Drinking on the job

For this business owner, it’s not the employees but the patrons! Is the customer always right? It depends, says our elder, who offers suggestions on how to handle this hazy issue.

Dear EWC:

My husband and I are 50% owners of a motorsports dealership. Because we service agricultural vehicles we’re allowed to remain open during the recent pandemic shutdowns. I am a schoolteacher and do not make the day-to-day decisions at the shop, but come in three days a week to do the books.

Our shop has become a social hangout in the absence of bars that have shut down and a customer has filled the refrigerator at the store with beer. I threw a bit of a fit that people are drinking at our shop during business hours. And now my husband is very angry with me. I made him remove all the beer. I am mad for multiple reasons.

First off, we don’t need to encourage that type of socializing in this environment and secondly because we could be liable for giving people alcohol. Third, I don’t want our business to have a bad reputation. Oftentimes the employees will have a beer or two at the end of the day, but today I showed up to do the books and a loud, obnoxious customer was sitting in the showroom offering people beers.
So…I am seeking the perspective of a non-biased person and wanting to know: Does this happen at other businesses? Is this normal? Should I just bite my tongue or am I justified in being upset.

Papa-Smokey replies:

There is a fine line to providing a friendly, comfortable environment for your business versus going over the top and creating a bar like environment. People are especially eager for these types of environments during our pandemic and are seeking out places they can have interaction, as most bars and restaurants are shut down or with limited capacity.

Since you aren’t selling alcohol I don’t think you would be as liable as a commercial establishment that sells alcohol. However I think it would be wise to check with an attorney about liability. You also want to make sure you’re not making those customers who don’t want to drink uncomfortable with the environment and you lose their business. You may want to check with those types of customers and ask them how they feel about people drinking and if that adversely affects their attitude about doing business with your dealership.
The pandemic has changed the business environment. Do your homework to make sure by creating a comfortable place for customers to gather and be social you aren’t alienating others resulting in a net loss of business.
I hope these suggestions are helpful. Good luck!


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