A new pilot program accrediting drinking establishments is hitting the Entertainment District after successful stints in Calgary and Edmonton. It aims to up the quality of service, make the area safer, and, well, sanitize the entire neighbourhood of trouble.
Effective yesterday, bars, restaurants, clubs, and hotels within the boundaries of the city’s Entertainment District will have the option to voluntarily apply for a new provincial accreditation program known as Best Bar None. It’s an annual, internationally recognized badge of honour that originated in 2003 in Manchester, U.K., with over 100 towns and cities implementing the accreditation process since, including Calgary and Edmonton.
What’s the point Best Bar None Ontario? In short, it’s a way “to demonstrate commitment to socially responsible practices in the sale and service of alcohol.” It’s a partnership between industry, community, and government, spearheaded by the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association, and supported by a handful of local organizations like the Toronto Entertainment District Business Improvement Area, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the King Spadina Residents Association. Oh, and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (ACGO) and Toronto Police Service. And Crocodile Rock.
There are also some big corporate names behind the cause: the LCBO, Labatt, Molson, The Beer Store, and more of the people responsible for selling you—and businesses—a good time in bulk. “The reason the industry is in it is because this is a volunteer program,” says Tony Elenis, president and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association and spokesperson for Best Bar None in Ontario. ”And we need to embrace and welcome volunteer programs instead of strictly comply through a regulatory approach only, or enforcement approach. The industry brings integrity. ”
The program’s key objectives are to promote accountable management and operations and “improve economic viability of the night-time economy” while fostering positive community relationships between businesses and their neighbours alike. It takes a voluntary approach rather than a regulatory approach with hopes of generating a trickle-down effect that will enable establishments to collectively reduce everything from instances of violence and police calls to noise complaints and underage drinking—things I’d say are largely dependant on the type of establishment and the crowds it attracts.
Best Bar None is being test-driven here in the hope that it can instill its standards of high-quality service and safer places to drink and be merry across Ontario. Any establishment that is licensed to serve alcohol in the area bordered by Bathurst, Simcoe, Richmond West and Front are welcome to participate; the organization estimates there are about 175 eligible businesses in this area with capacities totalling 100,000 patrons. Applications are free and must be submitted by January 1, 2013 for first-year consideration.
The only other condition beyond location is that hopeful establishments must not have been sanctioned by the AGCO in the past 12 months. Otherwise, the application amounts to a series of brief questions (with an accompanying points system) addressing topics like “What do you do to keep illegal drugs out of your business?” and “What steps have you taken and what ongoing steps do you take so that noise from your business does not disturb your neighbours?” The most confusing—okay, funniest—question is probably “How do you and your staff make sure your patrons do not get drunk in your establishment?” That probably best sums up the spirit of the program and its prospective impact on the District—i.e., removing the Entertainment. (Not that you always need to be drunk to have fun—relax…) It’s a blatant attempt at self-sanitation that should come as a shock to, uh, no one.
There are some questions about the program’s efficacy, though. According to stats from Best Bar None U.K.’s efforts, the seal of approval bestowed upon Manchester bars or restos saw an unremarkable nine per cent reduction in serious violent crime; however, those in Doncaster saw a 70 per cent reduction in alcohol-related incidents requiring police involvement. Starting figures were not disclosed but, I guess, if violent crimes are going to happen in a bar, they’re going to because of an individual patron’s reaction to alcohol, regardless of an establishment’s best practices. And would accredited BBN bars feel less inclined, or at least more hesitant, to make a police call out of loyalty or a fear of some sort of loss of prestige within the program?
The application process also relies on a sort of Scout’s Honour. Once submitted, a BBN representative visits the establishment to verify the answers with an owner or manager, but it’s hardly a thorough inspection. “The assessor’s role is to validate what the operator has sent in, so it’s not an inspection system but a validation in confirming the licensee’s input,” says Elenis.
There are also inherently vague mentions of “high standards” throughout the application and promotional materials. Hooters’ “high standards” are undoubtedly different than, say, Braassii’s. And those are both probably way different than those of, say, Club XS. Plus, one owner’s Yes Man is another employee’s shitty manager.
“What it does is look at the practices and procedures and polices that are internally in place,” explains Elenis. “It rewards those that follow them and have those procedures in place. The right thing to do, economically speaking, is [follow those procedures for high standards].”
Otherwise, among its benefits, Best Bar None counts “positive public image” and “improved employee morale,” along with those reductions in alcohol-related incidents. I still don’t see a decal on a door having that sort of power or internal effect, especially in the places that otherwise appear fine on paper. This is where Best Bar None almost starts—and totally stops—being like a Michelin Guide for bars. (But, really, how great is that anymore, anyway?)
In the spring of next year, there will be an inaugural Best Bar None Ontario Awards that will see the first batch of members compete within one of five categories: Best Club, Best Bar/Lounge, Best Restaurant, Best Hotel Lounge, and Best Pub. The program will then expand, perhaps, to somewhere else in the city or Ontario. There will also be a public-awareness campaign to get patrons informed and frequenting only the best of the best, self-rated places. But Elenis promises that Best Bar None is a champion of vibrant nightlife—or else the city would be “boring” without it.