Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Debit Hangover

Campus Corner has been a popular nighttime destination in Norman for decades.

Signs advertising daily discounts can be found outside of almost any Norman bar.

“If they want to, college kids can drink cheaply all day long,” said John Howell, manager at Blu Fine Wine and Food. And, for the most part, he’s right. Adults age 19 to 25 often take their tiny paychecks straight to the bars, priding themselves on finding two very important things; discounts and a good time. And yet, the two are seemingly unable to coexist in todays clubs and bars. Josh Brimer, a senior at OU and active member of Delta Upsilon fraternity, said that he rarely looks at the number on his bill at the end of the night. “I just hand over my debit card and sign my name when I get it back.”

Countless online articles rail early Twenty Somethings for spending their entire paychecks on restaurants and bars. said that the age group spends as much as 200 dollars a week on alcohol alone. The Baby Boomers would be aghast at such a price tag. According to a 1970 Census, the average beer in their day costed 37.5 cents. For men, who WebMD said will be legally drunk after about five beers, that’s a whopping 2 dollars tab. Howell said he knows what is changing. “If you go to a bar and buy an Absolut Soda for 10 bucks, and you and your date have three drinks each, you get a 60 dollar bar tab and don’t even have a buzz. You wonder, ‘How have I spent that much?’ It’s because we have to pay our rent.”

With the rise in popularity of the ultra modern, ultra hip lounge bars, comes a rise in drink prices. Manager Hunter Mankin of Seven47 said that their customers often don’t realize how much money went into creating the upscale atmosphere of the club. “We have six flat screen TVs, all with a separate cable box. Those aren’t free. Neither is the modern leather seating or the cleaning crew or the track lights.” Howell said the million-dollar atmosphere created is often only unconsciously evaluated, and patrons only go as far as liking or disliking it.

Howell explained that, in business 101 terms, bars often take a large sum of money to build an upscale environment, and they jack up the prices on drinks to pay that money back. Mark Graves, assistant manager at Cellars Wine and Spirits, said he doesn’t see the logic in spending 20 dollars on two drinks just for the atmosphere. “I could spend 200 dollars [at Cellars], then throw a party at home for me and all of my friends, and still have a lot left over.”

Also, the cost of getting a drink to a customer’s table is summed up in one word; taxes. Howell goes into depth about all of the taxes he must pay to get alcohol to Blu. He said there are shipping fees, taxes for storing the liquor in warehouses, taxes for bartering the liquor overseas, taxes for sending it on a train, fees for sending it from one store to another, and an Oklahoma-specific tax that is five percent higher for liquor than food. “It’s a miracle that for a little over five dollars, you can have a 20 oz pint of beer, considering what it took to get it here,” he said.

While the state Liquor Control Board shows that drink prices have increased the most in the last 10 years, Mankin said he’s only noticed a definite change in spending since the economy crashed. “People used to spend 50 to 100 dollars a night, and now the average bar tab is around 20 dollars.” Makin also noticed that lately, Campus Corner isn’t popular until two hours later than normal; around 12:45 or 1 a.m. “In the [fraternity] house,” Brimer said,” most guys will go to someone’s place, do shots, drink a bunch of cheap beer with their date, and then just go to the bars to dance. They don’t really drink a whole lot while they’re out.”

Makin says this is the best way to save money when a twenty something wants to have a good time. “I know our drinks are pricey, but you’re not coming here for that. Do what you need to do before you get here, then we’ll provide the music, food, and atmosphere you can’t get at home.”

Howell disagrees. He said that the best way to avoid overspending is to pay with cash, because the money a customer spends is more tangible. And he adds that, even though it seems “grandma-y”, searching the local paper or event magazine for drink specials is the best way to keep a bar tab down to the minimum. “Everyone’s got the same mousetraps to get you in the door. As long as you take advantage of those, and only those, you’ve got six ways to Tuesday to have a good night.”

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