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How Many Don'ts Does It Take To Ruin A Friday Night?

Restaurants and bars pour big money into their images--the logo on the sign outside, the look inside, the acoustics. Then along comes the government to order nightspots to clutter up their showcase entryways with signs announcing that the establishment doesn't serve anyone under 21, that pregnant women shouldn't drink, that the business doesn't discriminate and that people shouldn't smoke.

Now, the District's Alcoholic Beverage Control board wants to add one more sign to the flurry of announcements greeting folks headed out for a good time: Board member Mital Gandhi has proposed that all eateries and bars licensed in the city be required to post a sign saying "Please do not drink and drive. Driving While Intoxicated or Under the Influence is illegal in the District of Columbia."

To Andrew Kline, who represents the city's restaurant association, enough is enough: "You get to the point where there are so many signs--there is something called 'message clutter.'" Kline will argue against the new sign when the ABC board holds a hearing on the proposal on Wednesday.

Kline says city agencies have gotten so sign-happy that many of his clients now have to find a place for five signs--the three listed above, plus one that says how many people can fit in the place, and another big red one that alerts the community whenever a liquor license is up for renewal.

Kline says he asked city officials If they had any evidence that a simple reminder not to drink and drive has any effect on customers' behavior. "They said, well, if a single life is saved, it's worth doing,' which I guess means the answer is No, they haven't done any research," Kline says.

Indeed, Gandhi does believe, as he puts it, "that if one person sees the sign and stops and thinks 'maybe I shouldn't drink and drive,' we will have succeeded." And no, the proposal is not based on any research showing the effectiveness of such a sign. Gandhi says he knows of no other jurisdiction that requires such a sign. But some D.C. bars already voluntarily post just such a reminder. At Cafe Citron near Dupont Circle, security director Marlon Lucero says a no-drinking and driving sign "is just a nice way to let people know that that's not right."

Gandhi is frank about the limited impact such signs might have. "Do we think this is going to stop drinking and driving? No," he says. "It is a marketing technique and we felt it was a win-win situation. No one wants people to drink and drive."

Interestingly, Gandhi agrees with the restaurant lobby that there is such a thing as sign clutter and message fatigue. "If we had 10 signs, I'd agree with the restaurant association," the board member says. "Even if we had five signs, I'd agree. But two or three signs are not a problem."

This, dear reader, gets us into an area I never thought I'd ever need to discuss: Defining a sign. As we've seen above, the city does indeed require bars and restaurants to post at least five, um, notices. But whereas Kline calls them all signs, Gandhi says there's a huge difference between signs and--quoting now--"placards."

"Placards are a totally different story," Gandhi says. "Apples and oranges." And the big red thing that announces that a particular business's liquor license is coming up for renewal is a placard, not a sign.

This is why some of us never even considered going into government or politics.

The District's acting chief of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, Fred Moosally, says "the agency is mindful of making sure that licensees are not required to post too many signs. However, we do not believe that requiring all three signs [--the under-21 and pregnant women warnings, and the proposed drinking and driving one--] to be posted is excessive in light of the importance of these issues."

In any event, Gandhi says lots of bar owners like the idea of official reminders that drinking and driving is a really bad idea, and the ABC board will hear from them next week.

But Kline isn't giving up easily on this one. He plans to come to the hearing armed with a few proposed signs of his own. Why not require every nightspot also to post signs saying "People should pay their child support," and "Don't do drugs," and the especially helpful "Don't stab or shoot residents of the District of Columbia--Homicide is a crime."

What other signs should the D.C. government mandate for the fronts of your favorite nightspots?

By Marc Fisher |  May 1, 2009; 7:22 AM ET  | Category:  City life , Nightlife , The District
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They should have to post what their cheapest drink is and how much it costs. Then I could simply bypass bars that are too rich/trendy for my blood.

Also, for crowded bars, there should be an electronic sign indicating how many minutes it will take to force one's way to the bar, get the bartender's attention, and actually be served a drink. This would be kind of like those Disney World "The wait from this point is XX minutes" signs.

Finally, all bars should be forced to indicate whether they have the following amenities:

* Pinball
* Ping-pong
* Non-Internet jukebox (the Internet jukeboxes are ripoffs)

These signs would provide me, the persnickety consumer, with enough information to make my alcohol consumption decisions.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | May 1, 2009 8:59 AM

This is a fantastic example of a politician trying to look like they're "doing something" without actually having to "do" anything.

A suggestion for board member Ghandi: the district is loaded with many, many real problems. Perhaps you should address some of those before worrying about any of this sign nonsense.

Posted by: VTDuffman | May 1, 2009 9:47 AM

Moreover, what kind of sissy message is this? How about:

"Ahem, excuse me. If it's not terribly too much trouble, do you think you could quite possibly try your hardest not to drive your car if you think you are drunk? Again, really sorry to bother you. I thought you ought to know that drunk driving is illegal. Just looking out for you, after all. No offense, I hope."

If you are going to require a sign, make it scary--"Drunk drivers are idiots who murder people. Don't be an idiot murderer."

Compare Canada's cigarette warning labels--huge letters "CIGARETTES KILL YOU"--to ours--a small essay full of medical jargon. It's hard to believe there is an image of American plain-spokenness and toughness. Cripes.

Posted by: Wallenstein | May 1, 2009 10:04 AM

My favorite sign

Dont Touch the Dancers

Posted by: sheepherder | May 1, 2009 10:43 AM

I don't know, I don't see how this is too much to get worked up about, but I'm with Wallenstein - if you want to make a point, then don't be sissy about it!

Like in the movie "Unforgiven", when Little Bill puts Ned in an open coffin on the front porch of the bar with the sign "THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO ASSASSINS AROUND HERE", maybe people wouldn't brush it off if the District started putting drunk drivers in a cage in front of bars where they were drinking with signs saying "THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO DRUNK DRIVERS AROUND HERE".

Posted by: dr_klahn | May 1, 2009 10:51 AM

"Journalists" should not cherry-pick information to favor one side of a story.

Posted by: sacomment | May 1, 2009 10:54 AM

I think this is a good idea, but I agree the messaging should be more dramatic -- DRUNK DRIVING KILLS!

Personally, my life has been effected by drunk driving and any restaurant or nightclub that is against this should raise their hands and let us know who they are. I am sure there are others out there like me who would simply STOP going to these establishments. Why would I give money to establishments who are against drunk driving signs??

Good for DC Govt to be doing this.

Posted by: chrisscu | May 1, 2009 11:42 AM


Even a sobering message about how much time and money get sucked up dealing with a drunk driving arrest would do the trick.

Cab fare: $10
DWI Arrest: $1000 and 100 lost hours of your life

Posted by: Wallenstein | May 1, 2009 11:50 AM

Here is the Board of Directors for RAMW. Lets start by boycotting these restaurants and then see how they feel about drinking and driving.

Restaurants and Nightclubs want our hard earned money but they oppose signs that *MAY* help with drunk driving. They are nuts.

Claude Andersen, Chairman
Clyde's Restaurant Group Oren Molovinsky, Vice Chairman
Mie N Yu John Snedden, Secretary
Rocklands Barbecue & Grilling Co.
Greg Casten, Treasurer
Geoff Tracy
Chef Geoff's, LIA's Gus DiMillo
Passion Food Hospitality

Paul Cohn
Capital Restaurant Concepts Michael Babin
Neighborhood Restaurant Group Joe Corey
Faccia Luna Pizzeria
Boulveard WoodGrill
Steve Fedorchak
The Liberty Tavern Anthony Ford
Independant Contractor Hervè Houdrè
The Willard Intercontinental Hotel
Robert Hudson
Maggiano's Little Italy Ris Lacoste
Ris Jamie Leeds
Hanks Oyster Bar
CommonWealth Gastro Pub

Jon Norton
Great American Restaurants
Kaz Okochi
KAZ Sushi Bistro
Kristin Rohr
Guest Services, Inc.

Grace Abi-Najm Shea
Lebanese Taverna
Peter Smith
PS7's Restaurant
John Snellgrove
Saint Ex Group

Rob Wilder
Paul Fields
Restaurant Development Services
K. Dean Heinzman
Sysco FoodServices of Baltimore

Jodi Lehr
Santa Lucia Estate Coffee
Victoria Jackson
American Express Company
Jeffery Rubery

Michael Curtin, Jr.
DC Central Kitchen
Frans Hagen
Independent Consultant
Ron Hallagan
Guest Services, Inc.

Giovanni Coratolo
US Chamber of Commerce
Ben Hiatt
The Optimum Group
Saul Lubar
Independent Consultant

Dan Mesches
Star Restaurant Group
Karen Shannon
Spezie Ristorante
Michael Sternberg
Enovo Restaurant Holdings, Inc.

Dr. Charles N. Toftoy
George Washington Univ. David Wizenberg
Passion Food Hospitality
Zed Wondemu
Zed's Ethopian Cuisine

Dan Woodley
AJ Dwoskin & Associates

Posted by: chrisscu | May 1, 2009 11:54 AM

Holy cow you people are idiots.

I guess this is why politicians like Mr. Ghandi push worhtless crap like this - it appeases the stupid.

I can't really argue with the methods when they work.

Posted by: VTDuffman | May 1, 2009 3:15 PM

All stop signs should have another sign under the stop sign telling drivers that they are required to stop at stop signs.

Posted by: VTDuffman | May 1, 2009 3:41 PM

I think all businesses in the district should be required to have a sign that says:

Satisfaction Guaranteed
(except to Roy Pearson)

Posted by: DadWannaBe | May 1, 2009 4:27 PM

Natwar Gandhi should be running a Kwik-E-Mart instead of the DC Gov.

Posted by: bs2004 | May 5, 2009 10:34 AM

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