Letter From Argentina: Does the Government Pay Your Nightclub Cover Charge?

(Photo: YoTuT)

A reader named Gustav, a.k.a. the Modern Nomad (a nice blog, by the way) writes to say:

Hi! I’ve just left Buenos Aires after a five-month long nomadic visit there. Reflecting on my time there, I remembered something an Argentine friend told me, and I think you might like the economic spirit behind it.

Gustav is right. I do like the economic spirit behind the story he tells, and I think you will too:

In short, this is a government scheme created to discourage driving under the influence. When you and your friends drive to a disco, you enter the club as normal and pay your entry. But when you leave, the group walks up to the cashier and presents the designated driver, sober and fit for driving. Everyone in the group gets their entry fee back at that point! The club then gets the lost money back from the government who, I presume, find it cheaper to pay the entry fee for clubbers in the company of designated drivers than have them in the hospitals. To me, this is a beautiful economic point of view where the practical reality and cost of things is more important than not to be seen ‘supporting clubbers.’

Gustav writes further that “I’d love to know if this is true, as I heard it from a friend.” Yes, it would be good to know if it were true. And if so, it would also be good to know if it were a) generally effective; and/or b) marked by unintended consequences, and of what nature.

For instance, I could imagine an enterprising person might spend the evening working the nightclub as a professional designated driver. He could cut deals with multiple departing groups, offering to pretend to be their driver in return for a generous cut of their cover-charge refund. He might have to disguise himself a bit to repeatedly slip past the club’s exit personnel, and of course he might have to pay the cover charge himself each time to re-enter. Still, I could see him making the economics work. In which case the group that he pretended to drive home would in fact be driving itself home, quite likely not in a sober condition. In which case the government has subsidized a drunk-driving event rather than stopped one.

Am I being too cynical in immediately thinking of how this smart-seeming government intervention might be gamed to the detriment of the public?

And, more important, can anyone who’s familiar with this Argentine practice fill in some factual details?


First thing that occured to me was your scenario. Sounds like a good way to work through college (and meet drunk girls)


First thing that occurred to me: how does the club prove to the government that they've actually checked any designated drivers at all, let alone the number of cover charges they want to be reimbursed for?

Felice Physioc

Hi. I am an American living in Argentina for the past 3 years and I have never, ever heard of this happening. Does your friend have a club name he could give us to back up this story? In Argentina, the amount of car crashes that happen coming out of nightclubs is actually horrendous. So maybe this would be a good idea. However, as I said, I've never heard of it actually happening. I also don't foresee the current administration offering to do something like this.


What if people walk to the club? Does this incentivize driving, increasing the likelihood of accidents and pollution?

And what incentive are at play for the club personel? I imagine a club could gain a competitive advantage over its competitors by being easy on judging whether a person is sober. Also the individual who makes the decision could easily take a bribe of half the club fee to allow a drunk person to pass. A way to combat these is the use of a breathalyzer, but is that cost effective?


Here's the official link

It's in Spanish. I believe the program is still on, but Im not sure if its popular. I'll do some research.


Hi, I'm an argetinian citicen and I live in Buenos Aires. I'm 30 and I used to go nightclub. I have never heared about that. I'd be a nice idea.


Looks like it's just Buenos Aires and not all of Argentina. According to the article, the DD has to check into the club when he arrives. He'll get vouchers for free soda. Upon leaving, he has to pass a breathalyzer to show that he didn't have anything to drink.

Checking in up front and then on the way out makes the system tougher to game. Especially when you consider that crowds all leave the club around the same time. The opportunity for repeat business seems pretty low.

Beside, if the need is great enough, club cover fees might be below market rate for taxi services for 3 drunk friends. DDs should charge more!


Also, the gaming scenario seems relatively easy to stop if there was steep punishment (and maybe some public shaming?). There's already a lot of transactions costs so if you got caught clearly cheating then (a week in jail/$1000 fine, etc.) would probably be enough to deter. Also, even if there was some cheating, it's the ratio that matters, if it stops 100 drunk drivers for every cheater, that seems worth it (and still a deal for the government). If it's 2 or 3 drunks per cheat, then maybe a tougher call (depending on how good they are at cheating)


Just contact Mr. Guillermo Dietrich who's in charge of the transit policies. So, he said the program is discontinued but being re-launched anytime soon.
It was very effective, but it's also part of one big aggresive campaign against drunk driving and. It was implemented in a few top disco sites on the northern part of the city, which has a lot of upperclass young people driving fast cars through almost empy big avenues.


Would make more sense to only refund the cover of the designated driver, as he is the only one that has made a sacrifice...

Also it would avoid many of the ways to "game" the system by collecting groups, and posing as the designated driver for many people, etc.


One unintended side effect could be night club cover charge inflation. If the system is popular, and most patrons end up getting their cover charge refunded, there is nothing stopping the night clubs from raising their prices.


Hi there ,
I live in the lovely Argentina !! . As they said , this paying price for not drinking is not taking place since 3 years ago.


I've been here in Argentina for nearly a decade now and never heard of this policy, nor experienced it. It may be something that was once true and is no longer, or a proposal that someone has made, or perhaps it's a municipal thing in some city (not here in Buenos Aires that I've ever encountered). Most of us take public transit rather than drive anyway - gasoline prices being ridiculously high. What does tend to happen, particularly on weekend nights, is the setup of police sobriety checkpoints near to some of the major clubs.


I just spotted the link that Daniel provided above - there's nothing in that about refunding the entrance fee. What it says is that the designated driver is given vouchers for free non-alcoholic drinks during the night while at the club (and some other types of venues) in exchange for agreeing not to consume alcoholic ones. It isn't clear what happens if when taking the sobriety test at the time of departure what happens financially if he/she fails the test.

Eric M. Jones.

This scheme makes far too much sense to ever be adopted permanently.


Have those "enterprising" people line up to take departing groups home. The groups pay a portion of what they get back to the driver. There will always be someone that will figure a way cheat the system though.

Navin Kumar

When it comes to Argentina, you can't be too cynical.

The Economist no longer publishes Argentina's "official" inflation rate: http://www.economist.com/node/21548242


This isn't the government, but more of a marketing ploy, I have heard of clubs that will give a designated drivers free non-alcoholic drinks. If I owned a club I would do that as it would get people in, plus it may get a more favorable insurance liability rate, and also get other benefits and considerations from the local police and government.
Also a second idea I have seen both in the US and in Canada. During the holiday season, I know of people that ran designated driver services. They would work as teams, with one driving the car of the inebriated person, the other in their own car to pick up their partner. The would be paid either by the person driven or by the club/bar to pay for their costs and time. Better then a taxi because you have your car at your home when you wake up the next morning.


The official link says that the City Government rewards you with a present, like a movie ticket, etc, not a refund. Apart from that I live in Buenos Aires and hardly listen this programm is being used. Daniel´s last comment is good.

Voice of Reason

I don't think that this idea is sustainable, practical or economic. Especially with our government entities being as cash strapped as they are. Maybe this should work kind of like auto insurance (where everybody who drives has to have it if they drive, but you pay less if you're shown to be a lesser risk, and obviously forgo the cost if you don't drive). Require anybody who goes to a club to have access to a service that will drive them home as much as they want in a year. The catch is that rates go up or down by how often theygo to clubs, "abuse" of the service (using it when they don't go out partying), and how far they usually live from the club. They can drive themselves if they want, but they'd be forgoing the service.