In the past week, we’ve witnessed a bizarre spate of toddlers accidentally being served alcoholic beverages at chain restaurants.
First, an Applebee’s in the Detroit suburbs served a 15-month-old boy a non-virgin margarita. After he sucked it down, the poor little guy was taken to the hospital with a blood-alcohol level of .10 — over Michigan’s legal limit of .08. The tipsy toddler’s parents reported that he had quite a hangover the next day. They also said they were suing. Applebee’s officially changed its policy on how drinks are served to children — the mistaken margarita had been served in a cup labeled “apple juice.”
Just a few days later, another toddler, this time at an Olive Garden in Florida, was mistakenly served a real sangria rather than the orange juice his mom ordered. The 2-year-old boy was also rushed to the hospital, where he was given fluids and released soon after, with no lasting effects expected. Everyone knows that “three” is the magic number for journalism trend pieces, so as soon as that third example rolls in, you can immediately expect a rash of panicky public-health stories about the boozy dangers of ordering sippy cups at chain restaurants.
Thankfully, no real harm seems to have come to the children. And hopefully they’re young enough to never remember that their first drinks were an Applebee’s “margarita” or an Olive Garden “sangria” — both reportedly made from artificial mixes.
Setting aside the obvious questions (among them: Who in the world would order sangria at Olive Garden?), if these chains are so intent on serving children specialty drinks, why don’t they just establish an honest-to-goodness mocktail program? Now, there’s a good gig for a consulting mixologist or “startender.”
People always ask me about mocktails, and they immediately assume I’m going to, well, mock them. Not so. In my house, we take mocktails seriously. I have two boys, ages 9 and 6, and as I wrote in a column about mocktails a couple of years ago, they like to make and guzzle fresh and healthy alcohol-free drinks. In fact, my boys actually hate sweet, high-calorie sodas and fruit juices with artificial flavors, which of course I am happy about. When talking mocktails, I always stress taking as much care with the ingredients as you would with any other recipe.
In that column, I introduced you to a bartender from the Netherlands, Timo Janse, who had written — yes — a cocktail book for children. This wasn’t some seedy Amsterdam Red Light District thing. Janse is acclaimed as one of the finest bartenders in Europe, and his literary effort, “Shake It!”(BAI, 2007), won a prize in Holland and Belgium as the children’s book of the year. The cute illustrated guide features junior master shakers (kindergartners through preteens) dressed in chic black server attire and mixing drinks called Rhubarb Barbie or Spiderman’s Web with real shakers, strainers and muddlers.
“Children in every country are drinking too much sweet soda,” Janse says. “This book challenges children to think about what they’re drinking.” Did Janse draw any flak for linking kids and cocktails? Not in Holland. “The biggest concern from people was the need to supervise children when they were cutting the fruit,” he says.
Back here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., I’ve never faced such angry comments as I did with that innocuous mocktail column. Said one commenter: “What a great way to promote alcohol consumption at a young age.” Said another: “I roll mock joints for my kids. Drinking is not a game and you are leading your kids down the path of alcohol acceptance. Shame on you.” Said yet another: “Do you roll them fake joints and let them shoot fake heroin too?”
Of course, there were also voices of reason: “I knew when I read this article that reading the outraged comments would be the funniest part. But as to the cocktail thing, I am a doctor and I am not aware of any research showing a link between drinking mocktails (or having parents who do cocktail hour) and later substance abuse. I am, though, aware of plenty of research that links consumption of high calorie jumbo cokes and excessive videogame playing and other risk factors with later health problems.”
In any case, here are two very delicious, very fresh mocktails — totally safe to serve in a sippy cup:
• The Dark Invader, with muddled blackberries, pineapple juice and vanilla syrup
• The Folic Fizz, with cantaloupe, strawberries, lime juice and soda water.
Feel free to put them on your drink menu, Applebee’s and Olive Garden. No consultant’s fee necessary!