After reading AC contributor Lyn Lomasi’s article on serving alcohol in amusement parks, I thought to weigh in with my own two cents based on my former experience as a Food & Beverage Supervisor at a now defunct amusement water park. Part of my daily responsibilities included the daily operations of numerous food stations throughout the park. In addition to the typical pizza, burgers, hot dogs, and chicken fingers, we sold beer, wine, and frozen margaritas.
In the three years I worked at this park, I saw both pros and cons to serving alcohol in an amusement park that both adults and families patronize. And I’m no closer to a verdict today than I was back then.
So Why Sell Alcohol in a Family Friendly Park?
Simple. It makes money. Profit margins are huge for alcohol, where bottles of beer and wine can sell for five to six times their cost. And customers are definitely buying. We sold much more alcohol than we did water and soda combined. It never ceased to amaze me how many people lined up to buy alcohol from the time we opened at 10am until we closed at night.
Now I know there are some who argue that parks run the risk of losing money because families will stay away if they choose to serve alcohol. I’ve actually found the opposite to be true. In my experience, there were plenty of parents who were willing to bring their kids to our park and let their children drag them around all day because we served alcohol. Your kids want to swing through this water slide again for the gazillionth time? Which means you have to wait another 30 minutes for them to wait in line until they get to the top of the slide so you can wave encouragingly at them? No problem. You have an ice cold margarita to take the edge off the constant screaming and squealing that’s grating on your nerves.
Serving alcohol in a family friendly amusement park also makes sense if the culture of its location deems it a way of life. This park was located directly on the Las Vegas Strip next to several large casinos. Refusing to serve alcohol would have meant certain bankruptcy for a business located in the center of Sin City. Other companies have had to adapt as well. Disneyland Paris had to change its no-alcohol policy after locals chafed at the lack of wine, which is an integral part of their culture.
What about Liability and Safety Issues?
To limit liability and lawsuits, most businesses that sell alcohol are usually required by law to provide some kind of safety and alcohol awareness training for their staff. Some states like Nevada require employees who work around alcohol to be a certain age as well as obtain a special work card certifying that they are trained to recognize the signs of intoxication and how to deal with them.
In addition, our policy was to limit each alcohol sale to two drinks at a time (one in each hand). If someone was buying more than 2 drinks they either had to come back or be accompanied by another adult over the age of 21. And if customers were visibly intoxicated, security was just a radio call away to assist us.
Now, that being said, I will tell you that it is virtually impossible for amusement park employees to monitor alcohol consumption of every guest. With thousands of people visiting the park and multiple stations where people can purchase alcohol, you don’t know how much a customer has had to drink unless they show obvious signs of intoxication or they are foolish enough to visit only your station throughout the day.
And remember what I told you about profit margins in alcohol sales? Well, the goal of businesses is to increase that margin as much as possible. And that usually means cheap (yes, I said it) brands of alcohol in the mixed drinks and generic wine. For every frozen margarita batch we made, the formula was one bottle of tequila per three bottles of mix and water. The only premium brands we sold were beer.
Serving watered down drinks usually means that the alcohol is slower to give that buzz most people are looking for. And combined with sun exposure, the alcohol dehydrates the body faster. This makes people thirstier, so they buy more drinks to quench their parched throats. Add that to thrill rides and large crowds, and you have a recipe for potential disaster.
Serving Alcohol is No Picnic, but the Tips are Great
Serving alcohol means you’re in a constant state of policing for both guests and employees. No employee wants to put a damper on a guest’s experience by questioning them on how much they’ve had to drink. Despite the alcohol awareness training we receive, people behave differently when they’ve had too much to drink, so it’s sometimes difficult to determine when a guest should be “cut off”. I’ve been physically attacked, yelled at, and spit on because I’ve cut people off or refused to serve them. And more than once I caught underage employees serving bottles of beer, and overage employees indulging in a little “beer benefit”.
Serving alcohol can also be messy. Taps have to be hooked up to kegs and carbon that run via lines under the counter to a refrigeration unit. Tap wine also comes in huge bag-in-a-boxes which have to be hooked up. When beer runs out, the tap sometimes spits foam at you. If alcohol spills, it’s sticky on your clothes and slippery on the floor. I cannot tell you how many times I went home smelling like an alcoholic without ever drinking a drop.
And yet employees clamor for alcohol serving positions because the tips are higher. Many people don’t know this, but the minimum wage for servers is lower than the federal minimum wage because the government figures tips will make up the difference. So if your income depends hugely on tips, you want to sell higher-priced alcohol because the difference in tip potential can make a huge dent in your bank account.
So Should We Serve Alcohol in Amusement Parks?
My feelings on this issue are mixed because I’ve seen both the negative and positive aspects of it. From a business standpoint, it makes perfect sense to serve alcohol in an amusement park. I think that if controlled, relegated to a particular location, and responsibly managed, alcohol can be sold in amusement parks.
However, I agree with those who say patrons who indulge in too much can have a negative effect on other customers. Staff should be properly trained in serving alcohol, and there should be specific plans in place to deal with those who’ve had too much. I also believe that in order to further limit liability, servers should serve a glass of water for every drink consumed. This slows down intoxication and keeps patrons hydrated.
Ultimately, the decision and responsibilities lies with the adults who patronize these parks, whether or not they are with children. Safety should always be a priority, and if there are any concerns about unruly patrons, never hesitate to tell a park employee or call security. And if you don’t agree with a park’s policy in serving alcohol, don’t be afraid to give management your feedback. Policy changes often happen based on customer comments, because it’s you who affect the bottom line.
Lyn Lomasi, Should Amusement Parks Serve Beer and Other Alcohol?, Associated Content from Yahoo!
Gwen Navarrete, What I Did with a B.S. in Hotel Administration, Associated Content from Yahoo!
Michael B. Dexter and Wendy Michaels, Alcohol in Amusement Parks, LoveToKnow
Randy Diamond, Alcohol lifts theme parks spirits, HeraldTribune.com
Euro Disney Adding Alcohol, NYTimes.com
TAM Card – Alcohol Awareness Training, Insider Viewpoint of Las Vegas
Ann, Alcohol and Sun: A Look at What Can Happen When You Mix the Two, Associated Content from Yahoo!
Philip Chambley, Why U.S.A. Restaurant Servers Did NOT Receive the Minimum Wage Increase on July 24, 2009?, Associated Content from Yahoo!