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Around the Table | DineOut Articles

Mr Lu

Nunc est bibendum - now it is time to drink!

by Mr Lu, Mon 29th Mar 2010 09:01pm

Liquor licensing laws in New Zealand have been progressively and steadily relaxed over the past decades to currently reflect society's mantra, as espoused above. But is this about to change?

The vast majority of New Zealanders are not teetotallers and will imbibe on a regular basis but not necessarily to excess. Some of our people, however, have been drawn into a lifestyle that is unashamedly expressive of a mindset uncontrollably devoted to binge drinking. On initial consideration One might jump to the conclusion that this is a manifestly 'under 25' problem but, alas, it is my submission that it bubbles away through all age groups and social classes, if we may use that term in a post-twentieth century world.

The arrival of very low priced wine and other alcoholic beverages has done much to drive the love of liquor but there are strong arguments to suggest the extension of trading hours for bars, especially in central city areas across the country, has exacerbated, intensified and, to an extent, proliferated the problem. It is now possible to prolong your drinking throughout an evening and well into the early hours of the morning. In fact, almost until dawn in some places. That these establishments are open at these times and have the legal stamp of approval to serve alcohol at these times is a message to the thirsty amongst us that drinking all night is ok.

Yes, steps have been taken to slow down the individual's intake and curb the resultant rampant drunkenness by relying on sections of the Sale of Liquor Act to refuse to serve intoxicated persons. I believe most bar managers are proactive in trying to deal with the situation but, to be frank, they are fighting a losing battle. Ask any policeman who is rostered on the City beat on a Sunday morning between midnight and 6am. Their stories would shock most of us, I'm sure. The sight of semi-comatose drunks lying in the gutters, coated in their own vomit is enough to make anyone want to re-examine where we are at as a community with this whole business.

As well as the extremely unnecessary, overextended trading hours there is another aspect contributing to this societal malaise - that of people drinking heavily before going to town late at night. This, of course, is a way for the drinker to minimize the cost involved with paying the very high prices demanded for below average drinks at high rent bars. I don't think any of us are happy with or condone public drunkenness resultant from this type of behaviour.

Let's have a cursory look at some aspects of the Sale of Liquor Act 1989. The object of the Act is to establish a reasonable system of control over the sale and supply of liquor to the public with the aim of contributing to the reduction of liquor abuse. This objective is admirably facilitated by the District Licensing Authority, the Liquor Licensing Authority, the Police and Licensing Inspectors, to name some of the administering bodies and people. There are On Licences, Off Licences, Club Licences, Special Licences and an impressive range of penalties for people in the industry who transgress. Some examples you might like to be aware of: Maximum fines for a Manager who serves alcohol to a minor - $10,000; or allows an intoxicated person to remain on the premises - $4000; or sells spirits in a vessel larger than 500ml - $2000. These same breaches by Bar staff also attract penalties, albeit at a lower level.

On the face of it, it does seem evident that the legislation has imposed a high level of responsibility on bar managers and their staff to ensure the public does not overconsume whilst on their premises and this is commendable. Why then are there so many ugly early morning drunks lurching from one lamp post to the next in our cities, urinating & vomiting with impunity in our retail store doorways and clogging up our Accident & Emergency Departments in hospitals from Auckland to Invercargill?

It certainly seems that the legislation is there to attempt to stem the flow of liquor from bottle to throat, the Police are on the streets and have extensive city crime camera coverage and the 'reasonable man' in the street opposes anti-social behaviour. Does the answer lie in education from a young age? Or perhaps the matter lies suspended between the question of the ease of access to alcohol and a culture marked by its inability to discipline offenders in general who seem increasingly able to break all manner of laws, from cycling through red lights to randomly attacking strangers in the streets! Have we let our transgressors get off with embarrassingly light sentences... or no consequences at all? A sort of do what you like because you know damn well you're likely to get away with it mentality. Have we no shame?

Do each of us need to start educating our own family members to drink responsibly? How do you do this? The truth is that it's unlikely to happen without a massive, ongoing, concerted campaign as drinking too much, too much of the time, at social functions, in hotels and bars and elsewhere is as entrenched in the Kiwi psyche as firmly & fondly as fish & chips and the Buzzy Bee.

Without wanting to digress too far from the centre line I want to bring into discussion the current laws relating to consuming alcohol in an on licence premises, more specifically, wine with your dinner in a restaurant. Under current SOL legislation it is my understanding and, I believe, the understanding of most operators in the industry, that customers who purchase a bottle of wine (or other alcohol) must consume that beverage on the premises and are not permitted to take an unfinished bottle off the premises. Clear enough? Well not necessarily as the interpretation of the relevant section of the Act by some restaurateurs suggests that if your intention is to consume the entire bottle with your meal, and before leaving the premises, but you find yourself unable to do so, then you are perfectly entitled to take the part-finished bottle home with you... it came as a surprise to me when the maitre d at a well known & well respected restaurant proffered this information. Furthermore, this is not the first time I have been given this information. Food for thought...

Of course, it is only a matter of time before we follow the progressive State of South Australia in formally looking at changes to our liquor legislation pertaining to this matter. I was told by a bar manager at a restaurant in South Australia last September that if I was unable to finish my bottle of French wine with my meal I was quite welcome to take it away with me as legislation had just been enacted to permit this. In fact, the Minister for Consumer Affairs in that State, the Honorable Gail Gago, had introduced a Bill for "Liquor Changes to Enhance Responsible Service". One of the changes, as reported in the media, was that "restaurant patrons can take home their unfinished bottle of wine bought at licensed premises. This is a responsible change avoiding the potential for people to consume a whole bottle in order to avoid waste and enable them to do the right thing by their hip pocket and the road laws."

Effectively, it means you can have one glass of your chosen bottle without feeling the need to overindulge by a compulsion to down the whole lot. It's not a silly idea and I do believe it will be a change that will eventually be made to our own New Zealand liquor laws.

I cannot remember the number of times when I have dumbed-down my dining experience at a fine restaurant by having to settle for a glass or two of the very limited 'wine by the glass' selection when what I really wanted was a wine most suited & matched to my food but which was offered 'by the bottle' only. You, the reader, may be interested to learn that other aspects to Gago's legislation included: Provide Ministerial power to ban undesirable liquor products likely to appeal to minors (such as alcoholic milk drinks or ice blocks) and to introduce a raft of reforms that will strengthen enforcement, enhance responsible service of alcohol requirements for all staff & streamline cellar door options for wineries. Along with a move to clarify what the word intoxication means in the Liquor Licensing Act 1997 the changes expand the Act to make it an offence to sell or supply liquor on licensed premises to a person who is intoxicated or in circumstances where "the person's speech, balance, coordination or behaviour is noticeably impaired and it is reasonable to believe that the impairment is the result of the consumption of liquor".

Our own country is not resting on its laurels as the Law Commission's recommendations will soon, hopefully, become the subject of a governmental response which may lead to more restrictive liquor laws. Upwards of 3000 submissions were received by the Commission and it is this writer's firm hope that any changes the government ultimately adopts will be smart and workable as opposed to merely draconian, unwieldy and unenforceable. We'll all just have to wait and see...

And so it was written, until next time...

What are your thoughts? You can be in to win a weekend's accommodation at either Braemar Lodge in Hanmer Springs, or Doubtless Bay Villas in the Far North, by simply adding a comment below this article.

Prize includes accommodation only*, no meals or alcohol and excludes travel to and from the accommodation. Prize cannot be exchanged for cash, must be taken/used before 30th September 2010 and is subject to availability. If you are unsure about these terms and conditions please private message Mr Lu and your queries will be answered. Neither DineOut nor Mr Lu accepts any responsibility or liability for any loss, inconvenience or failure to deliver with respect to this prize, whether financial or otherwise. Entry in this prize draw is conditional upon your acceptance of and agreement with all terms and conditions as stated here. If you choose to be entered in the draw by adding a comment below the article then you are deemed to have accepted and agreed to all conditions. Draw will take place once a suitable number of entries have been received but not less than 25... so don't dilly dally on the way...

*The Braemar Lodge option is for 1 night only, Doubtless Bay Villas for 2 nights.


Your Comments

Paula D

Tue 30th Mar 2010 09:15am

I agree with a lot of what has been said above but the problem is not the ease of obtaining alcohol or the hours to which it can be accessed, but the drinking culture.

How do you teach people how to drink responsibly when they don't see a problem with binge/ excessive drinking? I recently attended a workshop on alcohol addiction and a few interesting points were made- most people (myself included) didn't know the number of alcoholic drinks that the MOH recommended maximum weekly. Women- it's 14. How many standard drinks in a bottle of wine? I forget! 5? 6? In one sitting any more than 6 drinks is considered binge drinking...

Based on that alone, in the past I have had a problem (of sorts...) but short of alcohol poisoning, what are the consequences of my drinking? Yeah we're only supposed to drink 14 drinks a week but what happens when we drink more?

There's no reason why we should stick to the guidelines.


Mr Lu

Tue 30th Mar 2010 10:51am

Excellent points Paula! Many thanks for your contribution.



Fri 2nd Apr 2010 04:37pm

The drinking culture in New Zealand is a serious social probem. The costs are huge: for the health care system, ACC, the legal and prison system, not to mention productivity. To choose not to drink alcohol as a means of staying healthy and even saving your own life is very hard to do in NZ, so engrained is the drinking culture. If you decline to drink you are ridiculed. Ask anyone who is in AA or is sober by choice. In the USA it's considered socially unacceptable to drink to excess. Here it's applauded. In Los Angeles it's an automatic night in jail if you're caught driving over the limit. We should have the same rigorous laws here.



Fri 2nd Apr 2010 06:11pm

I believe that the change must start in the family home. It is up to parents to make sure their children are brought up in a way that they know when enough is enough and to be honest, this education cannot start early enough in a childs life. In France, nay Europe, it is in their culture that even young children are given diulted wine with their meal. This, I feel, perhaps is going a bit far, but if alcohol is had responsibly at home and if the child is say, 13-14,why can they not have a drink or 2 AT HOME under parental supervision?This way its just another thing, its no "great thing" ho-hum almost. This culture of binge drinking that we have here in NZ has to change and this can only be done by education in the home. I personally didn't drink much as a teenager, but I knew that if I wanted to have a drink, say of wine or beer(yuk),that was OK. Therefore, I didn't have to go out and get plastered behind my parents back. I also think that education as to having a drink WITH FOOD should be encouraged more. Hiking the drinking age is NOT going to help as it will just go "underground" and be a bigger problem. Hope this makes sense.



Fri 2nd Apr 2010 07:10pm

Unfortunately our social structure has also changed much over the years. When I was growing up it was quite normal for Mums and Dads to attend functions and take their older children with them. Often their was a mix of teenagers and parents. A great place for the young ones to learn how to drink sensibly.

Yes some of the responsibility comes down to the parents but unfortunately it is just he teenage culture of today. Drinks cost a lot in the Bars and Night clubs so they drink before they go out and then add more to it when they get there. There is also the added problems with drugs on top of that.


Mr Shin

Fri 2nd Apr 2010 07:53pm

I'm a bit of a binge drinker - if that's the definition that I've been labelled (I only drink in the weekends & have a few too many a few times a year when I do)and so do most of my friends. But we don't go out and cause trouble in the public eye.

Back in the day we used to drink truckloads and purposely went out to get smashed and I'm pretty sure that thought amongst younger people hasn't changed. This issn't a new thing, it's always been with us, if there are more alcohol related problems these days, it's most likely due to the lower drinking age or maybe young people these days dont give a s*** what anyone thinks.



Sat 3rd Apr 2010 11:43am

A huge issue with drinking alcohol that is often overlooked in these regulation debates is that, right from the very 1st glass, our inhibitions reduce rapidly. As we become less inhibited with each sip, the rules we put in place for ourselves start to slip away & become increasingly more difficult to uphold. And that's for those of us who are adults and who put in place limits before we begin! As self-control diminishes we are not that capable of making good decisions. With loss of inhibition & self control there are more issues at stake than just the possibility of feeling crappy the next day... the risk of drink-driving, unwanted pregnancies & increased risk of physical harm/inability to protect ourselves are very real dangers. For some, this loss of self-control leads to drug-taking, burglaries, beatings or worse – alcohol can be the precursor to crime.

Now put this whole scenario into a room full of teenagers, with the added problems of peer pressure and brains that haven't finished developing & minds that are still maturing... it's a recipe for disaster!

Our binge-drinking culture in NZ can only be changed with greater education. We need to look to countries that don't experience heavy drinking & study the cultural differences that are in play, so we can modify our behavior & education accordingly. Young people should be educated about alcohol & its effects & influences & encouraged to put safety plans in place before they begin to drink. They need to understand the importance of drinking water & eating food whilst drinking alcohol - to not only help to prevent organ & brain damage & prevent a hangover, but also to maintain the euphoria that alcohol provides, without resulting in the total breakdown of self-control.

Alcohol has been used for centuries to lubricate the wheels of society - to make socialising easier & more fun via the reduction of inhibitions. It’s unreasonable to expect that banning it will do anything more than send it underground. However alcoholic products targeted specifically at young people should be stomped on & removed from distribution. Supplying alcohol in the guise of softdrinks & iceblocks is sinister, unethical & immoral. In a country with such an incredibly high rate of diabetes, to encourage children & teenagers to consume a combination of high sugar & high alcohol is a crime – or should be. Greater social responsibility should be encouraged amongst alcohol suppliers – from the manufacturer to the bar staff. If we become a culture of kiwis caring for each other & looking after each other then alcohol abuse will no longer be such an issue.

More research should be undertaken to find the causes of binge-drinking, which is a completely different beast to “social drinking”. I hear co-workers in their 30s still talking about going out to “get absolutely hammered”... the binge-drinking problem is widespread, not just amongst teenagers. “Getting legless & off your face” is worn like a badge of honour in our country – why is this? How can anyone be proud of the fact that they drank so much of a liquid that they peed & vomited all over themselves & can’t remember a thing they did or said, except that they know they made total fools of themselves…. Strange, huh??


T Dave

Sat 3rd Apr 2010 01:28pm

Lowered drinking age, rtd's, bars open all night, alcohol advertising everywhere, increased alcohol retail outlets ... all equals big profits for the liquor industry. Therefore no motivation to change anything.



Sat 3rd Apr 2010 03:56pm

Consequences. C O N S E Q U E N C E S !

The people of NZ no longer have to pay the consequences for their behaviour. The problem is not caused by bar hours or cheap alcohol at supermarkets. The binge culture comes about because people have no consequences. We as a country will pick them up from their vomit, pay for them to get their stomach pumped at hospital, and for so many, we also pay for them not to work.

Get caught drunk driving ? Here's your keys, make sure you don't get caught again on your way home.

Causing a nuisance on Courtenay Place ? Just make sure you throw up in the gutter and not the footpath. Groups are even better - 90% of the group can be absolutely blotto and terrorising normal people, with one left over who is the duty "111 caller".

Breaking the city-wide liquor ban ? No problem, just don't do it again.

We need to change our conscience and stop enabling this behaviour. Our institutions these days are all about making someone else responsible for YOUR behaviour. That won't change very quickly.

OK, heads back in the sand now, Government.



Mon 5th Apr 2010 07:50pm

A change in attitude is required for sure. But I don't think we can force a change via legislation, the heavy-drinking youths will rebel against being told they're not allowed to do something. Our youths need to WANT to do something else, more than they want to get pissed. We need to encourage our kids to enjoy sports at a competitive level, and then we need to make sure that sports clubs are not focused on alcohol once the games are over.

p.s. I know the problem is not just youths, but I don't think we can do much about the 40 year old drunks, the issue needs to be addressed much earlier.



Tue 6th Apr 2010 01:24pm

As someone who works part time as a doorman at a night club, I've seen and experienced more than my fair share of people who've had far too much to drink. I dont think legislating bars into the ground is the way to fix it. Nor do i think education is going to fix it. This is the result of a generation growing up with no corporal punishment in schools, leading to no respect for authority, and an attitude that they can get away with murder (which in this country means 5 years in the milton hilton at worst). Bring back corporal punishment in schools, and police applying the size 10 boot up the backside and in another generation this problem will go away again.

Also with regards to the above posts about liquor bans, I've only ever once seen the police arrest someone for breaking the local liquor ban. More often than not they just make them tip it out, its not even a slap on the wrist with a wet bust ticket.


Paula D

Wed 7th Apr 2010 03:54pm

Oh I was out on Friday night at a hens party. I decided not to drink- I don't like the atmosphere on hens nights and I wanted to be able to drive myself home. Imagine my surprise when it got back to me that I was apparently pregnant- of course there would be no logical reason for not drinking apart from that!
Why is it not okay to abstain from drinking? I have had snide comments passed in the past that I'm a 'sad sack' if I don't want to drink- sad sack I am not!



Sat 10th Apr 2010 01:48pm

A friend's allergic to alcohol, and she gets that ALL the time. Well, not the pregnant bit, her daughters are almost all grown up, but the snide remarks she gets. And the 'one won't hurt' stuff. Ridiculous. Why should it be such a big deal to choose not to have alcohol?

Drunk people are ugly, no matter the age or gender. It's not a pretty sight. Seems very prevalent nowadays but maybe that's cos I'm getting old...or maybe it is the attitude of 'I can do whatever I want, wherever I want, and to hell with the rest of you' that also seems prevalent nowadays (and sadly not just in 'youth').



Tue 27th Apr 2010 09:59am

haryadoon1 has hit it in one - Consequences. There is not sufficient regard to the consequences. Add to that the lack of social and personal responsibility. There might be heavyish legislated consequences (ie penalties) for a bar/retail outlet selling liquor to minors or intoxicated persons - but how often are those consequences fully or even half way imposed. I interestingly came across the Liquor Licensing Authority Decisions database recently - and it was interesting reading - what do outlets who get caught in an organised sting selling alcohol to minors recieve? 24-48 hours loss of licence - and a months loss of licence to the manager - that's a long way from the maximum $10,000. It's like a slap with a wet fish.

What do drunks care that someone else has to come behind them cleaning up their mess, picking them up, stitching them up. - nothing - no personal responsibility.

We need a combined approach to fix this - and the opportunity is there with the coming possible changes to the Liquor laws. Bring the drinking age back to 20, shorten the licencing hours, stop the convenience stores from having cheap alcohol available 24/7.

But more importantly act upon the penalties and make them harsh. Impose some hefty fines. Impound vehicles for drunk drivers. Give drunks who offend a criminal history that will stop them travelling overseas.

I may sound like a prude but I don't care. Sometimes you need to be hurt to learn a lesson. If you burn your finger by touching a fire - you learn not to do it again. Same thing.

Rant over



Mon 3rd May 2010 08:15am

I see no reason to change the drinking age. It is nonsense to treat 18 year olds like children when it comes to drinking when they are treated like adults in every other sphere of life.
It seems to me that what we should be looking at is dealing more harshly with the small number of idiots who cannot control their drinking and thus give all young drinkers a bad name. A short sharp lesson may help. What say if when you are picked up by the police for offensive behaviour as a result of intoxication you get locked up in a cell for seven days - and barred from ALL bars and clubs in the town or city you live in? That might do for starters.



Mon 3rd May 2010 10:52am

Coming from healthy California, I have never been a heavy drinker. Living in New Zealand, I get a hard time from my kiwi friends about being a drag or no fun because I don't drink more than a glass of wine, if that. Not so with my American and European friends, who all drink in moderation. So I do think there is an ingrained kiwi culture of drinking, and I'm referring to adults from 30 to 70. Add to that the natural curiosity and craziness of teenagers, who have grown up watching their parents drink to excess on a regular basis, it is not difficult to understand why we now have these problems.

Leaving the legal age as is makes sense. But I agree that there must be consequences and the laws must be enforced to affect any change. A change in culture will only come about when the consequences bring about a change in attitude. If things like getting thrown in jail regularly and getting fined heavily become the norm, suddenly it's not so cool to be a drunken slob. And then eventually the source becomes frowned upon, and drinking to excess just looks a mess and becomes unacceptable.

But I do think it would help to have bars and clubs close earlier, say 2 AM. Sure people who want to keep drinking will find ways to do so. But at least most of them will be doing it off the streets. In my younger, partying days, our gang would often make sure to leave the bar in time to get a bottle or two at the liquor store, which also closed at 2. Then we would carry the party to someone's house, often crashing out on their floor.

It's not the perfect solution - some people will still get into their cars to go home when they are too drunk to drive. And some, especially teenagers, will gather at parks or street corners to continue their drinking. But if someone really wants to get stoopid drunk, they will find a way. And that comes right back around to consequences.


Thrash Cardiom

Sat 8th May 2010 09:43am

Yes, it all comes down to attitudes towards alcohol. In part I think this has been caused by past governments treating adults like children and heavily restricting bar opening times, days when alcohol could be purchased etc. I grew up in the error when 10:00pm closing was the norm and there was definitely the attitude of get in as much as you could before closing time and get to the bottle store before it closes - hurry, hurry, hurry.

This behaviour (itself an extension of the 6:00 o'clock swill) is ingrained into our culture. It's expected that you will write yourself off when younger and drinking. Clearly you aren't having fun if you don't.

I suspect that if the laws hadn't been so restrictive in the past then we may have had a more mature drinking culture. Hard to say really.



Tue 11th May 2010 01:44pm

Unfortunately it is the culture in NZ. I don't think it has anything to do with the reduction in pricing or the alcohol available but the binge drinking culture.

I think that if there hadn't been the tough restrictions in place as referred to above the binge drinking culture would not have developed as far as it has.


Paula D

Thu 13th May 2010 08:00am

Interesting my comment on there being seemingly no consequences to heavy drinking- and then a kid dies of alcohol poisoning.

Is that a big enough consequence do you think? People are just going to say 'well, I don't drink a whole bottle of vodka, so I'll be fine...'


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