Ask McArdle: Is there a difference between ‘strong beer’ and ‘extra strong beer’?

Strong beer, cheap parking, and is that a free sushi roll?

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(Illustration: Peter Arkle)

Why do parking lots offer “early bird” specials if they make more money on the other folks?

It was English naturalist John Ray in 1760 who first noted the competitive advantage enjoyed by timely fowl when acquiring worms. Ever since, our society has considered it virtuous to arrive early, rewarding the act with cheaper waffles, two-for-one chicken wings and discounted golf. This steers a portion of one’s clientele to off-peak portions of the day, freeing space during busy hours and perhaps attracting a few cheapskates as well. But when it comes to parking, early-bird pricing is more akin to a loyalty reward program, says Julian Jones, senior vice-president of corporate development for Impark, which has 2,000 parking facilities across North America. Local workers are most likely to arrive in the early morning, but they’re also likely to shop around. Early-bird prices encourage this demographic to return daily while the operator keeps a higher rate “for those less regular customers who arrive later and are making parking choices more on convenience and location than on price.” We may grumble about the high cost of parking, but Jones says “a lack of readily available parking” is the true irritant for drivers and businesses alike. Studies conducted in New York since 2006 suggest drivers looking for parking compose between 28% and 45% of traffic congestion. The early bird gets the cheap parking; everyone else gets a headache.

Is there an official difference between “strong beer” and “extra strong beer”?

Please inspect the bottle in your hand. (If there is no bottle, please fetch one. It will serve as a visual aid and a reward for reading.) Each vessel of beer in Canada is labelled according to guidelines put forward by the Canada Food Inspection Agency. If a beer is labelled simply as “beer,” it contains between 4.1% and 5.5% alcohol by volume. Once the alcohol content reaches 5.6%, it becomes “strong beer”; at 8.6%, it becomes “extra strong.” There are also designations for light beer, which is anything below 4.1% and even “extra light beer,” which is below 2.5%—although I refuse to accept such a thing exists outside of a bureaucrat’s sick imagination. These designations are legally required but not particularly useful for drinkers, says Mirella Amato, author of the upcoming Beerology: Everything You Need to Know to Enjoy Beer…Even More. “If a beer is 5.5% or if it’s 5.7%, it won’t make a big difference to our palate,” she says. But if you are used to drinking beer in the 5% vicinity, a higher-octane beverage will offer a different experience. “With the higher alcohol, you get a warming quality,” says Amato. “Once you get to 8.5%, you’ll get the flush in your cheeks and warming in your chest that you might associate with spirits.”

Am I expected to tip for takeout food when I pick it up?

Wee McArdle opened a lemonade stand this January. He had initially planned on launching it last July, but construction delays made that impossible. Business has been sluggish. Yet he received a substantial tip from a customer who appreciated the lad’s willingness to bring the lemonade directly to her car. Gratuities these days are more often related to obligation than gratitude. But when it comes to takeout, tips are optional, allowing a customer to truly express appreciation. Does the sushi chef throw an extra California roll into your Styrofoam container? Have you found a barista who understands exactly how much foam is right? Will a young entrepreneur risk frostbite to deliver lemonade to the passenger-side window? In those cases, an extra buck—or two—is entirely appropriate.

Need advice? Want to settle a debate? Go ahead, ask McArdle anything: askmcardle@canadianbusiness.com

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