When MU senior Nichole Radman ordered a bottomless soda at Fat Otter’s Street Pub, she wanted to get her $3 worth. She didn’t realize she could have gotten it for free.
Since its opening in January, Fat Otter’s has participated in Cheers, a statewide program in which designated drivers receive free nonalcoholic beverages upon request. But few students take advantage of the program.
Radman had seen Cheers advertised on campus but misunderstood its details.
“I thought they’d just give you free water,” she said.
Kim Dude, director of the MU Wellness Resource Center, helped students start Cheers in 1986. She secured funding from the Missouri Department of Transportation in 1990 to expand it to college towns across the state.
More than 50 Columbia bars and restaurants have joined the program. Despite 18 years of operation, many MU students remain unaware of Cheers.
Cheri Sevcik, the owner of CJ’s Restaurant, sees plenty of MU students. But she said they rarely ask about Cheers.
“It seems like a really worthwhile thing, if only the students knew about it,” she said.
Publicizing Cheers to students has always been a problem, Dude said. The program sometimes receives free space in the Add Sheet to spread the word. But students represent a hard-to-reach audience.
“They’re so bombarded with posters, ads and messages for different things,” she said. “To get noticed is difficult.”
But the problem is not always about publicity.
Some places, such as Chris Flood of Big 12 Bar & Grille Campus, have participated in Cheers so long they automatically offer free soft drinks to apparent designated drivers.
“If somebody comes to the bar and asks for a Coke, we aren’t going to charge them two bucks,” Flood said.
Kristina Green is an MU student and a server at Legends Bar and Grill. She said not many students ask about Cheers because few opt not to drink.
“Sad to say, maybe one out of every 50 tables I wait on has somebody who doesn’t drink,” she said.
Dude has noticed the same problem.
“In some cases, there’s nobody willing to not drink,” she said.
For those who want to drink without a designated driver, the Wellness Resource Center operates a free pick-up service on weekends.
The MU Wellness Resource Center also has taken steps to increase awareness about Cheers. New students received a list of participating bars and restaurants when they picked up their student identification cards.
In October, Dude said, the center will begin a monthlong series of alcohol-awareness events, some of which will focus on drunken driving.
“It’s an ongoing issue where we can never sit back and say, ‘OK, we’ve done our job. Cheers is in place,’ ” Dude said.