Throughout the holidays, many Orange County law enforcement agencies will be setting up sobriety checkpoints to keep impaired drivers off the road. The checkpoints save lives by reducing the number of alcohol-related accidents, but a drunk-driving arrest would put a damper on anyone's holiday spirits.
The county chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving offers several suggestions for party hosts on how to keep their guests, and the roadways, safe during the holidays:
* Don't push drinks on guests or be too quick to fill an empty glass. Most people can pace themselves well if they are not pushed into drinking faster.
* Always serve food with alcohol. High-protein food that is low in salt is best for slowing alcohol absorption and controlling thirst. Try shellfish, meatballs, chicken tidbits and vegetables with dips made from beans, tofu, yogurt or cheese. Avoid salty snacks such as chips, commercial dips, smoked fish and cheese spreads.
* Avoid an open bar. If you cannot serve your guests personally, hire someone to do it; and be sure that the alcohol is measured, not freely poured. If possible, place the bar in an out-of-the-way place to discourage overdrinking. Never serve double drinks.
* Feature juice instead of alcohol. At the bar, put the focus on large glass pitchers of fresh fruit and vegetable juices and other nonalcoholic drinks. If you have a punch, make it without alcohol. This will encourage guests to drink the nonalcoholic beverages. When taking drink orders, highlight these alternatives to alcohol.
* Limit cocktail time to half an hour. Most people finish a drink in 15 to 20 minutes. Thus, a long pre-dinner session can result in tipsy guests whose enjoyment of the meal is diminished, especially if they also drink wine at the table.
* Serve dinner promptly. Do proper advance planning to ensure that dinner is served on time. A delay of even 20 minutes encourages guests to have another round of drinks.
* Close the bar after cocktail hour and put all the alcoholic beverages away.
* Don't invite problems. Never invite people who habitually drink too much. If someone surprises you by going overboard, make a point of not inviting them back. Just as a restaurant or bar can refuse service, so should a host or hostess limit guests to those who behave responsibly.
* Don't fall into the nightcap trap. Instead of heavy liqueurs after dessert and coffee, serve sparking mineral water. This allows guests time to relax and and allow their bodies to metabolize the alcohol they have consumed before they drive home. Schedule an activity after dinner such as dancing or a game.
* Never serve a guest who appears intoxicated. Offer them food to slow their absorption rate. Coffee will not sober a drunk. See to it that they do not drive. Offer to drive them yourself, call a cab or suggest that they sleep overnight at your home.
According to Janet Cater, director of Orange County MADD, companies holding holiday parties that employees are required to attend are liable for any damage or loss of life caused by a worker driving under the influence.
"Companies have also been successfully sued for workman's compensation when an employee was injured while driving home drunk from a party," she said.
If you are holding your party at a restaurant or bar, make sure your guests get home safely yourself or ask the bartender to call the Taxi Time ride program. Most major restaurants and bars in Orange County are participating in the program, which will give your guest a ride home, courtesy of the California Beer and Wine Wholesalers Assn. Taxi Time operates from Dec. 21 to New Year's Day. Local beverage wholesalers are distributing information on Taxi Time to their customers this week.