Local hospitality industry undaunted by new alcohol consumption guidelines

The hospitality industry in Westman isn’t too worried about strict new recommendations regarding alcohol consumption, owing to the ever-changing nature of the sector itself.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction released its latest report Tuesday, which states no amount of alcohol is safe to consume, and both men and women shouldn’t indulge in more than two drinks a week.

Previously, the organization had recommended no more than 15 drinks for men and 10 drinks for women a week.

“Our industry has always been an industry to change and adapt,” said Shaun Jeffrey, executive director and CEO of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

“You have to be innovative to be successful in our industry … and that’s something that is only going to continue to increase in the future, because our customers are changing, and we have to change with them.”

The Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association has heard “very little” negative feedback regarding the new recommendations, he said. This is largely due to the industry already changing its liquor consumption options to meet consumer trends, which have changed significantly over the last 10 to 15 years.

Ever since the provincial Highway Traffic Act was amended in 2019 to adopt an immediate roadside prohibition approach to dealing with persons driving under the influence, the industry has noticed a change in the level of alcohol consumption.

Health-conscious customers have been a driving force behind many restaurants and bars adjusting their menus to offer non-alcoholic beverages such as mocktails. Younger generations are also looking for a different experience when they go out to eat at a restaurant, Jeffrey said.

“The days of just having one or two non-alcoholic … options on your menu are gone,” he said. “We’re already changing with the times.”

Any changes that might result from the new guidelines are likely to pale in comparison to what the industry has experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jeffrey added. Restaurants had to pivot their business models to prepare for a post-pandemic world, with a renewed focus on what customers want and what industry trends are playing out.

Morgan Donald, a manager at Brown’s Social House in Brandon, said the restaurant prides itself on its diverse mocktail menu and options for non-alcoholic beverages. She has also noticed a change in the drinking habits of Brown’s customers, noting it’s become more socially acceptable to eschew drinking altogether on a night out.

However, alcohol still plays a big role in the lives of many Manitobans, Donald said, especially when it comes to the holidays or special events. This is why Donald believes not much will change in the industry despite the new drinking guidelines.

“I don’t think it will deter what the drinking culture is,” she said.

Michael Juce, president and CEO of the Manitoba Hotel Association, expects Manitobans to review the fresh guidelines and make wise choices that take into account their own personal health risk factors and how alcohol fits into their lives, but agrees it’s unlikely they’ll severely impact the hospitality industry.

“[The industry has] gone through a whole bunch of changes, and this is just another one. It’ll adapt and evolve, whether it’s with mocktails or zero-alcohol products,” Juce said.

Hotel owners in Manitoba are also highly entrepreneurial and flexible and have handled challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, exceptionally well, he added.

While Lisa Hansen, a communications analyst with the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba, said it’s too soon to tell what impact the guidelines will have, she said her organization will continue to educate the public on any and all risks associated with alcohol consumption.

The LGCA, she said, uses evidence-based and neutral information to create awareness around setting limits on alcohol and cannabis consumption as well as gambling through its Know My Limits campaign.

The regulator is currently reviewing the new guidance for alcohol consumption to determine how best to reflect it in its educational materials, Hansen added.

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun