New alliance to promote responsible drinking

SNBA president Dennis Foo, EuroCham executive director Lina Baechtiger and Timbre Group managing director and SNBA vice-president Edward Chia. An MOU to form the Singapore Alliance for Responsible Drinking will be inked within a few months.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

A new alliance is being formed to promote responsible drinking and raise standards in the nightlife sector, marking the first industry-wide effort to do so.

Helmed by operators and alcohol suppliers, it aims to train bar staff on how to spot and handle inebriated customers, for instance, and even how to react during a terror attack.

The Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA), which represents 445 operators, and the European Chamber of Commerce's (EuroCham) wine, spirits and beer committee here - composed of nine alcohol brands that make up the lion's share of the local market - are joining forces, they revealed to The Straits Times.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) is being finalised to form the Singapore Alliance for Responsible Drinking (Sard).

Also on the cards is a public engagement effort on responsible consumption and possibly an accreditation scheme to promote minimum standards for operators.

While both parties have previously worked together on ad hoc initiatives, they decided to pool their resources this time for a larger impact, said Mr Davide Besana, vice-chairman of EuroCham's wine, spirits and beer committee. He is the Asia-Pacific corporate affairs manager for Edrington, which makes Scottish whiskies such as The Macallan and Highland Park.

Edrington, together with other brands on the committee - Bacardi, Diageo, Moet Hennessy Diageo, Pernod Ricard, William Grant and Sons, Remy Cointreau, Carlsberg and Asia Pacific Breweries - make up an estimated 80 per cent of the alcohol market here.

The alliance will also provide a collective voice for the industry in its regular engagement with the authorities, such as over the proposed amendments to the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act introduced in Parliament earlier this month.

Among the proposals are a "lighter touch" and licences with longer validity periods for law-abiding licensees, but stiffer penalties for errant operators.

SNBA president and nightlife veteran Dennis Foo said that the Ministry of Home Affairs has been more proactive in seeking industry input in recent years. "We are very supportive of (the Amendment Bill) - it recognises that proper operators should not be treated the same as bad ones," he said.

The MOU to form the alliance will be signed within the next few months, and discussions have already begun on possible initiatives, said EuroCham executive director Lina Baechtiger.

Among these is the introduction of a voluntary accreditation scheme to raise standards in the industry by rewarding responsible operators, such as the Best Bar None scheme adopted in Britain.

The alliance is also looking to expand a programme to train bar staff to identify, intervene and prevent potential alcohol-related problems among customers.

Sard's formation is timely as the definition and scope of nightlife has evolved, said Timbre Group's managing director Edward Chia, who is vice-president of SNBA.

The lines between bars, clubs and restaurants have blurred, while a decentralisation of nightlife entertainment is expected to take place over the next decade as neighbourhood establishments continue to sprout, Mr Chia added.

Mr Foo, who is the chairman of CityBar Holdings, said: "There are a lot more restaurant-bars now, and a lot of young professionals joining the industry."

The increasing threat of terrorism and overseas attacks on public entertainment establishments also present fresh challenges.

"We need to train our people to know what to do if something happens," said Mr Chia, adding that the only way to do this is with an industry-wide move.

Mr Eugene Fung, owner of The Mad Men Attic Bar near Boat Quay, said that leveraging on the overseas experience of alcohol brands would be useful for the adoption of best practices here.

"Having a common voice will also help in our engagement with the authorities so we know better what we are doing wrong or right," he said.

This article was first published on Apr 17, 2017. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.