Impact of changed drinking laws felt

Hawke’s Bay bars are suffering following tougher drink-drive laws but are fighting back, says Hospitality New Zealand regional manager Chris Hince.

The December change meant the limit lowered from 400mcg of alcohol per litre of breath, to 250mcg for drivers over 20. The blood-alcohol limit reduced from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, to 50mg.

Drivers caught between 251mcg and 400mcg will get an instant fine of $200, 50 demerit points and be banned from driving for 12 hours. It does not result in a criminal conviction.

Mr Hince said the law change did have the intended effect of the legislation – late-night drinking. The 37.5 per cent drop in legal limit had resulted in people consuming “just one drink, or they are not coming”.

“Certainly some of our members have felt that decline in clientele in their sales. Others are attempting to make up for it in other ways – that can be everything from the use of courtesy vans to shared drivers and increased sales of light beers.

“If you go back 10 or 15 years there was quite a stigma about drinking light beer. Now it is very, very accepted.

“This year we are seeing that trend continue.”

The trend of people staying home was not new and “certainly driven” by cheap supermarket alcohol.

“The competition for the market isn’t really one bar down the road. The competition is whether or not I can get you to come out of your living room, where you have your big television, cheap supermarket beer and pizza delivered to your door.”

Shed 2 On The Quay owner Dennis Buckley said since the tougher law there had been an increased trend toward sober drivers and a bigger trend toward the consumption of low-alcohol beer and wine by local patrons.

Decreased bar takings were compensated by an increase in restaurant takings, thanks to a busy tourist season.

About 70 per cent of his Ahuriri customers were tourists and winter would “definitely” be the time to judge whether the changed drinking limits had an effect on locals’ drinking patterns. Tourists “had their own habits” and often did not need to drive after drinking because they were staying locally. “It is probably going to be after Easter before we get a handle on it.”

Of the increased consumption of low-alcohol drinks, ginger beer had the greatest increase “which is good for the local people because it is made in Hawke’s Bay”.

Patangata Tavern owner Aaron Bartlett said business was not suffering. The country pub was 12km from State Highway 2 at Otane and still “a destination pub”.

“People are becoming more sensible and we have functions where we promote sober drivers,” the former Magpies lock said. No less money was going across the bar, he said.

“Till-wise we are selling more low-alcohol beer and low-alcohol cider, a lot of coffee and a lot of snacks.

“If they are not drinking, they are eating – our steaks and burgers are to die for.

“We might get a group that has come down specifically because the food is so good, and they’ll have a coffee or a ginger beer.

“We have groups of locals that have their two nights a week here and in their group they’ll always have a sober driver.”

Hawkes Bay Today