By Sam Coffey
As an Australian the adoption of the Sydney lock out laws and increased restrictions on licensed venues are disappointing as they symbolise a “can’t do” attitude rather than an “Aussie can do” one. Our iconic “no worries” attitude was not on display when it came to sorting this out with an eye on giving everyone involved a “fair go”. But thankfully there are now moves to rectify this as shown by the announcement of the NSW government’s “night-time economy roundtable” discussions beginning at the end of March, where the aim is to search for more innovative solutions from various key stakeholders.
I have faith that as the smart country these roundtables will achieve their goals of finding innovative ways to address the problems whilst allowing the cultural vibrancy of the late night economy to healthily flourish. It’s a good beginning that the Sydney Lock Out Laws and the additional increased restrictions on service are now being widely regarded as too strong a reaction that has left a trail of once vibrant businesses dead in it’s wake and a once flourishing nightlife struggling for its survival.
The roundtable will recognise a number of problems to be addressed in the night time economy. From my end I can see; there are issues with binge drinking, Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) management in licensed venues is not good enough (something I’ll talk about later) and either is the enforcement of it by authorities. Patron management techniques in venues needs to be both improved and standardised across the industry (I’ll talk about this later too). In my opinion management of people out on the street has to be managed better in a standardised way by the police too. Police responses to “Fail to Leaves”, when a patron refuses to leave a licensed venue, possibly needs to be standardised and better enforced. Transport options need to be better and it would be good if policing on the streets increased in well known troublesome areas.
When the streets are awash with intoxicated revellers it does often feel to the sober observer, like there is a danger of a violent incident and anti-social behaviour taking place. Kings Cross for one wasn’t a place that was particularly regarded as a safe haven and I’d heard stories of how dangerous George Street could be at night, especially from the cinemas down towards Haymarket. These weren’t the only two spots that had a reputation but they became the two hotspots that were thrust into the limelight.
St Vincents Emergency department was at a point of exasperation with the high amount of injuries they were receiving from alcohol related incidents every weekend and as carers of our society spoke up for the need for change. The public and the press called for action, the Premier acted. The authorities Premier Barry O’Farrell charged with stopping the violence on the streets, implemented the lock outs and the increased restrictions on licensed venues which did have an impact on reducing the violence, however unfortunately did so in a way that has destroyed many venues, jobs and threatens the cultural vibrancy of our great city.
We’re presently in the process of throwing out the baby with the bath water, but again I have faith that these roundtable discussions will result in a change of tack with the correct solutions implemented so as to quickly minimise any further damage, then allowing for positive regrowth in the sector.
I myself have been involved in the hospitality industry for over 20 years. The last 6 of these years I have been working on solutions in this space and I write this piece to put them forward that would see safe, fun, cultural nights for patrons being a possibility whilst allowing for a diverse, vibrant late night culture to be alive and well.
With everything that’s happened in Sydney we still have the chance, which these roundtables signal we’ll grab, to achieve all round compromise from government and industry with patron / public support, to see Sydney develop the safest, and one of the most vibrant late night cultures in the world, befitting of her international city status.
Let’s though start at the beginning and first of all address the issue of going out late at night in general, which some commentators, most recently illustrated in Premier Mike Baird’s now famous facebook post, believe is all just about drinking late, or until the sun comes up, thus implying that its motivation is all about getting drunk.
I take exception to this as it’s not about that, although I do acknowledge that it can be a consequence, one which we’ll address later on in the solutions. Going out late has an inherent element of excitement to it, a certain ex-factor it generates in the atmosphere which is why clubs generally get going around about this time. It’s when the party gets started, when people feel like cutting loose and getting into the music. People like this atmosphere of going out late, which is why they do it.
There are those in our community who say things like, “nothing possibly good can come from being out past 130am”. This is of course not true. An example of something great happening is a friend of mine meeting her husband in the early hours of the morning in Kings Cross when he chivalrously helped her get a cab. That’s just one of many such stories. There are others ranging from dancing to a great song with your friends to having a great conversation to making a wonderful connection with someone, both personal and professional.
There are those who don’t want to go out late so think that others shouldn’t want to either. Sometimes these people are those who went out late in their youth and now for whatever reason, have changed their mind. They may have forgotten what it was once like to be young or may even have done something they regretted late at night which they want to protect others from the same sort of mistake. Other people who’ve never gone out late at all and can’t understand why anyone else would want to may just wish to impose their own lifestyle choice on all.
Basically these arguments are not compassionate, they’re ignorant and should be thrown out of the conversation from here on in. I think it’s certainly true that it’s a minority of Sydney’s population that want to go out late, but equally I believe that it’s the majority of the population who once did have occasional late nights, if not many, or who will be wanting to sometime in the future.
I also further acknowledge that there are those in the community who thumb their noses at certain expressions of art and culture as they don’t see any value in them. They may even see it as “the devil’s work” in the same way that elements of society did in the 1950s when Rock’n’Roll hit the scene. For me to say that the late night culture fuels levels and sectors of artistic expression that trickles down as influences throughout society would elicit derision from such people.
I don’t like to highlight individual cases but there have been a few examples of this outlook of late which have particularly irked me which I’ll share to make my point. One was Tony Abbott describing the modern parliamentary art collection, regarded as one of the best in the country, as avant-garde crap. An outlook, to be fair, which he’s apparently later changed. The other was Christopher Pyne half-jesting on Q&A recently after Lou Reed died that it was “so ABC” to pay respect to a heroin addict, a jaw dropping comment demonstrating a lack of empathy for everyone involved and compassion or wisdom for the reality of the situation. Lou Reed was a great musician, highly critically acclaimed and by large swathes of the public alike.
There are those in society who don’t believe in the importance of art or who don’t believe in certain cultural expressions as they don’t understand them or share others’ enthusiasm for them. Such closed outlooks should never be the driver of what is culturally acceptable in a civilised society like ours.
The late night economy does contribute to Sydney’s overall culture and the near death experience it is presently going through has had repercussions through other businesses that wouldn’t otherwise have been directly effected by the new laws, thus having a greater cultural impact than what just goes on after 130am.
This can be seen with venues in areas where the lockouts are in place experiencing patronage downturn even before the lockout time of 130am and in auxiliary businesses like restaurants, e.g. the legendary Jimmy Liks in Kings Cross, that used to feed the throngs while they were in the neighbourhood but who no longer have the customer base to be viable. Another example highlighted by Alan Jones was the closure of the famous 24 hour newsagency on Oxford Street which had been in operation for 80 years but recently shut it’s doors permanently due to the lock outs.
A healthy night culture is an attraction too to young people of all persuasions. Australia presently suffers from a brain drain of people going overseas to live as it is, we don’t want to give young people another reason to leave. That may seem to some like an empty proposition but I know first hand such things come into people’s calculations of why they go to various cities either to visit or live. It’s not usually the sole reason but it is part of the overall equation.
Also, we don’t want people who would otherwise come here to live from overseas to contribute to our society to be turned off it because the late night scene in Sydney has the reputation of being hamstrung. Something that these roundtables will seek to solve.
A healthy late night culture helps to fuel fashion, music, creativity and great life experiences in general. This then has its own tributary through society as an influence. If this is taken away then creatives and others will be attracted elsewhere to where they can find it.
This written piece has 2 parts; one called “Sydney’s Cultural Vibrancy” and the 2nd part called “Solutions”.
The section “Sydney’s Cultural Vibrancy” will talk specifically about my own experiences in the late night culture of Sydney as both a patron and as someone who worked within it. It will demonstrate why I, as one of many, believe it should be intelligently protected and cultivated. It will also look at some regulatory comparissons in force now to how it used to be, and also compare regulations from some other cities around the world.
The section called “Solutions” will deal with specific solutions in this space that I’ve been working on getting implemented for the last 6+ years into the hospitality industry to help protect it from the need of governmental interventions such as the Sydney Lock Out Laws and the adjoining increase in restrictive legislation. It will set out tried and proven solutions that would allow for restrictions to be pared back and ceased in their spread. I’ll make the case as to why these solutions must be standardised throughout the hospitality alcohol service industry as common practice for the benefit of patrons, businesses and the community.
I will concentrate on my specialty which is the hospitality side of the solutions and will leave the government side of things to the roundtables.
Sydney Cultural Vibrancy
When one comes to know what’s a big thing they want to do with their life, it becomes clear that there were a number of influences along the way that helped shape that decision. For me a defining influence was when I was 18, just out of school class of ‘92, and I went for the first time to what was then considered to be the best nightclub in Sydney, Kinselas Middle Bar.
It wasn’t a big bar, it took about 180 people and looked nothing like the renovated version that it is today. I remember being let in by Tux Akindoyeni on the door, one of the best managers of a queue I’ve ever seen, and being struck instantly by its atmosphere. The lighting was dark yet clear, the music was contemporary, mixed together with skill by the musical curators that are DJs.
Kinselas DJs were the likes of Andy Glitre who at the time had the “Groove Train” show on JJJ and Stephen Ferris who now has a morning show on FBI Radio. The bar staff were flaring the bottles around and making drinks, cocktails / special shots, like the artisans that they were and saw themselves as being. The crowd was stylish, elegant and sophisticated, the fashion a mixture of high and street.
It was a shock to me that such a place existed with all of these wonderful creative types in the one spot and such great music accompanying it. Within the first 2 metres of walking into that bar I realised that this was what I wanted to do, to put on nights or events like this. I was 18 at the time and my elder brother Joe had become one of the 3 promoters at Kinselas known as “Special K”. Thursday night was their main night so they gave me Saturdays to bring in my age group. It was a success but not really of my making, everyone wanted to go to Middle Bar and I simply helped facilitate this.
At 18 I enrolled to go to college at the Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School (BMIHMS) in Leura. I did this because I wanted to put on the most professional parties and events that I could. At the time the BMIHMS was, and still is I believe, considered to be the top school of its type in the Southern Hemisphere with it’s sister school in Switzerland being among the best in the world. We learnt from distinguished people in hospitality and associated industries. My passion and dreams were further inspired to strive to give patrons / guests life memorable experiences with the basis of highly professional hospitality. The BMIHMS gave me the tools to do so.
Over the years that I was moving towards my goals the nightlife scene continued to give me inspiration. Key moments include;
- Joy and feelings of discovery in hearing new songs and great music in general. From discovering the hip hop sounds of Public Enemy to hearing Jamiroquai for the first time at Kinselas being played by DJ John Ferris, before he was on the radar of mainstream. This is something else that the best Djs are great for; they always have their ear to the ground of what’s happening in the contemporary music scene as it’s their natural love of music to have that passion to do so. They then share this with us the patrons. Great DJs generally help to educate the listener on what’s been, what’s now and what’s coming. They also help to affirm your taste. It’s intellectually stimulating as a lover of music and inspiring too. Generally late night clubs are where you find these Djs as music is elevated to front and centre of the venue’s offering. DJs that work in pubs / bars have usually done their time in the club scene.
- The band scene in general with special memories of Aya Larkin’s funk centric “Skunkhour” concerts / parties, back in the days when the likes of the “Red Hot Chilli Peppers” were ruling the airwaves. Today many live music venues, like Mark Gerber’s iconic Oxford Art Factory, have come under increased strain from decreased patronage to the lockout affected areas
- Going one night late to Soho bar in Kings Cross, the bottom floor, and the security guard swinging the door open to reveal a wonderful scene which will stay with me forever such was its impact. The bar was packed tight with a great crowd, all moving up and down in unison to the beat of these hip-hop beats being mixed by DJ Cool Hand Luke who was standing at the Dj booth, bouncing his hand lightly in the air to the beat. That energy in the room and the visual of it had me freeze at the door for a second to take it in. These are moments as a promoter / producer that you want to create.
- Going to the Strip parties that were held on the bowling green in the city where now the Cook and Phillip Aquatic Centre stands and where St Mary’s Cathedral square is. This was a night that was put on by Sean Finlay, who was a promoting partner with my brother and Phil Staub who made up Special K at Kinselas. Sean and I would go on to work together later with great success. The Strip Parties were an excellent crowd, great music, a great experience, all whilst looking up at centrepoint with the dark outline of the trees in the foreground and the stars glistening above.
- The Icebox Parties: held in what is now the Kings Cross Hotel before it was renovated. Steven “Beaver” Thomson, James Schulz and Tom Corbett put these parties on. Great music, great crowd, the top floor was completely an open air space that you looked over the city from with the sky looming large above you and the Kings Cross streets buzzing below. Fantastic parties.
- The Pioneer Studio parties. Pioneer Studios used to be the number one studio in Sydney for fashion shoots. Occasionally the owner Richard Ludbrook would throw the doors open for a party and mostly the fashion scene would turn up with their own bottle to contribute to the bar, with Pioneer supplying the mixes and the ice cubes. Again; great crowd, great music, great experiences.
- The general club scene in Sydney back then. Kinselas, Mr Goodbar, Grand Pacific Blue Room, Q Bar, Soho, Hugos, l’hotel and Sugar Reef. And then there were some cool late bars too, the likes of Barons, the Judgement Bar and the original Bourbon and Beefsteak.
- The pub scene in general with the Sheaf, the Rocks, and the Paddington bars. They weren’t late but they had their place as an earlier venue.
- Going to Mars Lounge one night and running into the late DJ Ajax, Adrian Thomas, who was Djing there at the time. We were around the same age and hit the club scene about the same time back at Kinselas. He was playing these fresh beats and sounds that we had an enthusiastic chat about, both agreeing that this was the next thing, the new sound that everyone was waiting for and that was on it’s way in. He was later given credit for being one of the main people who brought that electro sound to Sydney. I particularly remember this chat as it’s one of the memories that I hold dear regarding Ajax.
Ajax went on to become a part of the famous group of DJs called “Bang Gang”. They had a very popular and important contributing night to Sydney’s culture going on at Moulin Rouge in Kings Cross for years. Another member of the Bang Gang DJs was Dan Single who was one of the founders / designers of the famous and culturally significant, highly influential Australian fashion brand Tsubi, later to become Ksubi. The Bang Gang nights added to the aura of Ksubi and vice versa.
When I think of these times it’s easy for my mind to drift to the influence of Modular Records too and the owner there Stephen Pavlovic. So many great bands about at that time, the likes of the Presets, Van She, Cut Copy and many others that all seemed to be part of the Modular stable.
Another important night that was happening around this time was “Sneaky Sundays” which was being held at Hugos in Kings Cross by the band “Sneaky Sound System”. A very popular and successful night which was a great base for Sneaky to build their product from. Today Sneaky Sound System is one of Australia’s much loved bands whereas Hugo’s is now closed, an unfortunate victim of the lock out laws and the further restrictions on licensed venues in the Kings Cross area.
It’s been common wisdom among many that venues have a shelf life, people would often say that a place would only be able to be popular for a while and then the patrons would move onto a new place. This to me was always a statement that I challenged and it was ultimately proven wrong in Sydney by Hugos that was strong for it’s entire 10 year plus life. The only things that killed Dave Evans’ Hugos were the lock out laws and increased restrictions in the Cross.
As for me, I eventually achieved my goal of putting on a successful night from scratch after a few hits and misses over the years. Sean Finlay and I were brought together to launch Lady Lux, a new club in Kings Cross. We did the first 2 years of Fridays there and built it up with the help of all who worked with us, to make it one of the top nights in Sydney at the time.
Fridays at Lady Lux was a club night that people used to come to after dinner or after they’d been at another bar or straight out to from home. Patrons would normally start to roll in at about 11-1130pm with it picking up at about 12-1230am. From there it would be packed until about 6am. The venue would hold approximately 200 people but over the course of the night it would usually turn over about 600, an important figure to take into account with regards to the 130am lockouts which don’t allow for that.
We also used to share people with other venues, people would come in from e.g. Hugos or from Bang Gang which was just up the road. Something some people like to do is bounce around from venue to venue, just watch the famous movie Swingers to get a sense of this. This again is something that’s impossible with a 130am lockout.
Another thing to take into account is that Lady Lux only really had 2 nights of the week where it could make money, Fridays and Saturdays, as these were the only 2 nights the Cross was busy. Sean and I did Friday, and then the club just opened their doors on the Saturday where they had no promotion expenses so were able to make their main money.
The success of Lady Lux was a team effort which began with the owners putting together a great space via the employment of designers and then being fully supportive of Sean and my decisions for Fridays, their signature night. The invites were important and used to be done by my friend Luca Ionescu, who’s internationally acclaimed for his work for things like the logo for The Great Gatsby movie, and most recently the It’s Open Season logo for the Australian Tennis Open. The club’s first birthday was an important milestone too, a great event which was expertly overseen by the “Social Diary’s” owner, the PR queen Tiffany Farrington.
We worked with 2 very supportive bar managers whilst there, Martin O’Sullivan who is now the President of the Small Bar Association and who owns Grasshopper in the city, and Mark Tarrant who went on to be one of the owners of White Revolver, Cream Tangerine and the Rum Diaries all in Bondi Beach.
We had a strong door host, Alexandra Dedich, who would work alongside security and manage the queue out the front with aplomb, making sure that there were no mistakes like what recently happened to Paul McCartney in the USA where he was refused entry by an ignorant door person. Alex worked hand in hand with the people we had on the till; Tristan Loomes, Grace Barnes and Gemma Borich. The barstaff were sharp, contemporary and classical in their offerings, professional and efficient.
Then there were of course the Djs. Our regulars; the fail-safe Dj Scott Woolfe, Dj Greg Perano (an original member of Hunters and Collectors), the People’s Republic Djs and Dj Tim Sea. Special mention has to go to the Djs that used to play for us when they were in town; DJ Ben Watts (the fashion photographer), Nick Littlemore (of Pnau and Empire of the Sun). He also brought along Pip Brown (later to become Ladyhawke). Even the late Australian acting great Heath Ledger once jumped on the decks at one of our pre-parties. Others who occasionally played included; hip hop DJ Cool Hand Luke, the soul funk passionate DJ Alex Dimitriades (the actor), DJ Joseph Tenni (one of the bookers for Chadwicks Models) and Paul Wilson.
Paul Wilson was one of the Ksubi team who also went on to be one of the owners of the Flinders Hotel to much acclaim. An example of what they did with that place is in the testimony that it was the only bar that Kate Moss was spotted in during her trip to Sydney in 2011. The Flinders has been said to be another victim of the lockouts and is now closed.
When I was at Lady Lux was about 10 years ago. It’s important to remember that back then there were no restrictions on glass after midnight, no restrictions on the amount of alcohol you could buy e.g. you could buy your group of more than four a drink, or restrictions on shots, i.e. no shots, after midnight as the venues in this area and their patrons now are inhibited by, ID scanners also were not around back then. Lady Lux later became the Back Room which too has now closed due to the lock outs and increased trading restrictions in the Kings Cross area.
I’ve seen some recent articles talking about the lock out laws and saying that they’re not so bad in comparison to other cities, that bars have to close at 4am in New York City for example. Well 4am is much better than 130am lockouts and also it’s important to remember when doing comparisons like this, that for example in NYC they free pour their spirits, no strict 30ml measures, you can get shots when you want, you can shout the entire bar no matter how big with one buy etc. You can also go into shops and purchase alcohol, in supermarkets too, corner stores even pharmacies at anytime during the day or night. They don’t have anywhere near the regulated Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) conditions that Sydney has.
Los Angeles also gets brought up with their 2am closures but from what I understand there’s a real private house (as in home not the music genre) party scene happening there and also a lot of ‘back to mines’ i.e. people partying on back at someone’s place in a neighbourhood after a bar closes. I went to one of those when I was there in Venice Beach. On the recent Mardi Gras weekend in Sydney I was awoken by a party that was a “back to mine”. It started across the street at 2am and kept me awake until 4, ruining me for the next day. It had me wonder if perhaps they missed the opportunity to get into a bar before 130am or were they all in separate bars at 130am so couldn’t get together unless they went to someone’s house..?
Paris and London are also brought up as examples as early(ish) closing times however a closer look shows there are bars and night clubs that get special dispensation that can stay open longer.
When I traveled to the cities New York, Los Angeles, London and Paris, going to similar style bars as what I was involved with in Sydney, I was happy to find that what we were doing stood up internationally quality wise.
When I was putting on nights I was not interested at looking at my local competition to see what they were doing, but that’s not to say of course that I didn’t get inspiration from what was going on around me. We took our influence from what was happening internationally in the arts and at home, from whatever we related to. We trusted our resultant expression which ended up being a uniquely Australian contribution.
I mention this because I’m sure that other people putting on nights around Sydney both back then and now thought and think the same way, we have our own expression as a city that needs to be cherished and cultivated.
I look at the examples of countries being great at things e.g. swimming in Australia. We’ve got a lot of great swimmers as there’s a strong base for it i.e. everybody swims. We’ve got a lot of great cricketers as most of us grow up playing cricket even if it’s only backyard, so from that base of people those of real talent can shine through from a highly competitive environment. In the same way, it’s important that we have a diverse and rich late night culture so that really interesting expression has the chance to come out of it. Stuff that’s original and not only contributes to Sydney but also to the world.
One more thing, if venues get pushed into suburbs then the base of that venue’s culture and clientele seems to become of that neighbourhood which I believe to be an inhibiter. An important part about the Cross, inner-city, CBD and the Rocks being a viable place to go out is that the whole of Sydney goes out there which means you get more of melting pot of cultural expression which ultimately allows for a better representation of Sydney. This does not mean of course that venues in suburbs are not of international quality in what they do, it mainly means generally that their crowd won’t be as far ranging or diverse which will likely show in the resultant product. This is both good and bad, the important thing is that both options are available so as to allow for the cultural, rich diversity.
I mentioned that Sydney held its own internationally with the nights that we were putting on. However, in terms of showmanship and the ability to put on amazing events the USA are leading the way. A great example of which is the 2016 Super Bowl Half Time show.
To someone like me who focuses their attention on the production, the set design, the choreography, the pyro-technics, the throws between cameras, the mixing of the music, the music chosen etc..; it’s a master class. But the reason I raise it is to draw attention to what Beyonce and Bruno brought to that show. The increased intensity and the beat, the excitement.
Those two basically represent late night club sounds, the dance moves they and their singers are doing are essentially from the club as a general rule. Even the whole show which went from soft sonic Coldplay to the beat centric Bruno and then Beyonce and then back again to end on sentiment, this is a classic journey that clubs / DJs do all the time.
Depending on which venue you’re in, the music of our night culture is made up of many genres; from Jazz, to rock, to indie, to folk, to hip hop, to electro, to techno etc etc. The point is this is what late night culture gives to us; Beyonce, Bruno, Coldplay, the dancers, the lights etc represent all that in this small compact show. The diversity of what’s on offer is still much larger. The consensus on social media was that Beyonce stole that performance. Well people like Beyonce play and are inspired in a big way in clubs. Even her husband Jay Z owns a chain of bars / late nightclubs.
Finally, the equal best part of all the events, club nights etc that I’ve been involved with are the people that come to them. I’ve met so many wonderful and interesting characters over my time in this space. A lot of love and friends for life mixed up in all that and that’s probably what I’m most grateful for when it comes down to it. Being able to make people smile and give them the space to have a really great time is special.
Also important to note how much good comes out from bringing people together in social settings, especially like minded ones. From it you get business ventures being born, artistic collaborations, relationships both personal and professional coming about.
For people to say that going out late is about getting drunk or that nothing good can possibly come from being out late at night, I hope that I’ve demonstrated in the above that this thinking is way off the mark.
That fateful late night walk into Kinselas all those years ago had led me to want to do nightclub nights but it also led me to want to do other types of events. A short list of highlights from what I ended up doing include the Flash fashion photography exhibitions I put together with Oyster Magazine and subsequently a couple of other parties for them, being brought on by Cure Cancer Australia for their Barefoot and Blacktie Event in Palm Beach, the relaunch of the Parlour X store where I brought in the beautiful young flautist and the beautiful young harpist from the Sydney Symphony who we dressed in Vivienne Westwood and put them in the window where they played for the guests like live mannequins of culture, being brought on as a venue manager by IMG for Australian Fashion Week, being invited by Kannon Rajah to go work alongside him in New York at fashion week there, the highlight of which was walking around Radio City Hall soaking up the history of the venue. I’ve done events for conservation and charities, private parties, fashion launches etc. I’ve done a whole lot of other nights at different venues, one off parties etc.
So there were a number of positive additional things that came out of the first inspiration that got me into events in the first place. But perhaps the most positive thing was what came next and what I’ve been working on solidly for the last 6 + years.
“Special Alcohol Management Service” (SAMS) is a fully developed, proven solution to a massive problem.
Over the years of putting on events, club nights etc and also having been a patron myself at many others in between, I did recognise that there were some alcohol related problems and safety issues that needed addressing. There are those problems that fall on the industry side of things to solve and others that fall on the side of the authorities, as the upcoming roundtable discussions will no doubt identify.
I’m from the industry so let’s talk about the hospitality side of the solutions here.
When I used to put on parties or events, I used to occasionally notice patrons who I could tell the next day were going to be waking up with regrets due to the amount of alcohol they’d drunk i.e. they’d be waking up with a hangover, or because of some action they’d taken under the influence of alcohol that I knew they’d wish they hadn’t done e.g. everything from fights to drunk texting. Some things that people end up waking up to regretting are more serious, others are milder.
As a hospitality person, patrons waking up the next morning with a bad hangover or regrets and therefore perhaps regretting going out at all is a hospitality failure. I’m not interested in patrons / guests waking up the next day feeling or thinking this way, perhaps saying they don’t want to go out ever again or saying things like they never want to drink again or for the next month cause they feel so terrible. I’m not happy too that as people get older and more experienced at going out that many begin to associate going out at all with their friends as resignation to a hangover the next day, which is why incidentally I believe the going out culture in Sydney is generally quite young.
But how can this be achieved? How can we achieve hospitality outcomes with great times out and no regrets or hangovers the next day?
At the time I was putting on events, I couldn’t see a way of dealing with this except for getting people to go home earlier, which they wouldn’t like and the venue wouldn’t like either for lost business. So what bars would do and are presently doing is just serving people until they show clear signs of intoxication and then asking them to leave (ATL), occasionally identifying some obvious patrons before intoxication and advising them to change their drinking choices before the inevitable. Some manage to ATL a patron before they reach intoxication.
This, by the way, is where all licensed venues are presently stuck, the industry as a whole doesn’t know that there is another, better way to go, one where major improvements can be made to the management of patrons whilst increasing the hospitality they experience, increasing safety for all and the revenue that they make.
Now it’s important to note too that in addition to patrons who are clearly intoxicated, there are those who don’t show symptoms as readily or who aren’t “intoxicated” as per the definition of the term however have still reached a point where the next day they’ll still be hungover and / or have made some bad decisions that they regret.
For example: A bar may do a couple of Ask To Leaves (ATLs) for intoxication over the night but the next morning a quarter or half or even 3/4s of the people who were in that bar and left of their own accord woke up with a hangover. Has everyone who wakes up with a hangover or regrets from alcohol induced behaviour been asked to leave (ATL) the venue they were at the day / night before? No is the short answer here and the percentage of people saying “no” is much larger than those who reply “yes”.
So again, this was a problem that I used to think about. How can patrons have equally as good a time if not better, how can we make the whole experience safer, how can we increase the hospitality experience patrons have both in the venue and the morning after, and how do we keep the venues making money?
Then in December of 2009 I struck upon a big part of the overall solution. This is when I first began to develop what is now “Special Alcohol Management Service” (SAMS), a hospitality improving patron management system for licensed venues to implement.
As previously mentioned, I began to develop this initially to explore the idea of increasing hospitality to alcohol drinking patrons so as to assist them to not have hangovers the next day or any regrets. But once I began to see that the techniques that were being developed actually increased the peace too I decided to put all my effort into it as I could see from the stories that were starting to be written in the press and the mood of the accompanying public sentiment back then, that the authorities were shaping up to clamp down on the licensed venue industry in some big way.
The pressure built, the Kings Cross tragedies happened, the lock out laws and the additional restrictions on licensed premises came into effect.
I had wanted to try to protect the industry from what was coming but unfortunately I couldn’t do it. I understand now that this is because the overall problems are bigger than just the licensed venue hospitality industry alone as will be demonstrated by the government bringing together the upcoming late night economy roundtable search for solutions.
“Special Alcohol Management Service” (SAMS) is a fully developed, proven solution to a massive problem. I’ve been working on it solidly for over 6 years and I’ve put everything on the line to try and get it implemented by both industry and government. I’ve turned down other opportunities along the way such as an investor offering to financially fully back me to start a chain of bars, such is the belief that I have in the importance of it. SAMS has proven itself to work in the field and the patrons overwhelmingly react to it positively i.e. they like it.
SAMS is both simple and quite complex. I’ll strive now to paint a basic overview of what it comprises, the training proper obviously goes into much more detail.
There are 3 foundations to SAMS and like legs of a tripod all 3 have to be equal so that the tripod stands strong.
The first foundation revolves around the word “Assist”.
When we drink alcohol the frontal lobe is the first part of the brain to be effected. In fact there is decreased brain wave activity in this area of the brain within less than 10 minutes of the first sip of alcohol.
This frontal lobe is called the brain’s “Executive Centre” and it’s where we basically make all our good decisions from. When the frontal lobe is effected in this way our decisions become more impulsive and emotionally based. We also begin to lose our inhibitions. This frontal lobe being effected is why many of us have experienced going out for just one drink and ended up being out “all night”, either literally or figuratively.
Patrons because of this frontal lobe impairment, require staff’s hospitable assistance to make the right choices.
There are arguments being made from within the industry that patrons should have to be more self-responsible, presently a patron does not get in trouble with the law if they reach intoxication in a licensed venue but the staff do for example. In terms of reaching intoxication in a licensed venue this argument is weak in my opinion, it’s clear that when the frontal lobe is impaired that patrons make different decisions than what they do when they have no alcohol in their system.
It’s within the industry’s ability to proactively assist patrons and to manage them effectively. It’s a challenge but it’s doable, so we the industry should just accept it and get on with it. SAMS shows venue staff how to do this. Venues though have to care enough to want to do this successfully. It’s the highest level of hospitality that they can show to their drinking patrons and should be viewed as such by the venues themselves and the patrons who frequent them.
The second foundation of SAMS has the heading of “Mood”.
A venue has the power and ability to set the mood or atmosphere that is within it.
Setting up an atmosphere of hospitality in a venue has a positive effect on patrons’ state of mind and establishes an overall good vibe within the venue.
There are those venues which are run badly where everything is tense. The security are gruff, sometimes arrogant, the managers are uptight and snappy, the barstaff are unfriendly. This state of mind transfers to the patrons. If, for example, patrons are being intimidated into compliance then there are always those who will rebel especially once they have some alcohol in them.
Sometimes patrons can reach intoxication and be asked to leave a venue or handled out the door in such a disrespectful way that it leaves them furious on the street. I’ve seen that a lot.
Sometimes too patrons can be refused entry in such a way that has them left angry on the street.
There are a number of different ways that patrons and staff from venues interact, all of these are important to establishing and maintaining a positive mood in the venue and outside the venue, in keeping the peace.
In the training we talk about the saying “Like Reflects Like” which means basically that what we give patrons is what we’ll get back from them.
Every common scenario that happens in a licensed venue is covered in SAMS training, so that best hospitality outcomes have the greatest chance of being consistently achieved.
The training also talks of ways of protecting staff from getting abused by patrons which can happen a lot. There’s a great scene in the movie “Knocked Up” (language warning on that link) that illustrates this and some of the above points too. Abuse from patrons, violence from patrons, threats etc. can turn staff against patrons in general or make them overly cautious which can sometimes show itself as aggression.
Someone who once worked for me whilst I was developing SAMS said to me “I’m not Ghandi!” after having been continuously affronted by patrons over the course of the night. This is something that can be mitigated and SAMS helps venues mostly eradicate it which allows for mostly pleasant conversations between staff and patrons. This essentially builds rapport between staff and patrons, improving hospitality outcomes.
The final foundation of SAMS to talk about is under the heading of “Water”.
Alcohol is a diuretic, as in when we drink alcohol it dehydrates the body as it causes us to lose water that’s in our system. The equation is that for every standard drink we have we lose 120ml of water via urination.
In order to stay hydrated a person drinking alcohol must have at least 240-360mls of water per standard drink that they have on top of the water already in the alcoholic drink. A standard drink for those who don’t know, is 10g of pure alcohol which can be found in a shot of spirits for example. A glass of wine is about 1.4 – 1.6 standard drinks, a schooner of full strength beer is approximately 1.6 standard drinks.
As you can equate, if drinkers are losing 120mls of water per standard drink then they’re going to get dehydrated pretty quickly.
It’s important for licensed venue staff to proactively assist patrons to stay hydrated because dehydration is linked to a couple of things we don’t want to see. (Proactively means to regularly take water to the patrons, a self-serve water jug on the end of the bar is not sufficient.) Patrons require this proactive assistance due to their frontal lobe being impaired.
Dehydration is important to stave off as it is linked to increased irritability (a dehydrated person is more likely to get upset or annoyed by things e.g. more arguments / fights), decreased cognitive ability (a patron will lose their ability to think as well as they normally would e.g. more altercations and less ability to make right drinking choices), and dehydration is also linked to the development of a negative outlook.
Some of you may have read it as somewhat idealistic to think you can help patrons not get hangovers and still let them basically have a great time, do what they want etc. The way we do this is through getting the water out to the patrons often, doing our best to keep them hydrated. This staves off decreased cognitive ability which means patrons make better drinking choices moving forward, it also stops the physical pains of becoming dehydrated e.g. a headache from a hangover the next day which is mainly due to the brain having shrunk inside the skull due to it being dehydrated, and pulling on pain sensitive fibres that connect it to the skull.
Drinking water when drinking alcohol, is as important as drinking water when doing exercise. It’s no good for someone to say they drink water just before they go to bed, it’s necessary instead to steadily drink water throughout the night / time out particularly again because of this loss of cognitive function that dehydration is linked to. If a venue keeps up the cognitive function of their patrons by keeping them hydrated from early on then their patrons will pretty well end up successfully self-managing.
This also by the way leads to patrons enjoying themselves more. It keeps the fun from drinking alcohol but takes away the bad bits.
So these in short are the 3 foundations of Special Alcohol Management Service (SAMS); Assist, Mood and Water or as we acronym it in the training to help trainees remember it; MAW hospitality.
Implementation of SAMS is the best way for venues to take away problems that arise from alcohol related behaviour. It gives venues the best chance of not having intoxicated patrons be in their venue or subsequently leave their venue to be on the streets, and it helps ensure patrons too are more peaceful and cognisant both onsite and in the local community.
It also helps ensure the sustainability of the drinking culture for the reason of less hangovers and regrets, it will take away the association of a night out with your mates automatically meaning a hangover the next day. But overall it’s smart for venues to do as ultimately it increases the hospitality that patrons experience and therefore increases customer satisfaction, which is good business.
A couple of other things about SAMS implementation to mention;
- It only works properly when placed early into the patrons’ experience. That means as soon as patrons are out in the licensed venues. It’s not good enough for venues to implement it from late at night for example. For this reason too, all venues that serve liquor should have been trained in SAMS and be implementing it properly. From restaurants to bars, from function centres to late night clubs; licensed venues have to see themselves as the one entity as it is seen by the community and the authorities. It also needs to act as one.
- Venues saying they don’t have to do anything different because they don’t ever have any incidents on site e.g. assaults, is not right. Every venue, since I’ve developed SAMS, that I’ve ever walked into once they’re in full service; be it a pub, a bar, a club, a rugby match in a stadium, a function e.g. a wedding; have all had patrons that I could see that if I was working I’d be interacting with them and hospitably assisting them. I’ve never seen these patrons interacted with when I’ve seen them in fact staff have been oblivious to them. SAMS trains staff to see early signs and tells them how to deal with it.
- Knowing what I know now, having developed Special Alcohol Management Service (SAMS), it actually makes me feel incensed when I’m out with people who I care about and the venue is doing nothing to assist them in their drinking. I can see they’re slurring and being on the way to being hungover etc. It may sound extreme but I do view it as being the equivalent of that venue assaulting them or of battery via negligence. It’s unnecessary and shows no care factor i.e. a lack of hospitality. That venue may be ignorant but the answer is getting trained in and implementing SAMS.
- All staff in licensed venues must be trained in SAMS for it to have best effect, from management all the way down. To not do that is the same as the Australian Cricket team, for example, only getting their captain and vice-captain to do fielding practice, or to only have their noted batsmen do batting practice in the nets. I’ve priced the training to practically be at cost even though I know that it’s worth a lot more due to the increased revenue it gives to venues and the protection it affords their licences from breaches of the liquor act etc. Please remember my background when I say that, I’m an ex-promoter that used to make venues a lot of $. I wouldn’t be pushing SAMS if it was bad for business and I also wouldn’t push it if patrons didn’t respond positively to it in all of the above mentioned ways and if they didn’t appreciate the service.
- SAMS works on the common understanding that we are the hospitality industry, we are not the alcohol industry. Alcohol is something that’s just there, that helps accommodate a lot of great things to happen e.g. cultural expression, the space for socialising etc. It makes these businesses financially viable. The goal I used to have as a promoter was to pack the place out by putting together the right product, from there the alcohol sales take care of itself as that’s what the patrons want to do.
- Once SAMS training has been completed it is necessary for it to be fully implemented, not half or 3/4s. To not fully implement it is like a cricket team, to use that example again, going out to field with only 5 players.
- SAMS foundations; Mood, Assist and Water; are interactive. E.g. the way in which we assist patrons with water effects their mood i.e. there are ways of giving water to patrons which puts them in bad mood or makes them aggressive. And there are ways too, as trained in SAMS, that has the patrons say “thank you”. This is why SAMS training is necessary as it lays out best and next practice with specific examples of common scenarios in licensed venues and how to implement SAMS successfully i.e. hospitably from there. These methods have been proven to work time and time again in live situations.
So that’s SAMS laid out for you in short. Not only is it good for business, it’s good for patrons and the community too. That’s why the name of my business that trains it is called “Three Cheers Training” as there are 3 wins.
The reasons are there, both intellectually and practically, why SAMS works and is effective. It’s something that was developed in the field, and has been proven to work time and time again with different demographics. Most importantly the patrons overwhelmingly appreciate it so it raises the level of hospitality and therefore customer satisfaction. It also manages to make venues more revenue as it keeps patrons together onsite for longer in their groups for their potential hospitality experience.
Special Alcohol Management Service is also the best way to better Australia’s drinking culture which is often denounced. SAMS is a roll your sleeves up and get in there approach that makes changes at the heart of the problem, at the coal face as the saying goes. In venues where SAMS is properly implemented you can see the change it makes first hand. For example, as patrons go from being first wary of being offered water to then accepting the water, to then where they’re actually asking you if they can have one.
In this way it’s my dream to one day see licensed venues acknowledged by society as being the safest and best places to drink alcohol, where great hospitality management outcomes are consistently achieved both onsite and the morning after. Where drinkers prefer to be and where their loved ones would prefer them to be. Better than unregulated private house parties, private warehouse parties etc.
Over the last 6 years and 4 months I’ve been working hard to get “Special Alcohol Management Service” (SAMS) into the industry. I began developing it myself on the floor of licensed venues and then subsequently brought on staff who I had to train up. That training is now the basis of the SAMS course.
I’ve had success with SAMS in hospitably managing both blue collar and white collar patrons, both women and men, professional athletes, professional rugby league players, union players, Australian cricketers, their coaching staff.. The creative industry, famous faces, people who are wealthy, people who are battlers, backpackers including the loveable Irish, people just out of gaol etc, big groups, small groups, personnel from the Australian Defence Force; the army, navy, airforce, the special forces.
In fact the Special Forces Commandos, who would regularly disappear on trips to Afghanistan, inspired me to name the “Special” part of the training course after them i.e. Special Alcohol Management Service. This is because they were friendly, relaxed, had an air of competency about them and are also known as “the thinking soldier”. SAMS doesn’t obviously train soldiers etc but I like to think that it does turn out “thinking licensed venue staff”.
SAMS has had much success in many venues as our website’s testimonial page attests. The Rocks Liquor Accord and subsequently the City North Liquor Accord highly rated the training as has Solotel group who’ve recently made it a condition on their security providers to only provide guards who have done the SAMS course. These security companies, ranging from small to big, have been very positive in their feedback too. That’s just some of many positive examples of feedback from venues and businesses that Special Alcohol Management Service has received.
Government officials too have been through the course and rated it highly but can’t endorse it as it’s a private business, for some reason I can’t understand.? In 2011 the ABC Sunday News wanted to do a big feature on SAMS but had to can it as they couldn’t get the police to comment on a private business. The ABC didn’t want it to just end up being an advertisement for us. That’s all disheartening as I think about all the people that I couldn’t help because of these refusals.
The longer SAMS isn’t implemented the more people there are who are getting hurt. Not just from incidents like fights, but from drunk driving offences, alcohol related accidents in general and health effects too.
Also the economy is another thing that gets helped by proper implementation of SAMS as people don’t call in sick with hangovers, productivity and safety in the workplace isn’t compromised by people turning up for work the worse for wear etc.
I look forward to the roundtables coming up with across the board solutions so that Sydney may have an even better night time economy than it did before. “Special Alcohol Management Service” (SAMS) is a fully developed, proven solution that would be a travesty and a missed opportunity for all to leave out of the mix. Rest assured, I will be one who will be, as the legendary Beastie Boys put it, fighting for your right to party!
For more information please contact us on 1300 3 CHEERS (1300 324 337) or at firstname.lastname@example.org