So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Reminder of the importance of ID’ing your guests

Last weekend, one of our servers had a table that was bought a bottle of champagne by another table in a different section being served by a different server. The couple wasn’t ID’ed by the server. The next day, we got a call from an angry parent who wanted to know why her under-aged child was served alcohol, because the kid was a little under the influence when he or she got home from the date. “Where were you served alcohol??!!” the mom sputtered.

 The server was suspended for a week.

The server wasn’t suspended because an angry manager was pissed because of a customer complaint. The server was suspended to show the parent that we take this sort of thing seriously. The manager didn’t really want to suspend the server because he recognized that it was a bit of a weird situation. He didn’t actually take the order himself, although he did send the order to the bar when the other server told him that his table wanted to buy them champagne and he served the alcohol to the couple. But we servers are sort of conditioned to take the order, evaluate the guest and then ask for ID if they appear to be underage. This went a different way and his guard was let down. A couple of the cues that we look for were absent (unfamiliarity with alcohol terminology, inappropriate alcohol ordering, i.e. “Give me jello shots with my Kobe steak tartare”, you know, that sort of thing). How many underage people order a nice bottle of champagne?

But that’a moot point to the ABC (the Alcohol Beverage Commission). Had this been an ABC sting (and yes, they set stuff like this up all of the time), the server might have been led out in handcuffs. He might very well have spent the night in jail. He could have lost his ABC permit for a year, effectively shutting him out of a job. He could have paid a hefty fine along with the restaurant. And, god forbid that the couple got in a wreck and killed somebody. He would be totally screwed.

Hopefully it’s been contained to the restaurant. Hopefully, the manager who spoke to the mom conveyed the seriousness with which we treat this incident; god knows it was conveyed to us during preshift. Hopefully, she was satisfied with the strong action that was taken (that’s almost the same thing as a $700 fine). However, she could still make a complaint to the ABC. Now we have to be extra conservative when asking for IDs. The ABC is known to have underage people who look like they’re 25, and, if the ABC is contacted by the parents of the couple, they will probably send in somebody to try and trip up a server. They won’t necessarilysend us a notice or  fine us for this instance because they really have no proof other than the word of the parents and kids. They would have to do an investigation and it’s far easier for them to just come in and do an undercover sting. That would accomplish two things – it would support an investigation of the first instance and it would also establish a pattern of abuse that would support taking strong action against us.

They can do this undercover sting in several ways.

They could send in someone who is unnaturally hirsute for his age (or someone who looks like she could be a 25 year old bombshell – heck, many 15 year olds look like they’re 22 these days). They could have a father pour a glass of wine for a 20 year old son in the presence of the server. They could have the father say, “It’s OK, we allow our kids to drink. It’s our right as a parent”.  They could have a 45 year old agent ask to buy a bottle of wine to take with her (we can do this as we have a corkage law that allows people to take their unused wine with them, but we have to uncork the bottle and pour at least a small amount into the glass). They could have someone try to order alcohol without an ID. They could do what was done in this case – try to buy alcohol for an underage guest at another table. Or they could do a variation of this and go to the bar with three people who are of age and one who is underage. The underage person orders a Sprite while the others have been carded. Then, they all bring their drinks from the bar to the table and the server assumes that the carding process has been done. The underage person then “switches” to something like a gin and tonic, the server not knowing that the first drink was a non-alcoholic one, or even not caring.  This is a trick that actual underage folks  pull all of the time. And, finally, they could have someone with an obvious fake ID.

So, a warning to my fellow waiters. Don’t let your guard down. If you haven’t carded someone who could be under 21 at any point in the meal, even if they order something with their coffee at the end of the meal, card them. When if doubt, card them. Do it politely and with humor if necessary – “You look good for 84, oh wait, it says you were born in ’84”. Or fall back on the old, “Our alcohol commission has been extremely active lately. We’re having to be overcautious. I apologize. I sure wish people would card me these days”. And don’t let a parent push you around. It doesn’t matter that their kid has been drinking wine with the family since she was 10. Don’t let them pour their kid wine. At least not in your presence. And tell them that – that you can’t see them pour wine for their kid or let them have a glass of wine in front of them. This is a nod and a wink to them that there’s no way that you can tell if the glass of wine that seems to be in front of no one is being consumed by the kid. At least give yourself some cover because, frankly, you can’t monitor their table at all times, right?

One response to “Reminder of the importance of ID’ing your guests

  1. waiterextraordinaire June 4, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    Oh for sure we have to be careful. Makes you wonder if the parent will reprimand the kid for drinking underage though doesn’t it?

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