Tim Browne from Red Alert Designated Drivers (RADD)
By demonstrating that their businesses care about the welfare of their customers and want to provide a worry-free environment, hospitality operators can build repeat business through customer loyalty. As well, a designated driver (DD) program can minimize the legal liability a licensed establishment might face if an impaired customer is involved in a vehicular accident on the way home.
A DD program begins with the recognition by the operator of a licensed hospitality venue that there is a duty of care not to serve customers to the point of intoxication. Because that can be a difficult threshold for service staff to gauge, they promote a DD program and inquire diplomatically whether customers have identified a designated driver among their group. The driver can then be rewarded with complimentary or discounted alcohol-free beverages or snacks. Promotional material can alert customers to the availability of local taxis, which may offer a discounted rate for customers of that establishment; some businesses even provide a free taxi ride for customers who spend a minimum amount. Some licensed establishments go so far as to maintain a dedicated vehicle and driver, while many others refer customers to one of several third-party companies that will drive customers home in their own cars.
One such company is East Vancouver-based RADD (Red Alert Designated Drivers), whose owner, Tim Browne, has a heightened appreciation of its role in preventing accidents. In 2010, he was hit and injured by an impaired driver, and as soon as his recovery permitted he became a part-time volunteer driver for a DD company. Unable due to ongoing rehabilitation to return to his previous job in retail, he started RADD as a full-time business in early 2012 and now services the Lower Mainland with teams of drivers that employ six vehicles. Customers are driven home in their own cars, while a RADD vehicle follows to take the driver to the next customer. The service costs approximately $5 more than a one-way taxi ride.
The fleet is in action from 6:00 p.m. until close to dawn the next morning to accommodate extended closing hours. Browne divides his evenings between driving and maintaining the schedule, supervising the fleet’s constantly evolving bookings; he spends his days marketing the business to bar owners and staff, distributing business cards and fridge magnets. “Bar owners all know about Operation Red Nose at Christmas but some don’t know that there are year-round operations like ours,” he says.
Browne says the key to a successful DD business is its reliability, which simply means arriving to pick up customers when you say you will. Punctuality is a factor appreciated by both bar staff and their customers. “It helps bartenders when they don’t have to worry about their patrons having to wait. If you guarantee someone a specific time and then they have to wait half an hour or an hour, they may give up and decide to drive themselves home.” Once a reservation is made, RADD drivers maintain customer contact throughout the evening by cell phone or text messaging, letting clients know about any slight delays.
To maintain the reputation for dependability, Browne will also offset overflow business to another DD company so customers always get their ride home when they expect it, and he’ll place the call himself. “We make all the arrangements, even though we don’t make any money on that ride. But we do get repeat business because of the extra effort.”