Staff at local bars and restaurants have seen a trend toward temperance in their customers this holiday season, a change from past years when patrons typically overindulged in the spirit of Christmas and New Year's cheer.
Many who decide to go out for a night on the town also are deciding to make sure they get home safely by appointing a "designated driver," who abstains from alcohol for the evening.
Twenty-five area eating and drinking establishments are doing their part to promote this safety-conscious celebrating by participating in the Designated Driver Program, sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Changing Point, a drug and alcohol treatment center based in Ellicott City.
Groups of two or more are given the opportunity to select a designated driver in the group. This person will receive free non-alcoholic drinks from the restaurant or bar. If the designated driver drinks any alcohol, he or she will be charged for all consumed complimentary drinks.
All participating businesses receive literature, explaining the Designated Driver Program, to put on tables. They also receive posters and designated driver stickers to be worn by the designated drivers.
Participants praise the program, saying it has encouraged people to consider the concept of the designated driver. But they've noticed that most customers aren't actually taking advantage of the free drinks or wearing the stickers. Instead they're quietly appointing their designated drivers in a low-key way.
"My experience has been that they come in already prepared to be responsible about it," said Marianne Koutras, a bartender at the Phoenix Emporium in Ellicott City.
"They must call each other and say 'Who wants to be the DD tonight?' So the decision's already been made prior to arriving."
George "Buzz" Suter, owner of the Judge's Bench in Ellicott City, also has noticed more customers who are concerned with the hazards of drinking and driving.
"People want to go out and party, but don't want to get stopped on the way home," he said. "So somebody says 'You, it's your turn.' " MADD's Designated Driver Program officially began Dec. 1, 1990, and will continue through Jan. 15, 1991.
The campaign, offered for the first time in Maryland, attracted 575 of the 6,500 bars and restaurants in the Baltimore metro area.
"The idea behind it, No. 1, is responsible drinking," said George Lehman, coordinator of the Designated Driver Program.
"If people aren't participating in it, but walking in and looking at the signs and thinking about it, then it's in the back of their mind -- be careful, don't drink and drive," Lehman said. "That's successful as far as I'm concerned."
Changing Point underwrote the program with $150,000 to pay for stickers, literature, posters and advertising.
At the Crab Shanty restaurant in Ellicott City, owner Bill King III said customers are definitely reading the MADD literature on the tables.
"We haven't had a great number of people, saying, 'Yes, I am the designated driver,' " King said. "Some might read the sign and say 'I'll do it,' but may be embarrassed to say 'I'm the designated driver, so I get my free drink.' " At P.J.'s Pub in Ellicott City, owner Pat Paterson also says that many of his customers are taking an independent approach.
"Nobody's asked about it," Paterson said of the program. "We haven't had any problems this year. It seems like people are doing it on their own, taking precautions or drinking less.
"People seem to be much more cautious this year," he said.
At Clyde's in Columbia, the Designated Driver Program is just a supplement to the restaurant's own year-round efforts to promote responsible drinking. On weekends, the restaurant gives free soft drinks to customers who are designated drivers and to people who are waiting for a table.
"I think it's something that the employees have become aware of, everyone as a whole has become much more aware of drinking and driving," said Beverly Zimmerman, a manager at Clyde's.
"The bartenders are trained not to overserve, and the managers back them up if they cut somebody off. The cab companies cooperate. We've even had waiters take people home," Zimmerman said.