In 2006, the Riverhead Community Coalition (RCC) for Safe & Drug Free Youth was established. Although they have numerous initiatives and campaigns, their proudest achievement is implementation of the town of Riverhead’s first-ever comprehensive alcohol policy for public events.
“Prior to the policy, annual events like the Riverhead County Fair and the Polish Town Fair had no-alcohol serving guidelines and the town lifted the open container ban on alcoholic drinks so attendees could walk through the streets with alcohol that could have been bought at a concessions booth, restaurant or deli,” said Felicia Scocozza, Executive Director at RCC.
In the past 10 years, the number of fairs and festivals have increased as Riverhead’s growing number of craft breweries, wineries and “agritainment” farms want to show off their local product. Located 80 miles east of New York City, RCC is a suburban community that retains its rural and agricultural heritage; most of the traditional potato farms have been replaced with vineyards and wineries. With an overall population of 41,500, a survey found that 30 percent of high school students who participated in drinking alcohol, did so at a local fair or festival. Youth focus groups and environmental scans supported this data, and also found a lack of server training, as many servers were volunteers.
The policy change kicked off with a presentation called “Best Practices for Serving Alcohol at Fairs and Festivals” to the Town Board. However, the most poignant and impactful point was the issue of liability, negligence and the risks that unregulated alcohol availability posed. The Town Attorney drafted an alcohol policy and requested coalition members, including the program director and coordinator, the chief of police, government and business sectors to help review and refine the policy.
Approximately one year after its introduction, the alcohol policy was adopted unanimously by the Town Board. The policy included restrictions, such as:
- Limits alcohol to be served by event organizers only.
- Limits alcohol to beer, wine and champagne only; serving sizes are 12 oz. beer and five oz. for wine and champagne. No mixed drinks allowed.
- Bracelets will be issued to those over 21 and signage will be displayed.
- Outside alcohol and alcohol purchased at retailers/restaurants are prohibited on the streets of the event.
Since the policy was established, over 100 servers have received responsible server training for fairs and festivals. In addition, environmental scans in 2016 indicated that 100 percent of observed servers were checking identification and all attendees observed drinking alcohol were wearing wristbands.
“It’s important to assess community readiness to accept new guidelines,” said Scocozza. “Passing policy is one part of the overall implementation plan. Utilize your coalition sectors throughout the continuum: law enforcement can visit with serving establishments before the event to ensure awareness and compliance; youth and parents can do environmental scans during the event to monitor compliance and potential problems. Ask how your coalition can support a successful, fun and safe event!”