For Chapel Hill businesses open until the early hours of the morning, serving intoxicated patrons comes with the territory.
Josh Sanders, the owner of Pita Pit, said he has experienced drunk and aggressive customers who threaten and try to fight with staff members.
But he said it is a rare occurrence. His staff is trained to immediately call the police, who arrive within three or four minutes.
“There’s always a few,” Sanders said. “Usually only about once a month.”
Aaron Bachenheimer, director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and Community Involvement, said the University and the town have renewed their focus on high-risk drinking, which highlights the negative consequences that can occur from drinking rather than the number of drinks consumed.
Last month, the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership hosted a focus group to examine the effects of high-risk drinking in the downtown area.
“The binge rate is not unimportant, but it tends not to resonate,” Bachenheimer said.
About 39 percent of full-time college-aged students when asked admitted to binge drinking within the past month, according to a 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
The total could be more because students have been found to misjudge standard serving sizes and underestimate the amount they drink, according to the survey.
Bachenheimer said he is particularly concerned about negative consequences resulting from high-risk drinking like injury, sexual assault, fights, overdose and failure to perform academically.
“If you go to any college or university in the country, it is an issue,” he said.
He said students tend to drink to enhance social situations and make them less awkward, but the negative consequences that can occur do not help to meet the student’s social goals.
Bachenheimer said it is important to start a conversation among students to decide what behavior is acceptable among the UNC community and to encourage students to help each other make healthier and safer decisions about alcohol.
“I think that’s the student conversation,” he said. “It is an important problem.”
Sanders said Pita Pit’s busiest time is between 2:15 a.m. and 2:45 a.m., when some customers come from the bars to eat and sober up.
He said his biggest concern is the safety of customers who have been drinking and are planning to drive home.
Brian Westrom, a Chapel Hill personal injury lawyer, said businesses who serve customers coming from bars already intoxicated are not liable for any car accidents that might happen.
“The business does not have any duty to keep that person from getting behind the wheel,” he said.
But Westrom said bars might be liable if they serve customers an excessive amount of alcohol when they know the patron will be driving home.
Chris Carini, the owner and chef at Linda’s Bar and Grill, said he thinks excessive drinking hurts his business, and his staff tries to make sure guests do not overindulge in alcohol.
“We try not to allow it,” he said. “We kindly ask them to stop drinking and/or leave.”
Carini said alcohol currently makes up less than 50 percent of sales, as Linda’s has begun to focus more on serving food along with its alcohol.
Chapel Hill does have high-risk drinkers but not as bad as he has seen elsewhere, he said.
“I think Chapel Hill does a pretty decent job,” he said.
Carini said Linda’s could be fined if they serve too much alcohol to a guest, so his staff is trained to handle situations of high-risk drinking.
“You don’t need to stop people from having multiple beverages,” he said. “It’s how businesses tolerate those actions.”
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