Public Drinking and Public Policy: Proceedings of a Symposium on Operation Studies Held at Banff, Alberta, Canada, April 26-28, 1984


294 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88868-109-7




Edited by Eric Single and Thomas Storm
Reviewed by Ashley Thomson

Ashley Thomson is a full librarian at Laurentian University and co-editor or co-author of nine books, most recently Margaret Atwood: A Reference Guide, 1988-2005.


Have you ever been in a bar that played slow country and western music? If so, and if you’re  like other patrons observed in this book, you will probably have drunk more than if the music were faster and varied.

As one might expect, the aim of this book is to explore ways of cutting down public drinking. Historically, governments have attempted to control drinking by the adoption of measures to control aggregate consumption, such as raising the drinking age, or increasing the purchase price of the alcohol.

This book is based on a different premise — that public drinking can also be controlled if the drinking environment is modified.

Consisting of 16 papers, which focus primarily on North America but also deal with the U.K., Finland, and New Zealand, the book sheds fascinating new light on the factors that affect how people drink in public places. In addition to the music played, the decor, lighting, group size, and availability of other activities (such as TV and dancing) can all affect the amount of alcohol consumed.

What possible incentives, however, are there for a tavern owner to spend money modifying his premises to cut down consumption? The book appears to suggest at least two. The first, and less promising, arises from the state’s power to license. As James Schaefer, of the University of Minnesota, suggests, tavern owners might be more willing to cooperate if the renewal of their licences depended on it. However, as Jane Bradbury reports from New Zealand, enforcement authorities theme regularly turn a blind eye toward less than flagrant abuses of liquor laws (p.160), and one can only suspect that this situation is true almost everywhere else. A second, and more promising, incentive arises from recent developments in the law, in both the United States and Canada, which hold tavern owners liable for serious financial penalties if those to whom they have provided alcohol injure themselves or others as a result. While there is always money to be made getting patrons drunk, there is now a lot of money to be saved if patrons can be kept more or less sober; and, if modifying the drinking environment can help, any owner would be foolish not to try.

Public Drinking and Public Policy is a stimulating book that suffers from some (inevitable?) repetition. In this reviewer’s mind, it would also have been improved had the editors devoted a concluding chapter to synthesizing the papers included.


“Public Drinking and Public Policy: Proceedings of a Symposium on Operation Studies Held at Banff, Alberta, Canada, April 26-28, 1984,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 19, 2024,