For two hours on Friday night, two bar-hoppers visited five establishments in Santa Fe County — all jam-packed with people in town for Indian Market.
While people around them drank their prickly pear margaritas and Santa Fe Brewing Co. pints, these two weren’t served a single drink.
And that was a good thing.
The pair are trained actors — or, as they refer to themselves, “pseudos.” On Friday night, one of them acted intoxicated, while the other observed what happened when the pseudo-intoxicant attempted to order a drink. Their trek was part of an ongoing operation known as the Santa Fe Retailing Project.
Since its inception in 2008, the project has targeted what it refers to as off-premise businesses — such as grocery stores, pharmacies, liquor stores and convenience stores — that sell packaged liquors, to find out if they follow state law by refusing to serve intoxicated patrons. Friday marked the first night these “mystery shoppers” targeted on-premise locations — establishments where liquor may be bought and consumed on-site.
“It’s something we have wanted to do, and we were able to procure funding. We want it to be as comprehensive a program as possible,” said Lisa Grace Giuffra, the Santa Fe Retailing Project’s coordinator.
The opportunity came when Santa Fe County provided funding as a part of the 100 Days & Nights of Summer DWI campaign, a program that includes checkpoints and vehicle forfeiture for people convicted of DWI, Giuffra said.
The Santa Fe Retailing Project is an educational service and has no affiliation with law enforcement agencies. Every establishment visited will receive a letter from Giuffra regardless of whether or not its staff served the pseudo-intoxicant.
“Everyone will get a letter. It goes through the time, the date, whether they were served or not, any information. We provide the feedback so that they can take it to their staff and educate their staff,” Giuffra explained. However, it is ultimately up to the business to decide what to do with the information.
“I try to give them every chance I can not to serve me,” said Friday night’s pseudo-intoxicant, who wished to remain anonymous for the sake of the program. Her behavior included slurred speech and stumbling. Her hair was messy, and she often put her head down on the bar.
All five bartenders she encountered refused to sell her any alcohol.
The server at Applebee’s offered to give her food and call her a cab. The server at Del Charro told the doorman not to let her back in. The server at La Choza “wanted to sell, but then knew he couldn’t. He was good,” said the pseudo-intoxicant after the server went so far as to get her a Coors Light. The bartender at the Hotel St. Francis explained that he could not serve her because “you can’t look at me, your speech is slurred and you are squeezing a lemon.” (A lemon had fallen into her lap at the bar.)
According to Giuffra, the level of intoxication the pseudo-intoxicant imitates is based on research about what happens to the brain and body at different stages of intoxication. The actors have also been trained by The University of New Mexico’s Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Addictions. This training includes videotapes, critiques and role-playing.
The purpose of the project is not to target any one establishment, but to provide education, Giuffra said. “We know that people are doing their best. These are tough economic times. It’s important to us that we be fair and balanced.”
That included sending a recent letter to all 83 fully licensed establishments in the county, explaining that from July through September, the group would be sending pseudo-intoxicants out as part of its program.
“We want to assist retailers and establishments to recognize and effectively deal with an intoxicated person for two reasons,” Giuffra explained: “to comply with current laws but also to provide a healthier community. What we would love to see is no sales to intoxicated persons.”