Friday, September 26, 2008

On Portsmouth's "Notorious" Barment Letter

I've been reading with great interest the coverage and commentary regarding the "barment" letter that has been initiated by a number of downtown Portsmouth's bars and restaurants. 
Here are some articles and letters on the subject: From September 18th's Portsmouth Herald, Bars get tough: Thrown out of one; banned from 15. Similarly, from the next day's Foster's: Portsmouth bars won't tolerate drunks, will ban them. The the pushback, from September 24th's Foster's: 'Barment' may be more of a headache for bars than violators. The Herald's September 23rd editorial and, predictably, letters to the editor of the Herald, including one from the police lieutenant tasked with overseeing this program.

As the proprietor of the Portsmouth Brewery, a busy downtown restaurant, I have chosen not to participate in this program, and I would like to share the reasoning behind my decision. It is quite simple, actually: at the Brewery, we prefer that the matter of whom and whom not to serve remains ours and ours alone. When another licensed establishment has banned a patron from its premises due to unacceptable behavior, we certainly want to know the details and circumstances of that decision and hope that information will be forthcoming. In certain situations, we may wish to follow suit, but there may be times when we do not. There are a variety of situations that may cause a customer to no longer be welcome in a given establishment. I am thinking of a certain former customer of ours whom we "uninvited" this past summer from our premises. Would I like to see that individual banned from fourteen other places in town? Absolutely not. In her case, that would be punitive and retaliatory on our part and would not serve the interests of the community. I am not comfortable with a system that allows wholesale barments, because it does not account for circumstances and removes face-to-face accountability from individual operators.

Much of the discussion surrounding this issue has been connected with alcohol service, and it must be noted that when patron misbehavior is alcohol-related, both the patron and the serving establishment share responsibility. Nonetheless, it has been said before, and it bears repeating here that the vast majority of adults who consume alcohol do so responsibly, while the majority of those in the beverage alcohol business are committed to serving it responsibly, as well.

The best thing that all of us in the hospitality business can do is to focus on the quality and responsibility of our own alcohol service, and to be good neighbors with one another. Communication is key. Seventeen years ago, when the Brewery first opened its doors, we made a list of phone numbers of every bar in town and taped it next to our bar's telephone. At the head of the list were these instructions: "Asshole Alert! Please help out your neighbors. Use this handy list and make a call when you think trouble may be heading their way." Why is this effective? Because, as most bartenders will tell you, when you refuse service to some belligerent jerk one of the last things he'll tell you on his way out the door is where he's going next, where he believes he's sure to be served. Eventually we copied the list, laminated it and mailed it to every other bar and restaurant in town. I'd venture to say that some version of that list remains taped next to many bar phones in town. That's a start, but it is clearly not enough.

It has been suggested in these pages that the establishments participating in the barment program be boycotted. That is a patently silly idea and a misplaced response to their sincere effort to deal with problems caused by a small number of individuals whose irresponsible and sometimes dangerous behavior adversely affects the comfort, enjoyment and safety of the rest of us. My managers and I applaud that effort and are confident that, with everyone's participation and input, it will evolve into a system the Portsmouth Brewery can participate in.



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