Jon Taffer is the host of Bar Rescue and an award-winning expert in the bar and restaurant industry. But just because someone is an expert that doesn’t mean they’re always right, and I’m about to take him to task for something he said during an episode of the most recent season.
I was watching a Bar Rescue marathon on Spike a couple of weeks ago, and among all of the other new ones Taffer was tearing, he said something that really caught my attention. In an episode titled “Empty Bottles Full Cans,” Taffer is helping the owners of a Tennessee bar called M.T. Bottle save their sinking business.
At around the 15:17 mark in the episode, Jon Taffer holds up a customized matchbook and says, “This is about the stupidest thing that any bar operator in America can do. You come here, you have one drink, you take a book of matches. You leave it on the console of your car, you get in a car accident, where are the police coming? That’s why this is stupid. Get ‘em out of here!”
Ouch. As someone who works in the promotional product industry, hearing that what you sell is “the stupidest thing,” is not great. However, I have never owned a bar or restaurant, so this was really interesting to me. Are promotional products really a huge risk for bar owners?
The short answer is no. The long answer is no, but Taffer wasn’t completely wrong about bars being liable for injuries caused by a person who was over-served alcohol at their establishment.
Because of a little something called dram shop laws, in many states bars and restaurants are responsible for injuries caused in DUI incidents. According to alllaw.com, “A dram shop case is a lawsuit against a bar, tavern, restaurant, or other establishment that sells alcoholic drinks, brought after one of the establishment’s patrons got drunk and got into an accident.”
Dram shop laws vary from state to state, so find out about the specific laws in your state here. In Illinois and in many other states if a person is killed or injured by a drunk driver, the establishment that served the intoxicated person can be sued for upwards of $60,000.
According to Illinois state law, “Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 235, §5/5-21
(a) Every person who is injured within this state, in person or property, by any intoxicated person has a right of action in his or her own name, severally or jointly, against any person, licensed under the laws of this state or of any other state to sell alcoholic liquor, who, by selling or giving alcoholic liquor, within or without the territorial limits of this state, causes the intoxication of such person.”
Michael Helfand, founder of FindGreatLawyers.com, explained that even though yes, a bar can be held liable in the event of a drunk driving accident, a promotional product found in the vehicle of the drunk driver would have little to no impact on the case.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with the results of a dram shop law case,” Helfand stated. Even if a bar doesn’t have a promotional product, Helfand said that between social media check-ins, posts on Instagram or Facebook, the possibility of a friend coming forward, and credit card charges, there’s no way that a little simple detective work wouldn’t lead to the bar.
Even once the location is determined and a dram shop case is filed, Helfand said, “It’s not an automatic win. You [the plaintiff] still have to prove the bar over-served the person who caused the accident.”
Helfand described an example of a case in which a stock broker was extremely drunk, went into the bar bathroom, and beat the pulp out of another patron. The patron sued not only the guy who assaulted him, but also the bar that served him. It was discovered that the bar in question had served the stock broker 14 drinks, making them liable.
Helfand’s advice to businesses? “Think long-term. Nobody wants to turn down business, but you’ve gotta think smart. You have to think about whether that guy’s $20 for the next round is more important than being in business 6 months down the line.”
“If you’re the cause of someone being drunk, you’re liable,” he said. This can be hard on bar owners, because as Helfand mentioned, “A lot of people can be really drunk and not exhibiting really drunk behavior.”
The key there, of course, is making sure bar tenders and servers are trained, certified, and responsible.
Debbie Shocair, known in the industry as the Whiskey Mistress, is not only a bar manager and whiskey expert, but also a master instructor of mixology and an instructor of California Alcohol Awareness Training with over 1,000 graduates under her belt. She emphasized that the liability does not come from promotional products or marketing. “The liability comes from over-serving,” she said.
Shocair continued, “The way you prevent drunk driving is through responsible serving and properly trained and certified bar tenders and servers, not by avoiding promotional products.”
To Taffer’s credit, he did touch on that later in his rant when he said, “With responsible bar tenders we reduce the liability and we’re ready to rock!”
Brent Lindner is a partner at 4 restaurants and bars in Grand Island, Nebraska, including Sin City Grill and The Wave Pizza Company. He has been in the restaurant and bar industry since 1986. Lindner has used promotional products many times, in particular some “cool little trash cans” that he used to serve chips and give out to customers.
Of promotional products, Lindner said, “I think they’re valuable given a little thought and planning.” He continued by saying that they are a good way to “keep your name in front of some people.”
Shocair also sang the praises of promotional items. “I’ve never seen any sort of promo product from a liquor company or bar bring anything but positive things,” she said.
“What I have found, not just in the bar I manage, but in bars I advise or consult for, is first of all people love free stuff,” Shocair said. “It engenders loyalty to the bar. It opens up conversations as well.”
Shocair said that based on her experience glassware and t-shirts are the best promotional products for the bar industry. She noted, “Key chains are fun, but people are more likely to throw those away.” On the other hand, customers will hang on to a custom t-shirt or a cool shot glass for a long time.
She explained that liquor companies like Bushmills, Guiness, and Jagermeister frequently (and successfully) give away barware and t-shirts. Of Jager’s t-shirt giveaway in particular, Shocair said, “People were clamoring for those t-shirts.”
There are also other benefits to bars using promotional products. “These promo products don’t only affect the customers, but the staff as well,” Shocair said. “The staff is always excited to have a branded shot glass, a special beer glass, or a t-shirt.”
So there you have it. Experts have weighed in, and sorry Taffer, but you flat-out missed the mark on this one. Promo items will not affect the results of a dram shop law case, as police will find the location of your bar with or without a promo product found on the console of a drunk driver’s vehicle. So rather than worrying about your promotional products, focus your attention on hiring and training responsible, certified bar tenders and servers to prevent over-serving.
Promotional products are by far not the “stupidest thing any bar operator in America can do.” In fact, we’re willing to argue that it’s pretty smart to use them! They’re not only great for fostering loyalty with customers, but for motivating staff as well.
Now that we know promotional products aren’t a risk for bar and restaurant owners, I don’t feel so bad making this shameless plug. If you’re looking for some cool glassware or custom t-shirts to promote your bar or restaurant one of our representatives would be happy to help! You can contact them by email (email@example.com) or by phone (1-866-312-5646)