PUBLISHED: 11:35 AM on Wednesday, February 1, 2006
Hospitality industry, patrons benefit from efforts of CHARR
On New Year's Eve, many Alaskans went out to bars and restaurants to celebrate the start of 2006.

Despite the fact that alcohol was included in quite a number of celebrations, only one drunk driving arrest was made in Juneau that night, which is due in part to the efforts of Juneau/Lynn Canal CHARR, an affiliate of the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association.

The organization, which has been serving the hospitality industry in Alaska since 1968, provides a number of services to its members including training, legislative and governmental lobbying, and promotion of the industry as a whole.

Since 1984, Alaska CHARR has also operated the TAMS program, an education initiative geared to restaurant and bar employees who serve alcohol.

"The TAM (Techniques of Alcohol Management) program is designed to make sure that everyone who serves alcohol is aware of the law-everything from checking IDs to making sure that customers are not overserved," said Triangle Bar owner Leeann Thomas, an Alaska CHARR board member.

"For a new bartender, it can be their main source of education, because it not only teaches the letter of the law, but also the skills to manage or work at a hospitality business."

CHARR instructors travel across the state to teach the class, which provides information on responsible serving techniques, the clinical effects of alcohol, how to handle disruptive customers, and state and local laws.

CHARR also provides a food safety training program for restaurants called the ServSafe program, which can include anything from the four-hour limited foodservice class needed by places like bars and espresso stands, to the full Food Protection Certification course.

In addition to its education component, CHARR also works to protect the rights of its members who may be affected by legislation targeting the hospitality industry.

"We keep a very close eye on legislation that affects our members' businesses or people's personal rights," said Thomas, who said the group most recently fought the proposed smoking ban in Juneau.

In 2006, Juneau/Lynn Canal CHARR also started a new program designed to keep drunk drivers off the road. The Safe Ride Home program was a combined effort of Juneau/Lynn Canal CHARR, bar owners and liquor distributors, and one local cab company.

"On New Year's Eve, we gave 440 customers a free cab ride home from businesses who agreed to participate in the Safe Ride Home program," Thomas said.

"Even though it was the first year we did it, everything ran perfectly. Business owners were happy, the cab company was happy, and of course, the passengers were happy."

According to Thomas, the CHARR chapter decided to go forward with the program after researching what was done in other communities.

"We decided to put part of our group's dues towards the event, and also asked the businesses that wanted to participate to donate," she said.

"Eighteen businesses, including some liquor distributors, all contributed $100 or more."

The money was used to fund the free cab rides, which were provided by Juneau Taxi.

"We contacted a few of the cab companies, and Juneau Taxi was very excited about the opportunity to ultimately make Juneau safer," said Thomas.

"They did a great job and people were picked up really efficiently. And when they weren't busy on our calls, they offered free rides to people who needed a way home, even if they hadn't called us."

According to Thomas, there was only one drunk driving arrest made on New Year's Eve. "I talked to Captain Porter of the Juneau Police Department and he said that he was very happy with how things went," Thomas said.

"He added that DUIs in the last three years have been substantially lower than in previous years, and credited the efforts of the Juneau Lynn Canal CHARR chapter as well as other community members."

Neil Atkinson, co-owner of G.W. Teal at the Mendenhall Mall, said that they were also pleased with how the evening turned out.

"The free taxi rides worked well for us and for the community," he said.

"I think it was really well-received, and it was a good way to show that bar owners are concerned about drinking and driving and making sure that their customers remain safe. We provided an avenue for our customers to make a responsible choice, and we had good participation. The feedback that we got showed that customers were happy that the option was there."

According to Thomas, Juneau Lynn Canal CHARR plans to sponsor the event again next year, and might even expand it to include other holidays, like the fourth of July. "It's very exciting-once they heard the numbers, bar owners who didn't respond this year have already said that they want to participate next year," Thomas said.

"Our ultimate goal is to do something like they do in Ketchikan, where they rent every cab in the city and also provide two buses for transportation between 6 p.m. on New Year's Eve and 6 a.m. New Year's Day. That way, nobody has to drive."

"We're really excited and committed to continuing this program as a way to keep the community safe," she said.

"We want to help people make responsible choices. And the opportunity to drink responsibly helps to make our city safer."