Clark Hall Pub staff paid less for drinks

Staff price lists violated Ontario liquor laws

Chris Hannon, 2006-07 bar manager, says staff prices have existed for more than 30 years.
Chris Hannon, 2006-07 bar manager, says staff prices have existed for more than 30 years.

Clark Hall Pub’s practice of charging staff at private parties a different price for alcohol than regular patrons is a violation of Ontario liquor-licence laws, said Bruce Griffiths, residence and hospitality services director.

Clark Hall Pub has had special pricing for staff during private parties for more than 30 years, said Chris Hannon, 2006-07 bar manager.

Last year, Hannon said, the staff price for a domestic pitcher of beer was about $7—a 30 per cent profit as compared to regular prices, which generate a 100 per cent profit for the bar.

Griffiths said this was one of the concerns he expressed to the Engineering Society in the weeks prior to Clark’s closure in the summer. He said he found out about the discounted prices during discussions leading up to the closure.

“This is part of what I understood to be going on,” he said.

Griffiths isn’t responsible for setting campus bars’ prices. He ensures the prices set comply with both liquor-licence laws and with the tripartite agreement between the University with each of the campus pubs and The Grad Club.

The agreement obliges each pub to abide by the appropriate laws as well as follow Queen’s policy concerning training and operation procedures.

According to Ontario liquor-licence legislation, bars must set one price for all of their drinks at the time of application and bars must set their prices according to a prescribed minimum.

The minimum prices are low—$2.67 for a pint of beer—but because bars aren’t permitted to lower prices once set, bars must set prices according to the amount of money they need to make a profit.

“That price that you set as normal has to be the price patrons have come to expect,” Griffiths said.

The only time a bar is permitted to change its prices under the Liquor Licence Act is if the bar wants to recoup costs incurred from a special event, such as a concert.

“If you raise the price at 6 p.m., it holds until 2 a.m. that night. But come 11 [the following morning] or whatever time you open, it has to go back down.”

Under no circumstances, he said, is a bar permitted to lower its prices.

“You just can’t discount alcohol.”

Griffiths said the number of people or the time at which the function is held makes no legal difference.

“A private function … doesn’t allow you to do anything different under the act,” he said. “If the price of a pitcher is $15 and on staff night you lowered your price to $5, that’s illegal.”

Griffiths said he can see how easy it is to just follow the practices set out by previous managers, but it’s not an excuse.

“If the most recent staff are

doing this only because it was already done, and it was understood to be done that way, a person like John McDiarmid would be very useful.” John McDiarmid is the AMS Food and Beverage Officer and serves as a resource to the managers of Alfie’s and the Queen’s Pub.

Griffiths said the institutional memory and management expertise a permanent staff member brings could prevent future problems. Hannon said the EngSoc executive and board of directors have always known about staff prices.

“Since the board of directors has existed, it has known Clark has staff prices,” he said. “It’s not a secret.”

Hannon said he knows the staff price list may not be strictly in line with the University’s policies.

“It’s probably something that isn’t quite what the liquor licence says,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s quite a violation.”

He said the prices change from year to year and rise at a similar rate compared to regular prices.

“That list is made in consultation with the Engineering Society board of directors and the Engineering Society executive,” he said. “It’s not something that’s kept hidden from anyone.”

Hannon said serving cheap drinks to staff isn’t a detriment to the pub’s success in any way.

“The bar is still making money. We’re not hurting the bar financially in doing so.”

Engineering Society President Charlie Scott said he wasn’t involved in any price-setting process, nor was he told about it having happened in the past.

“I have never been aware of this happening,” he said, adding that it’s not something he would ever endorse.

“If there was an approval process, I certainly wouldn’t ever have approved lowering price lists.”

—With files from Anna Mehler Paperny

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