Much has been said about the need to reduce alcohol and drug abuse in our society. It certainly plays a part in the misery of many lives, not least the partners and children of those to whom the next shot is more important than anything else. In our own trade the champions of the Ark Foundation have helped employers to identify and deal with addiction before it's too late. Succesive governments have attempted to dissuade us from drinking by piling on the tax and if the health lobby gets its way there will be more of that to come.
At a recent hoteliers debate a question was asked about the likelihood of alcohol becoming a banned substance, with the implication that this could destroy our trade completely. The answers were unsettling, to say the least.
Twenty years ago we would not have believed that smoking would be illegal in pubs and yet it is. Can we be sure that beer and wines are safe from the same fate?
I very much hope that our legislators resist the current demands for temperance coming from the health lobby. Of course alcohol damages people if taken to excess. But the same is true of seemingly innocent comestibles like biscuits, red meat and salt-laden instant soups. Are they to be banned too? Surely we must allow consenting adults to make their own informed lifestyle choices because as soon as one danger is removed a new one quickly takes its place.
For hotels and restaurants the importance of alcoholic beverages is hard to overstate. On the customer's bill there is never any mention of rent, rates, wages, equipment, insurance, marketing or any of the hundreds of other costs the establishment has to bear. A reasonable mark up on the wine is one of the few chances the business has to cover these costs - much harder to apply if the customers are sipping water at the table then nipping out into the street for a quick drag on their hipflasks, which is what would happen if the anti-smoking "success" is replicated.
For every luckless individual with a drink problem there are vast numbers of healthy others who enjoy sharing a bottle with friends at a time and place of their own choosing. Handing someone a glass of champagne must be one of the nicest ways to greet them at a party and a decent burgundy can double the pleasure of eating chef's careful creation.
Alcohol taken in sensible quantities is one of the great pleasures of civilised living. It must be saved.
Last week I had the pleasure of joining the St Julian Scholars for their autumn debate at the Royal Garden Hotel in London. The room was packed with professional hoteliers, alumni of the great hotel schools at Cranfield, Cornell and Lausanne. As with the Master Innholders Conference I learned a great deal from the assembled talent, with topics ranging from Carbon Emissions to VAT. And once again the organisers had assembled a highly distinguished panel of experts from our industry.
But the day got better. My task at Innholders Hall that evening was to entertain at dinner, something I do occasionally to augment my modest earnings at Pride of Britain (though of course this gig was for prestige rather than money) and just as I was about to give my speech entitled "Why I am not a St Julian Scholar" I suddenly became one. Paul Sadler (St J S chairman) announced that the fourth and latest person to be made an Honorary St Julian Scholar is...Peter Hancock.
It's not quite a Nobel or the Booker - but for a social climber in the world of hospitality this is about as good as it gets!