February 8, 2016

Keeping closer eye on bartenders

Wausau’s City Council passed a new alcohol server’s ordinance Tuesday night. The new ordinance will require bartenders to remain sober or very close to sober. The new ordinance comes in response to a handful of bartenders, owners, or managers that do not manage their customer service well because they are impaired.

Council President Lisa Rasmussen strongly supports the new guidelines, and believes most establishments will be unaffected by the change. “Ninety-five percent of our licensed servers and our licensed establishments should be completely unaffected by this, because they already have positive practices in force. They’re doing it right. But, we do have a population that are not, and we need a tool with which we can manage that activity, and so given that, this is one more public policy step that Wausau can take to ensure the responsible consumption and service of alcoholic beverage.”

When asked if the new ordinance is redundant because the city already has the ability to suspend or revoke bartender and establishment licenses, Rasmussen said no. “Our demerit point ordinance does not address consumption by servers or managers, it addresses what took place as far as the consequences if there was a fight, if there was an injury, if they were serving underage patrons, but it really does not address their own personal conduct in terms of how they are consuming and where their judgement lies in serving others.”

Tyler Vogt co-owns Malarkey’s Pub, and is concerned about the ordinance and how it will be enforced. “Most of the bartenders and owners, and professionals in this industry, agree that having inebriated bartenders would be a problem, but we’re all very disappointed that we were not really consulted or given a chance to speak on the implementation of this new ordinance.”

Vogt says too much of a police presence tends to keep customers away, affecting business. That’s one reason he says good establishments will take all steps necessary to prevent problems. “I’m not going to hire an employee that can’t keep it together and do their job, or perform correctly, or cooperate with the police, but the police have different experience with some bar owners, and that experience is now being put on all of us.”

Police Chief Jeff Hardel supports the new ordinance 100 percent, saying it will not affect most bars, but will force the few bad ones to pay attention to their customers and what they are doing. “Who it impacts is the ones that aren’t following the rules, that aren’t being respectful, and aren’t being reasonable, and aren’t paying attention to their crowd.”

Chief Hardel says bar operators should not be concerned about how the new ordinance is enforced. He says they do about a dozen bar inspections a month, and most are quick and routine. “When we do those normal bar inspections, the officer is just going to check with the bartender, talk to him a little bit, and see if they’re impaired. If the officer sees signs of impairment, then they’re going to investigate a little bit further, maybe ask him to take a PBT (breathalyzer test), but if the bartender doesn’t show any signs of impairment, just bar inspection as usual and we’re on our way.”

Local bar operators and a Tavern League representative asked the council to table the issue for a month to allow discussion about the ordinance and the enforcement. The motion to delay the ordinance 30 days failed, and then the council passed the new rules on an 8-2 vote.

Larry Lee, WSAU

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