibiting sales to drunken patrons are needed.
In the University study, three male actors made 68 trips to bars varying in location, clientele, size and rowdiness during a four-month period. The actors did not go to the same bar more than once a month.
Actors feigned drunkenness by spraying themselves with whiskey and rumpling their clothes and hair.
Each actor arrived separately at different bars, swaying back and forth as bouncers checked their identification. Despite the actors’ apparent drunkenness, they were denied entrance only five times.
Once inside, the decoy drunk continued his performance with slurred speech, inappropriate laughter and blatant forgetfulness, while ordering a double vodka. If refused, he ordered a beer.
After receiving a drink, the actor walked unsteadily to the bathroom, ditched the drink and attempted to purchase another vodka five minutes later. Of 106 purchase attempts, servers refused 40 times.
But the University study is not all bad news for Minnesota bars.
Bartenders who refused purchase attempts usually did so in a respectful manner. Many offered nonalcoholic beverages, such as coffee or water, and some servers gave the patron direct assistance.
Billy More, a Sgt. Preston’s bartender, said that when he sees people beyond their limit he offers them a cab.
“We’re watching out for their health,” he said. “But we can’t keep track of everybody.”
More also said many people are able to disguise their drunkenness.

Craig Gustafson covers the Medical School and welcomes comments at [email protected]