Recession lesson

Drinkin 'n' thinkin'
By MARY ANN SORRENTINO  |  May 20, 2009

Cigarette tax hikes in Rhode Island have smokers kicking the habit. The current economic mess may also have gamblers going to Foxwoods less often. One costly vice often overlooked, however, is the use (and abuse) of alcohol — expensive, dangerous, and sometimes deadly.

This is not a call for temperance: sharing a drink with friends can be relaxing and fun, and medical findings say an occasional glass of drink may even be beneficial. Alcohol sales in clubs and restaurants, however, make or break profits, since filling a glass is far cheaper than whipping up tornadoes Rossini or tiramisu.

Drinking at home isn't cheap, but it is far less expensive than drinking out. Yet little is said about the club-hopping crowd blowing rent or grocery money at bars and dining rooms where a few beers can run $10-$20 and two martinis cost as much as a meal.

No one blinks when, at a mid-level downtown eatery, Couple A drinks mineral water or Diet Coke with dinner while Couple B has cocktails and two glasses of wine. Those alcoholic beverages add the equivalent of two additional meals onto the bill. So Couple A ends up paying for three full meals in their half of the tab. (Would anyone order a second entrée and expect his dinner mate to pay for it?)

Joe Barone at the Hi-Hat in Providence sees no decline in drink orders at his popular club. Live entertainment may make the prices (beer $4.50-$4.75, wine $7-$9, or cocktails $10-$12) seem reasonable, so the drinks keep pouring.

Susan Vieira at Cranston's Mustang Sally's agrees business is brisk, despite the economy. Compared to downtown prices, suburban drinks are at least a dollar cheaper: still, a Cranston patron can make a dent in next week's grocery bill with a couple of Grey Goose martinis at $10 each or a few shots of Patron tequila at $8 a pop.

Mark Gasbarro, fourth generation owner of Gasbarro Wines in Providence, sees more customers seeking cheaper ($9-$10) wines. They understand that a bottle of good wine often costs less than one glass served by a bartender. A 33-ounce bottle of Grey Goose Vodka at $35 retail, meanwhile, makes 17 martinis — enough to keep most drinkers happy for a week.

Two glasses of wine totaling $18 (no tip) equal at least eight gallons of gas, a meal in many good restaurants, at least two packs of cigarettes, two tickets to most movies, the co-pay for a doctor visit, an hour at the quarter slots at Foxwoods with average luck, one day's worth of groceries, and a whole lot more.

Multiply that $18-worth of socializing by the number of nights most regular patrons drink out and we're looking at serious damage to rent, prescriptions, insurance, telephone, fuel, child support, tuition, and many other monthly payments for necessities.

Today's deep recession offers many lessons. One more is that the phrase "Drink Responsibly" has an economic edge as well, and one worth managing prudently — perhaps at home.

Related: Alternatives abound, The Swig Voter, Mix-the-ultimate-six, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , Culture and Lifestyle, Beverages, Food and Cooking,  More more >
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