How Changing Drunk Driving Laws Could Affect America’s Restaurant Industry

by calvinthescribe on July 24, 2013

The National Transportation Safety Board recently issued a recommendation that the legal BAC (blood alcohol content), that would legally define someone as “drunk” ought to be lowered from .08, the current level, to .05. Their intent is to combat the 30,000 deaths a year attributed to drunk driving. This doesn’t bode well for the restaurant industry especially, and will most likely bring about several drastic changes.

No More Social Drinkers

Having a drink on a night out is part of the ages of mystique of the restaurant experience.

“A glass of wine would compliment that steak very nicely sir.”

“Would y’all like a bucket of beer while you enjoy the game?”

Lowering the BAC could mean the end of social drinkers. This mean that, for 120 lbs. women, no more than a glass of one, and for a 160 lbs. man, no more than two beers for the evening before a DUI becomes a real possibility. A recent poll shows 22% of adults always, or often order an alcoholic beverage when dining out, but with new limitations, we could see that number drop down well below 10%.

Less Money for Staff

Woman Bartender
Image via Flickr by

Now it’s time to consider the people who are actually selling alcohol at restaurants. Bartenders and servers make a livelihood off the sum total of their checks. The more a table spends, the higher the tip is supposed to be. If tables are not spending as much on alcohol, service staff are going to feel the hurt in their bank accounts. The restaurant management, too, is going to suffer. Alcohol sales accounted for $93.7 billion of total restaurant revenue in the US, and a significant portion of the restaurant industry’s income.

Rise of Professional DDs

New Car
Image via Flickr by Caitlinator

Already popular in several college towns around the US (as well as South Korea), professional designated driver services could see an increase in business thanks to tougher alcohol laws. Some people might not want to compromise their social drinking experience, and so would be inclined to hire the services of a professional DD service to take them, and their vehicle home after a night of a few drinks. Restaurants may even begin performing partnerships with professional DDs, and detox rehab services as a way to compensate for any concerns over more stringent alcohol laws.

Industry Backlash

As of 2012, nearly 3,000,000 Americans work as waiters, or bar staff in the restaurant industry and, on average, are only making around $10 an hour — if they’re lucky. Waiter wages are already notoriously low in many states, bottoming out to $2.13 an hour for places like Wisconsin, Wyoming, New Mexico, and New Jersey. Don’t be surprised if you see staff respond negatively to more stringent alcohol laws that could cut back on their already meager income. A large-scale strike is a real possibility.

Whether or not stricter BAC laws will help prevent drunk-driving accidents remains to be seen, but it will certainly have profound and long-lasting effects on the restaurant industry.



Freelance writer
Calvin is a freelance writer and graphic designer from Tampa, FL. Follow him on twitter @calvinthescribe.

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