Violence or heartbreak? Take your pick in responsible stakes

23 March, 2007

Upholding legal requirements or moral beliefs is a thankless task when it comes to alcohol sales

The importance of responsible drinks retailing is currently permeating the pages of this paper, and rightly so. The recent spat on the letters page about the perils and morals of selling to those who have a problematic relationship with alcohol is familiar to me and outlines the uncomfortable grey area between what is legally stipulated and what is morally acceptable.

On Monday evening there was a steady trickle of customers through the shop. As I was serving someone, I noticed an obviously under-age female come in and pick up a couple of lagers. As I started to serve her, I asked if she had any ID. She didn't, explaining that she'd only recently moved in and hadn't unpacked her stuff yet. I said I'm sorry, but no ID, no sale. "If you weren't going to fookin' serve me, why did you let me get the fookin' beers out the fookin' fridge?"

With more politeness than she deserved, I explained I was serving another customer and all she needs to do is bring in ID . "Fookin' knob'ead" is the standard term of abuse for people like me, and that's what I got. I gathered up the beers, explain ing if she brought in ID she can buy the beer. As I turned to return the beers to the fridge, a huge shower of spit rained down on the back of my head and the fridge door.

Now, I always try to look for the postive in any situation so, to be fair, she was a good shot, and had summoned up a huge quantity of saliva in a relatively short time. However, I was so enraged by being spat on that, had she not left the shop, I know I would have become involved in an altercation with her; I would have got right in her face, and I would have been really unpleasant back to her. Not cool at all.

A few days later, when I'd calmed down, I came in and spoke to Dynamite Dan about another ongoing problem. We have an elderly customer who lives in sheltered housing just across the road and, despite our best advice, has been drinking to the detriment of her health. We make it very clear that were she to drink all the alcohol she buys, she would be damaging her health, but she insists she is sharing it with friends.

In tragic exasperation, and to his immense credit, Dan has a ≠conversation with her son and the warden at the flats and we decide to stop selling her alcohol. This results in a couple of heartbreaking visits from her where we just keep saying no, explaining that we're worried about her health and that we're not alone in these worries.

It feels both uncomfortable and ≠patronising , but we do it. After a couple of incidents of her send ing people in - who we refuse, much to their bewilderment - I'm sure she has reverted to getting a taxi to the supermarket, or having drink delivered.

Sure, it's not our problem, but it's still a problem for her.

At the centre of these tales is the tension between how soul-destroying it can be to uphold the law and endure the abuse that this brings, and the heartbreaking nature of upholding the moral aspects of responsible retailing and the pathos that comes with it.

I'd venture that anyone who finds it easy to draw a line between the two has never spent much time doing either.

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