Pub breathalysers: A breath of fresh air?

By Oli Gross

- Last updated on GMT

Pub breathalysers: A breath of fresh air?

Related tags Door staff Crime Norwich

The introduction of breathalyser tests at some pubs, clubs and bars across the country has been greeted with caution from industry leaders. But how have the schemes worked for licensees? Oli Gross reports.

The British Beer and Pub Association recently warned breathalysers could turn pubs into ‘fortresses’ (PMA, 9 July), encouraging drinkers to stay at home, while the Association of Licenced Multiple Retailers fears they will criminalise customers and lead to “unintended negative consequences”.

The theory that breathalysers put customers off visiting and spending in pubs has already been put to the test in Norwich and Torquay. Newquay and Truro pubs will be targeted later this summer.

Two pubs in Torquay — the Apple & Parrot and Mambos — have been breathalysing customers since December. Matthew Jarrett, general manager at the Apple & Parrott, admitted that when breathalysers were first introduced, there was “a lot of noise on social media”. “Many felt it was probably a step too far,” he told the PMA.

He said it was “difficult to gauge” how damaging it was intially for trade, but that the negative response was due to a lack of understanding as to how the tests would be used.

“Once customers had an understanding, the concern disappeared,” he said. Since the original backlash, the on-the-door tests have been a “fantastic” tool for the venue.
Jarret said now the tests don’t bother customers and are used by door staff to “double check” whether someone attempting to enter the pub is drunk.

Anyone registering over two and a half times the drink-drive limit is refused entry. In December 2014, of 809 people breathalysed across Torbay, Devon, during the pilot scheme, 298 were refused entry, suggesting the test was used more than just in extreme circumstances.

The police have pointed towards figures that show tests are proven to reduce the likelihood of arguments between customers and door staff. Figures supplied by Devon and Cornwall Police said that in December 2014 — when the breathalyers were first introduced in 23 venues — violent crime fell by 22%, violent crimes against the person (excluding domestic abuse) was down 39% and there were 10 fewer admissions to hospital compared with December 2013.

Ian Stone is director of operations at security company Eliminate Risk, which supplies door staff to Park Lane Bar & Grill in Torquay. He explained that asking someone to leave a venue without a breathalyser test often “created a flashpoint”. “Now there’s no argument — they can’t argue with a machine. People accept it.”

These kinds of measures concern the trade because the atmosphere of a pub with well-behaved customers could be diminished with staff policing the venue and randomly testing people throughout the night.

However, Inspector Louise Costin of Cornwall Police insisted the measures didn’t criminalise customers. “If anything, it prevents people from becoming offenders or from being victims of an offence.” She suggested the tests could actually prove to be financially beneficial for licensees. “If pubs are better managed and have a better atmosphere, people stay and spend more.”

In Norwich, Brad Baxter, manager of Gonzo’s Tea Rooms, has been using on-the-door breathalyser tests for six months and says it has been beneficial. “Before, customers would argue if they weren’t let in and sometimes become aggressive. These tests completely prevent an argument. If we think someone has had too much to drink, we get confirmation.”

Baxter thinks customers are less likely to drink excessively at home if they know the venue uses tests.

The scheme has been indefinitely extended in Norwich, where, so far, 30 venues have used them. A spokesman for Norwich Police said: “This is all about raising public awareness that you shouldn’t expect to get into a licensed premises if you’re already drunk. It’s not about telling an operator how to do their job.”

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