I pour this beer for you

Responsible drinking the African way

Ngicela phuza ukumbothi lenu. These words are uttered when beer is offered to amadlozi, those who once were where we are now, for the sake of remembrance, respect and good fortune: I pour this beer for you.

In the same way, when we pour beer for others, we remember that we are also pouring for ourselves: the spirit of ubuntu is reflected in our actions. Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. When we treat each other with kindness and respect, we are building everybody's future. As Nelson Mandela said, “The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”

As the tavern keepers of South Africa, we have to remember that we are custodians of ubuntu, for who is better placed to be hospitable, generous, friendly and caring than ourselves? That is how we treat our patrons, and we trust that our patrons will behave in a kind way, not only towards us, but also towards each other. That is also why it is so important that, as a profession, we encourage our patrons to drink responsibly. To drink too much is to show a lack of respect for oneself and others.

Ngicela phuza ukumbothi lenu. These words are uttered when beer is offered to amadlozi, those who once were where we are now, for the sake of remembrance, respect and good fortune: I pour this beer for you.

Drunkards endanger not only their own lives but also the lives of those around them. A man who staggers in front of a taxi on the way home from the tavern is throwing away the future – that of himself, that of his dependants, and that of anyone else who may be involved in an accident for which they bear no responsibility. A woman who chooses to expose her unborn child to alcohol is throwing away the future of that child. Underage drinkers are throwing away their potential. From these considerations, it is clear that alcohol abuse is disorderly, weakens our society and puts us all at risk.

Statistics show that in cases of assault, 40% of victims believe they were attacked by someone under the influence of alcohol or drugs – and at least 30% of victims admit that they were also under the influence at the time. 

Statistics also indicate that some 40% of trauma patients have a breath alcohol concentration above the legal limit of 0.05g/100 ml, while alcohol is a contributing factor for the overwhelming majority of people admitted to trauma as a result of violence.

People arrested for violent offences have testified to being under the influence of alcohol in 25% of weapons-related offences, 22% of rapes, 17% of murders, 14% of assault cases and 10% of robberies. Particularly shocking is that alcohol is implicated in 49% of family violence offences.

As tavern owners, we do not want to contribute to any of the above offences, not to mention road accidents. So, when it becomes clear that a patron has reached a state of intoxication that disturbs the hospitality that we are proud to offer, we are called upon to intervene. Of course, this is not always easy. Drunken patrons can be difficult, belligerent, even violent – yet if the situation is identified quickly and handled with tact, order can be restored.

First, one must deploy the tavern keeper's ever-vigilant eye. We need to look out for our patrons' wellbeing from the moment they enter until the moment they leave, and we must train our staff to do the same. Think of it as part of the service. If you stay on your toes, you can easily detect the early stages of intoxication and do something to stop things from getting out of hand. Try slowing down the rate at which drinks are delivered. Suggest that the patron has something to eat (a chance to promote your delicious food too).  Warn them when they've have had too much to drink.

Second, we must always remember that we are dealing with a human being who needs our help. It serves no purpose to insult, threaten, reprimand or judge the patron – that will only serve to stir up anger and resentment. Behaviour breeds behaviour. Don't ever raise your voice! Often it is enough that we act calmly, speaking in a firm tone to bring the patron back to reason. Take them aside, away from curious eyes, and explain why you are refusing them service. Let them know it's about the behaviour, not them as an individual – it's nothing personal. Offer to call a taxi, or find someone willing to walk them back home. Reassure them that they are welcome back another time. They will be sure to remember your kindness with gratitude. 

A dead patron is a loss to us all. So next time you are serving somebody a drink, think with your head and act with your heart and remember: I pour this beer for you.