Find a back issue

Restaurant 101: Drinking Age Debate

How old were you when you took your first drink? Was it a few swings of Boone’s Farm Apple Wine in the back seat of a car with some other underage friends or half a glass of wine at a special occasion at a fine restaurant with your parents? Me? Guilty to the former. You?

Anywhoo, this morning Miss Amy takes a scholarly approach and discusses the pros and cons of the drinking age debate. I’m sober and ready. Let’s go:

The issue over age–18 or 21–misses the point. It isn’t when kids are allowed to drink, it’s how they are taught. When our son turned 15, we spent a year between Drivers Ed classes and a learner’s permit before we let him drive a car by himself. Now we are facing our next challenge: the inevitable issue of drinking alcohol. Are we going to allow his college peers to teach him to modify consumption of a substance that makes him lose control? How much should be the parent’s responsibility? And, how much does the endless, on/off “18 or 21″ legalized age to drink debate lead to youthful over-consumption?

The European “system” has always been held up as a model for success. For more insight on the European perspective I discussed growing up in Belgium with Stefaan “Pommes” Vandemoortele , General Manager/Partner of Sevy’s Grill. “The legal age to drink [in Belgium] is 14, but families begin allowing consumption even earlier. Our family dinners came with a choice of beverage, beer or water, and I don’t ever remember soft drinks or juice being an option.” says Stef. As for older adolescents (18-21): “We didn’t drink as fast because of the late-evening culture. Dinner with your parents began at 10 after which kids would go out, but since the bars and clubs stay open all night there was no desire to slam down drinks. Public transportation was important during adolescence, a period when kids learned to handle some of alcohols effects before getting their driver’s license at 18.”

Stefaan and his wife Sandra are the parents of a Texas Tech student. I wondered if the drinking age had been 18 when he sent her off to college would he have been concerned? “Absolutely not, she has been brought up to have a glass of wine or beer with dinner so there was not a novelty factor for her. She was raised to understand her responsibility as a consumer and any alcohol always meant no driving.”

The Culinary Institute of America has a bar on campus. It’s a relaxing place to have a beer or wine and walk home to the dorm. During the year I lived there with my husband, I don’t ever remember seeing a student over-intoxicated at the bar, but perhaps this was because there were teachers as well as students there. I do feel that it had an impact in reducing the number of dorm or house “rages”, and the number of seriously hung-over students.

Sevy and I have always been keenly aware of the responsibilities that accompany the selling of a legalized drug. Both of us turned “legal” at the age of 18 (well, mine only lasted one year), but we are not necessarily advocates to changing the drinking age from 21 as we are also parents of a 17- year-old senior. There is no option with our kids (or their friends) of being permissive over the issue of illegal alcohol consumption at our home, the incomes of 50+ employees relies on the annual renewal of our liquor license. That said, it is completely legal in Texas for minors to be given alcohol by their parents, and in their parent’s presence.

Right now the university community is advocating lowering of the drinking age. As we prepare to let our precious children loose in the world, I want to know if the chancellors of colleges are ready to accept this responsibility the way I do as a business owner? And we’re not waiting for the determination of when it is “age-appropriate”, we have the ability to help our son learn responsibly now.

Read This Next

9 comments on “Restaurant 101: Drinking Age Debate

  1. One little amendment to above. Parents can allow their child to drink, but only if they provide the alcohol, and ONLY if the child is consuming it in the parents presence. A parent CAN NOT buy their kids a 6 pack of Mike’s HL and say “Have a great night, kid.” as they send them out with their friends.

  2. I’d like to add another factor/amendment to the mix.

    No matter what age they are when people start drinking, and no matter whether they are supervised by their parents when they do so, a certain percentage of the population is going to be predisposed to alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism.

    Parents, educators, doctors and friends need to be educated about the symptoms and treatment of this disease.

    From the US Department of Health and Human Services:

    “Forty-four percent of the adult U.S. population (aged 18 and over) are current drinkers who have consumed at least 12 drinks in the preceding year (Dawson et al. 1995). Although most people who drink do so safely, the minority who consume alcohol heavily produce an impact that ripples outward to encompass their families, friends, and communities. The following statistics give a glimpse of the magnitude of problem drinking:

    “* Approximately 14 million Americans—7.4 percent of the population —meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse or alcoholism (Gran et al. 1994).
    “* More than one-half of American adults have a close family member who has or has had alcoholism ( Dawson and Grant 1998).
    “* Approximately one in four children younger than 18 years old in the United States is exposed to alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence in the family (Grant 2000).

    “Alcohol consumption has consequences for the health and well-being of those who drink and, by extension, the lives of those around them.”

    I don’t mean to be a buzz-kill, but I do think we all need to acknowledge these issues at the same time we debate responsible consumption of alcohol.

  3. The U.S. presently has the highest minimum drinking age in the world, 21. The problems we are attempting to address have little to do with age, and more with societal issues.

    Heck, why not raise the legal drinking age to 30?

    IMHO, a big part of the problem is attributable to MADD, which has morphed far away from its original charter into a self-perpetuating (via gov’t. mandated funding) neo-prohibitionist organization.

  4. I would argue that MADD has pretty much stuck to their goals of reducing drunk driving. They have certainly increased the focus and funding on that one aspect of alcohol consumption over others. However they are having difficulty seperating this issue from their mission.

    I would also argue that people who overindulge don’t just die in car accidents, which indicates room for improvement.

    The Wall Street Journal had a great column on this topic yesterday by Joseph B. White (they day after I sent my post to Nancy for publication).

    “…. laws forbidding legal drinking by college students have fostered an underground culture of binge drinking on many campuses and tied the hand of college officials who want to discuss ways in which underage kids might drink safely, assuming they won’t accept total abstinence.”

  5. Wow, a rational discussion on teaching our teens the skills of social drinking. Its about time. Prohibition doesn’t work with older adults, why would it work with young adults? My stake in this? An 18 y-o daughter. She chooses not to drink but its never been banned from her.

    I was 14 when I drank my first beer, with adult supervision. I don’t drink and drive anymore (remember measuring distance by number of beers?…hey, maybe its a Texas thing but it used to be about 8 beers to Big Bend from Dallas) and most people I know don’t either. If I could drink legally and responsibly at 18 I see no reason why my daughter can’t. (FYI, even with that 8 beers to BiB, I was still under the legal limit). FWIW, I’m TACB certified.

  6. Plenty to address here. First, Amy, please tell us what you would do if a family showed up at your restaurant and the parents wanted to purchase a glass of wine and give it to their 18 year old son/daughter.

    Kirk – Prohibition proved that a large portion of the population is always going to drink alcohol. As a parent I had to presume that some day one or more of my three kids probably would too. Do you think I should have begun offering them a glass of wine at dinner, discussing the merits of moderation and looking for signs of possible alcohol issues in each of them, or should I have sent them off to college at 18 with the hope that someone in the dorm would do a better, more caring job than I could? To me the opportunity to identify a predisposition to alcohol issues is also the opportunity to help the child learn to responsibly deal with (or eliminate) alcohol before it gets out of hand. The sooner and more involved the parent is, the better chance there is that an individual with a dependant personality can develop controls and coping mechanisms for the difficult challenges that will always be with them in life.

  7. Gastronome:

    I agree completely with your conclusion, and in fact that was what I meant by “Parents, educators, doctors and friends need to be educated about the symptoms and treatment of this disease.”

    If a parent, teacher, doctor or friend is able to identify the issue(s) early on, that’s far better than having the disease’s consequences recognized by a police officer, probation officer, paramedic or funeral director.

  8. As a server at Houstons, we were instructed to only take the order from the parent and only deliver the drink to the parent. We have the same policy at Sevy’s. With bottled wine service, we pour the glass, handing it to the parent to deliver.

    Prohibition was a reaction to an industry that promoted overindulgence. Prohibition repeal was a reaction the unyielding objection by the Drys to ALL making and consuming of alcohol. I recently posted about a 1931 Dallas prohibition book on my blog.

    If a parent wants to teach their kid how to enjoy life without alcohol, they should be willing to walk the talk. If a parent perhaps enjoys sipping a glass at parent-kid parties, or a nightly glass with dinner, they are kidding themselves if the message of abstinance is going to stick. What’re the options for a good teaching method to bridge this with their child – none.

    I think there is a great deal of importance in the continual message of Don’t Drink and Drive. It’s just too bad that that also implies that alcohol can’t be consumed responsibiy.