SOHO — Customers still pack the popular bar on weekends, but MacDinton's co-owner Barry O'Connor said they tend to choose happy hour specials and well drinks these days over top-shelf splurges.
And, with the recession lingering and purse strings tightening, he worried that fewer would be willing to spend the extra money if they needed a ride home.
The S Howard Avenue bar has partnered with the designated-driver company Zingo to zip intoxicated customers home — on the bar's dime.
Valets and bartenders, who have been trained to recognize when people have had too much to drink, are spreading the word.
The program has strong support from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, which tracks DUI arrests and works with bars whose customers have been arrested for DUI.
In Florida, bars that sell or serve alcohol are not liable for injuries or damages caused by drunken drivers in most cases.
Still, "it would be great to see more businesses stepping up to that responsibility," said Deputy Scott Sitton, who oversees the Sheriff's Alcohol Vendor Enforcement program. "MacDinton's is unique in the aspect that they've entered into this on their own, and they're paying for it. To my knowledge, the only other business that does something like that is the (Seminole Hard Rock) casino."
MacDinton's has "never had a serious issue" concerning customers and DUI arrests, Sitton said.
Zingo drivers have foldable scooters small enough to fit into a car trunk. After driving patrons home in their own cars, the Zingo driver retrieves the scooter from the trunk and motors it back to the bar for the next client. Customers, then, don't have to worry about leaving their cars on the street or in a lot overnight.
The partnership with MacDinton's started last weekend and is a first for Atlanta-based Zingo, said Greg Bradley, operations manager of Zingo Tampa. The company has 22 licensees nationwide, including another in Port Richey.
About 20 customers took advantage of the program during its first weekend. Zingo expects eventually to provide about 100 rides home to MacDinton's customers per week, Bradley said.
The free rides are meant for customers who have run a tab, said Scott York, a longtime MacDinton's bartender who manages the restaurant on some nights. They are not for those who have been drinking elsewhere but wander over to MacDinton's for one drink and a ride home.
"It's a big cost for us, but we know our customers are getting home safely," O'Connor said. "They're not going to get behind the wheel."
Bradley wouldn't be specific about details of the contract with MacDinton's, but did say the bar pays a bit more than half what a typical customer would pay for a ride home.
Zingo members pay $10 for a pickup and $3 per mile, and membership is free. Zingo Tampa has had about 1,100 unique users since launching in 2007, Bradley said, and MacDinton's has been one of its most popular pickup spots.
A benefit for Zingo: The partnership will likely expand its customer base during a recession.
"MacDinton's is a little bit younger of a crowd," Bradley said. "People under 25 don't use Zingo as often. That's always been a tough angle for us; maybe it's because we're $5 more than a cab."
In Hillsborough County in 2007, drivers ages 18 to 27 caused 40 percent of alcohol-related crashes and 45 percent of alcohol-related deaths while making up only 19 percent of licensed drivers, according to Sitton, the sheriff's deputy.