There’s a shift to whole-site licensing at festivals

By / Magazine / January 8th, 2020 / 23

Designated areas for consuming alcohol are common at events and festivals across Canada. Yet the notion of caging people up in a confined area such as a beer garden and not letting them out until they have consumed as much as they can is outdated and encourages binge drinking, i.e., the accelerated and over-consumption of alcohol.

This summer, some larger festivals in Alberta implemented whole site licensing — a concept I fully support. It allows people to drink at their own pace while visiting food stands and enjoying the entertainment with family and friends, and creates an environment where the focus is not alcohol consumption.

The shift to whole site licensing is progressive. The government, event organizers and the media must also be progressive in their messaging about the changes.

Every news story I have seen that covered the changes missed the point with headlines such as “summer festivals make alcohol more accessible.” The focus of the message should be on creating a culture of responsible consumption.

Whole site licensing reduces alcohol related issues. Since British Columbia relaxed its beer and wine garden fencing requirements in 2015, “whole-site licensing has made events more family-friendly, with fewer people being noticeably intoxicated,” according to a government spokesperson.

In other parts of the world, you can be in a city’s main square and have a glass of wine or walk around at a food festival with a beer. Anarchy does not ensue because culturally, drinking isn’t a big deal.

So let’s encourage people to drink better, not more. Event organizers need to take more responsibility for the quality (or lack thereof) of alcoholic beverages being served. And our laws should reflect current societal norms instead of puritanical, prohibition-era ideals.


Editor-in-chief for Quench Magazine, Gurvinder Bhatia left a career practising law to pursue his passion for wine and food. Gurvinder is also the wine columnist for Global Television Edmonton, an international wine judge and the president of Vinomania Consulting. Gurvinder was the owner/founder of Vinomania wine boutique for over 20 years (opened in 1995, closed in 2016) which was recognized on numerous occasions as one of the 20 best wine stores in Canada. Gurvinder was the wine columnist for CBC Radio for 11 years and is certified by Vinitaly International in Verona Italy as an Italian Wine Expert, one of only 15 people currently in the world to have earned the designation. In 2015, Gurvinder was named by Alberta Venture Magazine as one of Alberta’s 50 Most Influential People. He is frequently asked to speak locally, nationally and internationally on a broad range of topics focussing on wine, food, business and community.

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