Restaurateurs in the city are up in arms. Following a stepped-up campaign by the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board against liquor sales to minors, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington is pressing the D.C. Council to change the way the city's liquor laws are enforced.
Working with the police department, the board has been conducting undercover stings to catch liquor sales to minors. Arrests have been made during peak serving hours at some upscale restaurants, and restaurant owners have been complaining to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), police officials and anyone else who will listen.
"You'll hear about the 7-Elevens, but they have never gone after every single high-end and mid-sized restaurant in Washington," said Linda Roth, a public relations consultant hired by the restaurant association. "This has never happened."
The association's president, Eric C. Peterson, said the police have trapped ordinarily compliant restaurateurs by sending in deceptively older-looking decoys, usually in tandem with two adults who work for the Beverage Control Board or the police.
"They're doing it right at the dinner hour, at the time when the place is busiest, when the staff is trying to accommodate everybody," Peterson said. "Suddenly, because of this operation, businesses are losing business. Instead of trying to build a cooperative atmosphere between the regulators and the business community, we've got a clearly adversarial relationship."
The association has lobbied D.C. Council members Harold Brazil (D-At Large) and Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) to change the laws. They are considering proposals that would prevent a server from being arrested on a first-time sale to a minor and make illegal sales punishable by a citation, rather than by the arrest of the server.
Roderic L. Woodson, a D.C. lawyer and chairman of the Beverage Control Board, said the operation, which is funded by a federal grant, has been blown out of proportion by the restaurant owners.
"They are not being targeted; they are not being stung," Woodson said. "They are being required to comply with the enforcement requirements. The way that is done is to see whether they will sell to an underaged person. That's not rocket science."
Although restaurant owners have complained that they are reeling from the operation, they haven't been targeted any more than corner groceries, taverns or convenience stores, said Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer. Police placed advertisements and sent out letters warning retailers of the operation and simply want restaurateurs to card all patrons who look like they might be underage, Gainer said.
In July and August, police visited 214 establishments and made 92 arrests for sales of alcohol to minors, he said.
"The bottom line continues to be: If you sell to underage people you're not only committing an illegal act, you're also perpetuating a serious problem in society and also in the District," Gainer said. The police department would support graduated fines that would be more lenient on restaurateurs' first offense, he said. The current first-time fine for businesses caught selling alcoholic beverages to minors is $1,500.
Good News, Bad News
The District's chief financial officer, Valerie Holt, was attending the annual conference of regional finance officials at a downtown Washington hotel when a reporter called asking her to comment on a major controversy.
High-ranking officials in the Williams administration were blaming Holt for failing to oversee the spending of much of the $120 million, in mostly federal money, for the Year 2000 computer repair project.
Holt was not pleased. How could they blame her, she asked, when she had only been on the job for two months?
"Wait a minute," she said, putting the phone down in mid-response.
People in the background started cheering. "You're not going to believe this," she said, returning to the phone. "I just won the door prize at this event. It's a Palm Pilot."
We assume it's Y2K compliant.