Thursday, August 25, 2011

Does Size Matter: How Consumers Can Protect Their Rights

I have had a lot of feedback and reaction to my recent post "Does Size Matter" which related to the desire of some to bring back the 20 oz pint to BC and my response that I believe that honest representations of serving sizes and delivery of full pours were issues that I thought to be more important, so I thought I'd delve into the subject a little more in-depth.

It appears in Vancouver, at least from the direct feedback I am getting, many of us are fed up with the practice of misrepresenting serving sizes of draft beer, of not advising consumers of those serving sizes and of short-pouring beers, yet like the good Canadians were are, we accept it without causing a fuss so as not to offend or disturb the bartenders of our great city.

These are three very different issues I have identified but they are very closely related and we, as consumers, have some tools available to us to fight back to protect our legal rights as consumers.

In relation to serving size and the prices of drinks in British Columbia, the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (BC LCLB) regulations state, "you (licensees) must follow strict limits on maximum drink size, and have a liquor price list available, showing the size of each drink you sell and its price". The regulation does not goes as far as to demand licensees post these lists, although they do recommend having this posted over the bar or available at each table, but does states this list must be made available to customers "on demand". By not complying, the licensee is in direct contravention of the BC LCLB regulations and can be disciplined by the LCLB for this violation, yet very few bars, pubs, clubs or restaurants comply, that I have seen.

Will the real sleeve please stand up.
From right to left 12oz (341ml) 13oz (369ml) and 14oz (398ml)

By consumers exercising their rights to know how much they are being served and for what price, the they can quickly have the information in front of them that lets them know if the establishment is misrepresenting their serving size, i.e. calling a sleeve a pint and know if they are getting fair value for the amount being served. As well, this lets us know, in the case of sleeves, which come in many sizes that look similar and are hard to judge by just looking at them, exactly what size glass of draft beer we are getting. It can make a big difference as some sleeves have a 12oz (340ml) capacity, some 14oz (398ml) capacity and some 16oz (454ml) capacity, all when filled to the brim.

The second tool in our arsenal is our voices. How many times have you been served a beer that has been short-poured leaving a few centimetres, or more, at the top of the glass empty, yet you have said nothing to the bartender or server. This missing cm of beer may not seem like much, but in a 14oz  sleeve, that cm represents 2oz (57ml) of beer, or 14% of that sleeve's capacity. Now if the establishment is advertising a 12oz pour and using 14oz glasses, this is fair - you may argue that a 14oz glass is just not right, but they licensee is doing nothing wrong in that they are living up to their word - but if they are advertising a 14oz pour and giving you 12oz, that is just plain dishonest and illegal.
If you 14oz sleeve is short-poured just by this amount, you are
missing about 15% of your beer!!

I have had sleeves served to me with 3 to 4 cm of head on top and when I pointed this out to the bartender, I was told, "that's how you pour a beer," or something equally as ridiculous. If you plan on ripping me off, that is how you pour a beer! Unless you are using over-sized glasses with serving marks on them (pour to this line), that lets me know the proper volume of beer is in my glass and the beer has been poured to that line, not pouring a beer to capacity is dishonest. I have never seen these marked glasses, which are common in the UK to help combat the short pour issue, used here in BC. These pint glasses in the UK are over-sized, more than 20oz, with the "fill to here" line sitting at the 20oz mark on the glass. This leaves room for head on the beer and enables someone to carry the glass without spilling due to the glass being poured to the brim. Here in Vancouver, most places that do bother to advertise the serving size of their beers advertise to glasses capacity filled to the brim and we all know that rarely is a glass delivered to you filled to the brim, therefore you are not getting the measure the licensee is advtertising and what you are paying for.

When we get short-poured and we would know this for sure by having the serving sizes posted so we can compare the promised serving size to what we actually get served, we need to demand a top-up and let the bartender know it is not okay to short pour our drinks. If we ordered an 8oz steak and we receive 85% of a steak on our plate, with a portion of the whole cut away, we wouldn't accept this, so why should we accept short-poured glasses? We cannot decide to pay for only 85-90% of the bill and walk away, so why we we accept 85-90% of what we ordered.
Which glass holds more?
Optical illusion as the shorter glass on the left holds 25%
more than the sleeve on the right (15z versus 12oz)

If the establishment is not willing to top up your beer, then you have the right not frequent that establishment again and to let others know of your experience. In this day of social media, tools like Facebook and Twitter can be very powerful, as are on-line websites that let you log-in and review establishments for others to see. Managers and owners of bars and restaurants do monitor what is said about their establishments and need to hear these types of complaints, if they are legitimate, so they can right the wrongs. It is the reputation of their establishment that is on the line and a bad rep can mean a decrease in business. If enough voices speak out in unison, they will be heard and the more voices that speak out, the louder and more powerful the voice. So if you are among those who are fed up with the status quo, speak up, stand up for your consumer rights and be heard.

But having said that, consumers need to be careful when accusing establishments of dishonesty and breaking the law and should use this powerful voice responsibly. Businesses are successful due, in large part, to their reputation that many work hard at building and to unjustly tarnish this reputation to serve some personal purpose is just as wrong as short-pouring beers in my opinion. And I believe strongly that if a place is doing it right, that should be broadcast as well. By highlighting and giving those establishments who are serving it right the positive publicity and feedback they deserve, others may follow suit.

I can tell you that I am one consumer that is going to start exercising my rights to ensure I am getting what I pay for. Those establishments out there serving it right have nothing to fear, but those who are trying to pull the wool over our collective eyes should be held accountable. I know I am not alone in feeling this way so lets get organized and stand up for ourselves and our rights as consumers.

Next up on the list of things to explore, standardization of glassware, pros and cons.

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