Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Beer Consumers On-going Acceptance of Being Robbed - Ignorance Is Not Bliss!!

For reasons I will never understand, for years draught beer consumers in BC have blatantly been ripped off
and consumers have accepted this practice without much complaint.

The majority of time we are confronted with the decision of whether or not to order a draught beer, we are being forced to so with out being given the basic information to make an informed decision.

How much beer is being offered per serving? What is the strength of the beer? How do I know I am getting what I ordered as far as a serving size?

These are all basic pieces of information we, as consumers, should be supplied before we even order the beer and take our first sip.

Yes, I am on about the serving size issue that exists in this province, the same one that has existed for decades. Check out this Vancouver Sun newspaper article from January 29, 1958 (3rd page over under headline "Beer Glass Plimsol Line Is Half Inch From Top") where the then president of the BC Restaurant Association, J.J. Custock, pointed out draught beer consumers were, in many cases, "being robbed".

Custock's advice at the time, if consumers were not getting their full measure of beer in their glass they should "get up and walk out" of the establishment. Although this is good advice, I propose consumers take things further and begin to stand up for their rights.

Due to the fact that the government and the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) will not step in the enforce their own rules and protect consumers' rights and because we, the draught beer consumers of BC, are such a passive and willing-to-be-screwed-over bunch, it has become the norm for licensees leave their patrons in the dark in regards to how much beer they are serving. And even when serving sizes are established, they are often misrepresented, whether intentionally or not, leaving the consumer with less than they think they have in their glass.

Last week the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) of BC relaunched their Fess up to Serving Sizes (FUSS) Campaign, sending off a letter to various politicians & a press release to various media outlets in BC advocating for the protection of basic consumers' rights and the enhancement of public safety.

CAMRA BC has beefed up and expanded their campaign - originally FUSS pushed to have the LCLB enforce their legal requirement for licensees to either post, or keep handy, a serving size/price list for all alcoholic beverages they serve, which must be produced upon request by a consumer - by adding that the alcohol content of beer (ABV) should be included on the serving size list and that draught beer glassware should have a "fill-to-here" line, known as a plimsol line, so the consumer knows they are getting the pour they ordered.

By enacting legislation requiring a serving size-ABV list for all draught beer and marked glassware, consumers will be able to make informed decisions about what they are ordering so they can determine:

Servers and licensees will also be more informed as to just exactly how much alcohol they are serving their customers and better be able to judge whether they are over-serving or not. With the new liquor policies about to be enacted, more legal responsibility will be placed on the licensees and servers, making them possibly financially liable if someone leaves their establishment after having a drink and gets into trouble due. BC is looking to enact a "last drink" style of legislation that puts the onus of responsibility on the establishment that serves a consumer their last drink, which means licensees will have to be more vigilant as to whether a consumer has been drinking prior to arriving at their establishment. This makes it even more important, as a licensee or server, to monitor just how much alcohol they are serving.

I don't know how many times I have spoken to bartenders and servers who have absolutely no clue as to the size of glass they are serving or the strength of the beer! It makes quite a difference to a person's blood alcohol level if they are consuming 16oz of 7% beer over 12oz of 5% beer!!

It also impacts the wallet significantly being offered a 20oz pour (pint) and being served a 16oz sleeve. When the bill comes and states you owe $10, try paying $7.50 and see how far you get!!

This campaign was originally launched in 2011, when I was president of CAMRA Vancouver, and FUSS worked its way all the way to the BC Legislature, but Rich Coleman, then overseeing the province's alcohol portfolio, did not care that consumers were being ripped off. Coleman basically stated that the LCLB gets very few complaints from the public about this issue and when they do, they investigate, but otherwise it was up to the licensees to police themselves.

I had several e-mail communications with then LCLB General Manager, Karen Ayers and she brushed the issue off as unimportant, even though she stated preventing over-serving was a LCLB priority, which, if CAMRA's ideas were implemented, would be far less likely as both consumers and servers would know exactly how much alcohol was being served. Ayers did state that she would "remind" licensees and liquor inspectors of their obligations via the LCLB's newsletter, but I never did see any evidence that she did so and when I talked to a liquor inspector, one known for being an unreasonable hard-ass who looks for any excuse to hassle licensees, he denied ever having any direction to enforce this policy.

Coleman and Ayers have moved on and others are now holding the reigns of power related to overseeing and enforcing alcohol policy in BC on so hopefully they will see the importance and practicality of these suggested changes.

I took a lot of abuse from a small segment of licensees when FUSS was first launched in Vancouver and I know they will again complain CAMRA is misguided, but to be perfectly blunt, I really don't give a shit. This is about consumers' rights, not licensees' rights. The playing field has been slanted in the direction of licenses for longer than I can remember and unscrupulous and/or uncaring licensees have been taking advantage. I can hear licensees stating this will cost them money, but no, it will not as producing a printed list or having a chalkboard list costs next to nothing and glassware could be phased in over a two-year period, with current glasses being replaced with plimsol-lined glasses as the establishment replaced glassware, which happens constantly due to breakage, wear and tear, theft, etc. As well, branded glassware should not be impacted and you only have to look to Europe to see that plimsol lines have been ingenuously inserted into brand logos or placed elsewhere on fancy beer glasses without impacting the branding.

In other parts of the world I have visited, not being given the information about how much beer you are ordering, how strong that beer is and then not being given the measure you were told you would receive, would cause great unrest among consumers. Here, we accept this practice while grumbling into our sleeve glass of undetermined size about being short-poured and ripped off.

Complaints about serving sizes and getting short-poured is still the Number One complaint I receive from consumers but if consumers really want to evoke change, they have to force the issue and take Coleman's statement, that the LCLB will investigate if they get complaints, to heart. The LCLB are obligated to investigate. Instead of complaining to the person next to you at the bar, or passivity accepting "getting robbed", take 30 seconds to send an email to the LCLB & Justice Minister (see addresses below), naming the establishment, time, date and issue.

Remember, this is not about pushing for the return of the pint! FUSS is about getting licensees to inform consumers exactly what they are offering and then delivering on that promise.

If this issue is important to you, take matters into your own hands and defend your consumer rights. The LCLB will not act in regards to this matter until directed to by the government and the government will not direct them to act until consumers become a pain in the ass for the politicians.

It is up to us to force this change. What do you have to lose...other than the continued practice of being ripped off?  

E-mail complaints to:
Douglas Scott - General Manager of the Liquor Control & Licensing Branch
Suzanne Anton - Justice Minister & Attorney General

Use social media

Take a photo (or video) of your less-than-a-20oz-pint next to the sign that says “pint” and email or tweet it to @VanEastbeerblog, @CAMRABC @CAMRA_YVR along with the hashtags #FUSS and #servingitwrong and CAMRA & VanEast Beer Blog will help spread the word.