Note: This story was updated at 6:40 a.m. Aug. 14.
The restaurant has already been punished by the state and lost thousands of dollars because of a five-day suspension of its liquor license after it sold beer to a minor in March, company representatives said.
Adding a municipal penalty would amount to double jeopardy for Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar and Grill, said Bobby Prince, the restaurant’s regional manager.
Despite those pleas, though, the Oak Ridge Beer Permit Board approved a $2,500 municipal penalty against Applebee’s in a 4-2 vote Monday afternoon. That civil penalty is in lieu of a five-day suspension starting Sept. 30.
Applebee’s reportedly sold alcohol to a minor during a March 19 compliance check, or “sting,” by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
Prince told board members the restaurant’s total cost for the infraction, which was Applebee’s second in a year, could be close to $10,000, including the municipal penalty, and the restaurant had already answered for the violation, although it did continue to sell beer during the suspension of its liquor-by-the-drink permit.
“We incurred a huge loss in terms of a revenue standpoint,” he said. “I feel like we’re being punished twice.”
But Beer Board members and city officials said there were two separate legal systems at work, with the state governing liquor consumption and the city regulating beer sales.
Prince said Applebee’s responded swiftly after the March sting. He outlined a series of steps designed to create a “bulletproof” no-tolerance system meant to prevent future problems. Among them are a new manager and associate managers, a requirement that all customers be carded—with no exceptions—and a plastic tool that fits over identification cards and is meant to help servers determine who is eligible to buy and drink alcoholic beverages.
Beer Board members acknowledged those steps.
“I am impressed by the quality of your mitigation,” board member Colin Colverson said.
But, “The fact is you got caught twice,” board member Theresa Scott said.
“You sold beer to a minor twice,” board member Barton Bailey said.
TABC Special Agent Derrick Dalton said Applebee’s was one of seven establishments cited for selling alcohol to a minor in March. He said the state is taking a more aggressive approach to the sale of alcohol to minors.
Dalton said the other six establishments cited for selling alcohol to a minor were Moose Lodge, Lincoln’s Sports Grille, Hidalgo, Aubrey’s, Hacienda DeGollado, and Ruby Tuesday.
Prince asked Beer Board members to be consistent in the application of their punishments.
“I think today that Applebee’s was made an example of,” he said.
The Oak Ridge Beer Permit Board had earlier been notified of the Applebee’s offense, but not the others, because it was the second in a three-year period. The lack of notification of even first offenses led to some discussion of the need for better coordination between city and state officials.
“Six of the seven are surprises,” Colverson said. “The only reason the seventh isn’t is because they’re sitting in front of us.”
The board agreed to have a “show cause” hearing for Lincoln’s, possibly at the Sept. 9 meeting, because the March sale to a minor occurred shortly after an earlier “show cause” hearing for the restaurant and bar over a February disturbance. The sale to a minor occurred within a week of the earlier hearing, Scott said.
The board could have hearings for the other five establishments later.
Also Monday, the board agreed to leave in place a two-week suspension levied against Back 2 Brewski’s during a meeting last month after an April 14 fight, but to reduce the suspension to a $1,000 civil penalty in lieu of a one-week suspension if employees are retrained. The board agreed to the change on Monday after hearing from Back 2 Brewski’s owner Nang Crossno, who told board members that “the two-week suspension is a pretty harsh action when you’re talking about a first offense.”
The Brewski’s suspension is scheduled to start Sept. 1.