The OLCC Racket

Like every server in the state, while at work I am required to carry a service permit that has been issued by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. This card certifies that I have gone through a mandatory class that details Oregon’s liquor laws.

When anyone in this state is hired as a server, bartender or restaurant manager, they must take this class within 45 days of hire. If they continue serving after taking the class, it means that they are willingly covering up the open secret about the OLCC: its rules are, by nature, never followed.

The purpose of the OLCC class is virtuous. It mandates that anyone who serves alcohol in Oregon must be familiar with the basics of alcohol: how much does it take to get drunk, when a customer should be cut off, etc. But the rules are so stacked against the servers that they are impossible to follow.

For instance, according to the OLCC, nobody should ever be served to the point of intoxication. If a customer that I serve becomes intoxicated, then I have over-served them, and I am criminally liable for any damage he should make in a car accident after leaving. The restaurant will also face a heavy fine, and a possible loss of its liquor license.

Now, nobody seriously believes that people never get drunk in bars. Not only is this absurd, it ignores the purpose of serving liquor in restaurants in the first place.

Americans drink to get drunk. Varying degrees of intoxication may be the goal (or merely the result), but there is an undeniable physical effect associated with drinking. Anyone who orders a drink understands this, and takes this into account when ordering.

The argument could be (and has been) made that in other cultures, like Europe, binge drinking is so socially frowned upon that there is not as high an incidence of drinking and driving. This could be because many pubs institute the "height" rule: if you are old enough to see over the bar, you are old enough to order a drink.

In our repressive Puritan culture, we tell our young that they are not allowed to drink until they reach the magical age of 21. We do not tell them they are too irresponsible, or too untrustworthy, or that their bodies cannot handle it; we simply tell them they are not allowed.

This inspires a culture of lust, where desire for the forbidden nectar overpowers all else. People turn 21 and they go out to a bar and get hammered. Even in Oregon, where the OLCC’s virtuous rules are supposed to make getting hammered impossible.

If every server and bartender followed the OLCC’s rules, a young Puritan on his 21st birthday would not be able to find anyone to serve him more than three drinks per hour (depending on his body weight). Nobody would ever be able to get drunk in a bar, for as soon as the customer reached the point of gently tipsy, they would be irrevocably cut off. This is what servers are taught in the mandatory five-hour class.

But when I look at my customers, who pay me to have a good time, the last thing I want to do is tell them they can’t buy anything else from me. My income relies completely on the tips that they give me. If I sell them more, they tip more. I agree with the OLCC that serving someone who can’t pronounce his own name is negligent and wrong. But when someone is really happy and a little tipsy, they say that I cannot, by law, serve them anything if they exhibit any signs of intoxication whatsoever.

My economic livelihood depends on being able to provide for my customers the same thing they can get at any other bar: a nice buzz. If I denied that to every customer in my section who wanted it, I would quickly find myself unable to pay rent.

So why then, does the OLCC impose unrealistic standards on the peddlers of our society’s only socially acceptable drug? Accountability, plain and simple.

If some guy I serve gets drunk, and drives away drunkenly smashing his car into a busload of nuns, someone has to swing for it. If the driver is dead, who is left to blame? The little guy, trying to make a buck. A server can be fined thousands of dollars in such a situation, and then lose his or her job, denying them the opportunity to pay the fine. What sounded like strong rhetoric in the Capitol doesn’t serve anyone’s interests in the real world.

Chaelan MacTavish can be reached at [email protected]