Drinkaware: ‘We are not the booze police’

By Nicholas Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

The right message: Drinkaware boss Elaine Hindal explains the real problem
The right message: Drinkaware boss Elaine Hindal explains the real problem

Related tags Pub People Alcoholic beverage

It is a busy Friday night in the pub and the punters are out in force enjoying themselves as the drinks flow from behind the bar. Just as things start to get into the swing, a distressed customer storms into the bar and frantically screams: “Everybody hide your drinks, the booze police are coming!”

No, a dramatic scene of the pub transforming into a coffee shop and customers throwing their booze into pot plants does not ensue. That is because there is no such thing as the Booze Police. However, Drinkaware chief executive Elaine Hindal is still, to some degree, fighting off the unfair reputation that the organisation she heads is the party pooper of the pub trade.

“We’re not the booze police,” she firmly says at the charity’s London headquarters. “We really want to support pubs because drinking in the pub is a better long-term option for consumers than drinking at home.”

There is no question about it, Hindal’s stance and thought process on supporting pubs to increase trade is very believable. She outlines her arguments on pieces of paper that sit on the conference room table between us, regularly tapping different parts of it as if to add strength to her arguments.

Focusing on two groups of people whose drinking is potentially going to put their own health or other people's at risk

– Elaine Hindal, Drinkaware

The main things the charity, which has been operating independently for 10 years now, is trying to stop is the negative health effects of improper alcohol consumption. It is widely recognised by Drinkaware and its health advisers that drinking in moderation, and in the pub, can be part of a healthy lifestyle.

However, that is not to say there is no focus on pub drinkers, because the ultimate goal of the charity is to stop people drinking at harmful levels. Hindal makes that clear. Drinkaware has been on this same mission since it was founded, but it is now stepping up its activity with a new five-year strategy.

“We have a few things we’re focusing on over the next five years: one is providing more information about safe drinking to consumers and customers, which is our bread and butter,” Hindal explains. “The other is focusing on two groups of people whose drinking is potentially going to put their own health or other people’s at risk.”

One of the groups in question is those aged over 45, who find it hard to change their drinking habits. These people are unlikely to be going to the pub every night and having a skinful, perhaps just one or two, but are drinking heavily and regularly at home, which is worse for their health.

Drinking that amount for two decades

“People over 45 are in the habits they had 20 years ago and unfortunately they have been drinking that amount for two decades.” Because of this, liver disease has not declined, people are overweight and a significant amount of this age bracket smokes. “So it’s the compound effects of alcohol that we’re really concerned about.”

The next group that really interests Hindal is a small proportion of the under-25s, who are typically going against the Millennial trend of drinking less. “They are the risky coping social drinkers,” she says. “They’re drinking because they feel pressure, and although they drink less than their parents, when they do drink, they drink a lot.”

These two groups fall into Drinkaware’s behaviour change programme, where users gain support through the charity’s app and 9.5m user-strong website. She says: “What gives us a bit of hope is we’ve got a significant proportion of people who say, ‘you know what? I probably am drinking too much, how can I cut back?’.” The Little Less campaign helps them do this. But how does this affect the pub? “We’re not saying you have to stop going out or stop drinking, it’s just when you’re drinking at home, maybe have a little less.

“The campaign is, actually, focused on drinking in the home because, particularly with men, when you talk to them about this, they say they would like to cut back, but don’t want to stop going to the pub,” says Hindal. “Actually, our medical advisory panel agreed that for social, mental and health reasons, the pub is important for these guys to have an environment where they can talk. It’s in an environment that’s controlled and there’s a degree of supervision.”

While there are many issues with people drinking at home – it is always tempting to finish the last of the wine or have another bottle of beer – drinking in the pub is different. “They can drop out of a round or have a pint of shandy or another non-alcoholic drink, that’s how people manage their drinking in the pub.”

Think about Starbucks being open 24/7, they're a real competitor to the pub

– Elaine Hindal, Drinkaware

Hindal makes an important point about alcohol-free drinks being as bigger part of a pub’s offer. There is more of a need these days for pubs to think harder about their range and the competition they face. “Think about Starbucks being open 24/7, they’re a real competitor to the pub,” she adds. “The good pubs are thinking about their businesses as a social space, offering things like Wi-Fi and being great connective places where people can work if they want too – it’s not just about alcohol.”

There are lots of interesting ideas in the trade at the moment that create environments that are not all about alcohol consumption, yet still allow people to have a really good time. In addition, the rise of better-quality alcohol-free wines and beers is promising and plays into the diversification of the pub’s role – not just a space to get drunk. “It’s thinking about drinking and the pub in a different way,” she adds.

It is the Millennial age group driving this change, she believes. “They’re not drinking as much or going out as much. There’s some conflicting evidence about how this trend is growing,” explains Hindal. “I’ve heard lots of people talk about social media as a reason for fewer Millennials drinking – they’re spending too much time on it and don’t have time to drink. But, also there is some conflicting evidence that suggests kids who are very heavy users of social media are more likely to drink.

“What I really believe is the research showing a trend towards wellness and body image, and certainly a concern about image on social media. This group doesn’t want to look silly where everyone can see.”

Obviously, though, there are still younger people who drink, mainly when they go off to university. With that, there comes concerns around personal, physical safety. Sexual harassment is a big focus now, with celebrities and now MPs being rightly outed for their shameful behaviour and misconduct.

Media frenzy

This media frenzy started shortly after Drinkaware’s You Wouldn’t Sober, You Shouldn’t Drunk campaign to stamp out sexual harassment in the night-time economy ramped up last month. It spread across national newspapers, websites, television and radio.

The coverage was a strong platform to highlight the Drinkaware Crew initiative that helps to keep people safe in larger on-trade venues. The crew is formed of, usually, university students who keep a lookout in clubs and big pubs for potentially vulnerable people and is supported by the on-trade.

Another smaller, but by no way insignificant, tool recently launched by Drinkaware to help other venues stamp out sexual harassment is a piece of e-learning software, delivered by CPL. It helps train staff to identify drunk and vulnerable people and teaches staff the right way to deal with them, by not just chucking them out into the street.

“We’ve been running the sexual harassment campaign now for three-and-a-half years and we’re getting traction,” adds Hindal. “It started because a woman from Newcastle said ‘why is it that when I’m on a night out people think it’s OK to grab me when they’re drunk, but they won’t do it on a Saturday morning in TopShop?’.”

Who is Elaine Hindal?

Hindal, Drinkaware chief executive

Hindal has been Drinkaware’s chief executive since 2013 and joined the organisation from The Children’s Society, where she was director of external relations.
Prior to that, Hindal held a number of global marketing roles with Nokia, Cadbury Schweppes PLC where she was commercial strategy director for EMEA and global category director, chocolate; and The Coca–Cola Company, where Hindal was global brand director.
Hindal has also worked in marketing and communications for Beiersdorf AG and Boots.
She is a trustee of the Royal Mencap Society, where she advises on brand and communications strategy.

Now it is coming up to Christmas, however, there is a bigger focus on drink driving. Not just people having a drink and getting into their car, but those who drive the next day after a heavy night out and are still over the limit. “People are asking us right now for drink-driving information,” she says. “We have to remind ourselves that every generation of drivers needs to be educated about it. But the next day is an area that a number of pubs have asked us to look into and we’ve just launched something called drinkers at work that looks into that.”

One of the ways pubs can help their customers a little more when it comes to the next day is by serving food as late into the evening as possible, as that helps slow the absorption of alcohol. Offering smaller drinks sizes, such as attractively priced 125ml glasses of wine and better alcohol-free options, can also be helpful. “But, anything that broadens a pub’s range is really good and we’re already seeing some good work, such as in Marston’s pubs, which are offering things like milkshakes now.”

Moreover, just for some additional pub support, post-Christmas that is, Drinkaware does not back campaigns such as Dry January. “The jury is still out for us on this,” she says. “We were a bit concerned about people doing Dry January who drink moderately anyway because we were wondering whether it would make them drink in excess afterwards. I think our medical advisory panel would say we’re unsure whether it’s reducing harm in the long term.”

However, that’s for the new year, and Hindal’s overall message to pubs is much more long term. The lasting words she wants operators to think about when they see Drinkaware is: “We’re not the booze police; we really want to support pubs. The British pub is not dead and we know from consumer research that they don’t think that’s true either.”

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