The hospitality sector is in the midst of a quiet war involving multiple agendas and combatants, principal among them being those who seemingly want to protect us from ourselves and reduce alcohol harm, and those charged with protecting and potentially growing a lucrative industry.
People like yourself, who may want merely to enjoy the odd night out, are potential casualties, along with the truth, it seems.
The skirmishes are occurring around the country: communities emboldened by 2012 legislation giving them more of a say in where alcohol is sold are scoring the odd hit, police are campaigning to reduce bar hours and stop some from even opening, while local councils are struggling with conflicting campaigns to protect those communities while supporting businesses that feed regional economies.
A report by public policy think tank the New Zealand Initiative suggests too much emphasis on the former could undermine the latter, and also deny the opportunity to create a more enjoyable, inclusive and even healthy nightlife experience.
It says that while cities such as Melbourne and Amsterdam are offering more flexible and holistic solutions that enhance local flavour and choice, New Zealand is choosing a more puritanical model that shoots first and asks questions later, if at all.
Numbers and ‘facts’ are weapons in this war.
Those concerned with social harm can point to the $5 billion alcohol apparently costs this country each year in lost wages, healthcare, and police and justice resources.
But according to the industry’s own figures, hospitality is worth more than $11b to the economy and employs 130,000 people. The beer industry is particularly frothy, with the growing popularity of craft beer supporting more than 200 breweries and $2.3b in revenue.
That undermines some of the think tank’s argument. Far from suffering under the yoke of regulation and moral austerity, the industry is thriving.
It grew 3.6 per cent in 2018, says the Restaurant Association of NZ, following 8.5 per cent growth in 2016 and 9.7 per cent in 2017. Restaurants and cafes made up half of the industry’s sales and employed half of its staff.
The association acknowledges uncertainty about “the impact of the raft of legislation changes” but says pubs and bars need to “reinvent” their image following a drop in the popularity of its “traditional model”.
At this point, groups concerned about social harm might be tempted to raise a glass in celebration.
But they too appear to have been indiscriminate with their weapons of truth.
None of this is to say we should ignore legitimate claims about the social harm of alcohol abuse and remove all rules around its consumption. But it does suggest we should be wary of those so keen to restrict the options of a great majority of people wanting to engage in a legal activity in a largely responsible way, in a manner of their choosing.