This Tool Can Reduce Excessive Drinking

The Pin Project pin. Image: David Klemt

A simple but effective tool may help make the conversation about struggling with alcohol easier.

The Pin Project, launched at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail, aims to make it simple for industry professionals to abstain from consuming alcohol, if even for just one day.

For decades, conversations about alcohol abuse and excess within the hospitality industry have been uncomfortable, if they were had at all. This business is supposed to be fun—it’s all about welcoming guests and showing them a good time.

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Talking about excessive drinking and alcohol addiction isn't fun. It’s not pleasant to face painful realities or for someone to admit they have a problem. Asking for help can be even more difficult. Encouraging a reduction of or abstinence from alcohol is also bad for business. That’s a somewhat cynical point but true nonetheless.

Slowly, however, we’re starting to have difficult conversations and come up with solutions. One of those solutions is removing the stigma around struggles with alcohol so people become comfortable with asking for help.

Last year, The Pin Project, founded by Mark Goodwin, was one of 11 Tales of the Cocktail Foundation grand recipients. Goodwin got his start at Trick Dog and is now tending bar at Coin-Op Game Room in San Francisco. Twelve months later, his vision became a reality. One of his collaborators, Didi Saiki of Bourbon & Branch, has helped bring the Pin Project to fruition.

Check this out: Mindful Operations: Serving Sober, Sober Curious and Moderate Guests

As the name suggests, a person who has chosen not to drink alcohol wears the pin—a circle bisected by a straight line—to signify their decision. The pin communicates to the world (and acts as a powerful reminder to the person wearing it) that they’re not going to imbibe. Goodwin would draw the symbol on his forearm when he was trying to abstain from drinking.

Goodwin is a bartender, but this tool isn’t limited to those with that job title. Barbacks, servers, kitchen staff, managers, hosts… Anyone who works in the hospitality business—and those who don’t—can wear the pin. It’s likely that guests who notice the pin will inquire about it.

That’s one purpose of The Pin Project—to start a conversation, if the wearer of the pin wants to have that conversation. Some who wear it will want to talk about it, some will opt to let the symbol speak for itself.

The pin makes it possible for those who aren’t prepared in the moment to say no when someone offers a shot or drink. Someone who doesn’t want—or isn’t ready—to vocalize their decision to not drink can wear the pin and still let their decision be known.

Just as the pin isn't limited to bartenders, it's not limited to those who are struggling with alcohol. Anyone who just wants to take a day or night off from alcohol can also wear the pin and express their decision.

But Goodwin believes the pin goes beyond telling others that a person has chosen to not drink when they’re wearing it—he believes it’s a way for the wearer to hold themselves accountable and follow through on their choice. Goodwin wears his pin every day, a symbol of his resolve. At Tales, he explained that his pin is usually on the back of the hat he’s wearing.

Goodwin believes that everyone’s relationship with alcohol is different. While he doesn’t have a problem with the current way sobriety is defined, Goodwin things it should be viewed as a spectrum. As he says, “There’s a lot of room between abstinence for the rest of someone’s life, and addiction.”

Check this out: Achieving a Healthy, Long-term Career in the Bar Business

The Pin Project offers people a tangible way to communicate where they are on the sobriety spectrum. Some people who want to abstain from drinking may only want to do so occasionally, and limited bouts of abstinence may work for them. Others may want to stop drinking alcohol forever. The pin is a simple tool that serves the spectrum and offers an element of accountability.

The pin process is easy:

  • Decorate: Simple—put on the pin!
  • Communicate: Express your intention to not drink.
  • Participate: Join in! Foster a happy, healthy community. Help remove the stigma and therefore the guilt someone may feel for struggling with alcohol. Make people wearing the pin feel welcome, offering a great no-proof beverage.

“We normalize the extreme in the bar world,” says Goodwin. Drinking, partying, lack of sleep, eating poorly, not exercising, the wear on body and mind from the job… He and Saiki feel that we need to communicate about this industry’s extremes and how, putting it bluntly, abstaining from alcohol isn’t normalized.

Check this out: Regaining Control: Substance Abuse in the Hospitality Industry

The Pin Project seeks to re-contextualize the decision to not drink at a bar, restaurant, or nightclub for the benefit of the health and happiness of this industry. How many people, inside and outside of the hospitality business, have encountered the following situation: Friends are gathered at a bar. Someone says they aren’t drinking. People react with shock, possibly even concern. The person who says they don’t want to drink feels embarrassed or ashamed and has a drink.

Soon, The Pin Project wants to donate proceeds from the pins to organizations or programs that support mental health. Goodwin’s concept is an app that serves hospitality industry workers who need to speak with a mental health professional. The app would allow a person to search for a mental health professional near them and decide on a rate for a session. The Pin Project would pay for the session. care).

Goodwin, Saiki, and The Pin Project don’t want to live in an alcohol-free world. They don’t believe prohibition is the answer. What they want is to live in a world and work in an industry that supports and encourages harm reduction. I think we can all support that mission.

To learn more and purchase pins, click here.

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