|Illustration by Trịnh Lập|
by Lê Thu Ngân
Stands to reason, said some; not reasonable, said others.
A lawyer’s post on the plight of restaurants after strict implementation of laws against driving under the influence set off a lively discussion among some friends recently.
A common concern that all sides extrapolated and expressed was about the larger economic impact, with enterprises closing down and the State budget losing revenue.
“No customers, no incomes and high lending rates mean that enterprises will die, causing losses to the State budget,” went the lament.
It is normal that people react differently to any new development in society; in this case, stiff fines, seizure of vehicle and suspension/cancellation of driving licence if one is caught drunk-driving.
It is also normal that people and organisations (businesses) hit hardest by the new development complain the most about it.
The salutary impact of the law was immediate. Businesses selling and serving alcoholic beverages saw business plunge as customers stayed away in droves. It would not be an exaggeration to say that many entrepreneurs saw bankruptcy loom large on the horizon. The normal, ingrained practice of having a few drinks or getting together for a tipple after work before heading home was being shaken up in a big way. Therefore, it was but normal that complaints and concerns flared up; and a blame game began.
Instead of “getting high” on arguing the pros and cons of this move, let’s get cold sober about some fundamental facts. Drunk driving is a public menace and has to be dealt with firmly. This, we can safely say, is beyond dispute.
Then there are some measurable impacts to consider.
In our capital city, Hà Nội, the number of drink under influence (DUI) related road accidents from November last year to March this year reduced by 60, year-on-year. There were several days when not one of 400 examined drivers tested positive for excessive alcohol.
Furthermore, most hospitals reported a decline in the number of drink-driving accidents during Lunar New Year holiday.
But even these figures do not convince many people whose businesses are badly affected and others who are inconvenienced by not being able to drink at a restaurant or pub because of the tougher law and stricter implementation.
To go a bit deeper into this question, it makes sense to make some comparisons, simplistic as they may be.
'Can’t keep track of everything'
We’ve had many small businesses in traditional markets, especially in major cities like Hà Nội and Hồ Chí Minh, having to down shutters because the advent of e-commerce made their ventures redundant. Other factors blamed include big businesses with huge capital resources who receive a lot of policy incentives to grow.
Hồng Ánh, a popular street food vendor of cơm tấm (broken rice) in HCM City’s District 7 says her business is down and blames online food delivery apps for her troubles.
“I don’t cooperate with any food-delivery app and do not have any bank account. It is so complicated and I can’t keep track of everything. I love the traditional business method.”
Blaming the app won’t get Hồng Ánh far.
By now, it has become evident that businesses who fail to adapt to new technical advances like digital technology are bound to suffer and even pay the ultimate price.
But, there are also several examples that show positive outcomes if the energy spent on blaming something new for one’s woes is focused instead on incorporating the new, aka, incorporating change.
Many small businesses have faced and are facing an existential crisis as a result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4.0) as also development forced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
How one responds to this challenge decides marketplace survival.
Khánh Chi ran a firm that arranged visas for those wanting to travel to China. Before COVID-19, her business flourished with many customers, but the pandemic was a serious blow. No one could travel and therefore, no one needed visas.
Chi did not spend much time lamenting her fate. She moved into a completely new field – online fashion. Many people doubted if her new venture would succeed, but she prevailed. She says her new business faces many difficulties, but she is able to make ends meet. As a bonus, the revival of the travel market has revived her old business too. She now has two businesses to run.
Another businesswoman who ran a small restaurant in District 7 had to close it when the pandemic hit. But she did not quit. She opened an online catering service that helped her family live a stable life during the pandemic.
Drink, don’t drive
Returning to the question of businesses hit hard by the new anti-DUI law, are there entrepreneurs who’ve figured a way out?
Many restaurants have begun cooperating with transport firms including those providing ride-hailing services to make an offer that customers will find difficult to refuse – driving them home after they enjoy their drinks.
Phạm Thị Thảo, a restaurant owner in Quảng Ninh Province, says she strongly supports the drink-driving regulation. To accommodate her customers in the new situation, she allows them to keep their vehicles at the restaurant and be dropped home by the restaurant staff or take a taxi.
Her new service has proved popular and she attracts many customers every evening.
In Hạ Long City, over 100 restaurants have responded in similar fashion to the anti-DUI campaign. Apart from the benefits derived by both restaurants and customers, the new service has created much-needed jobs for many drivers in an economically-difficult time.
After thrashing the issue, my friends and I reached the common platform of advocating adapting to change. This led to an exercise of imagining other creative solutions that can be applied when confronting unavoidable change. That though, is fodder for other Talk Around Town columns. Watch this space. VNS