Three restaurants in Saline County recently were cited for failing an alcohol compliance check, authorities said.
The undercover compliance check of restaurants was made by the Benton Special Investigation Unit, which is comprised of officers from the Benton and Bryant police departments. Authorities said the checks were made to ensure local establishments are not serving alcohol to minors.
Authorities said the operation was carried out with undercover officers accompanying a minor to the restaurant, where the minor will order an alcoholic beverage. If the minor is served alcohol, the minor then leaves the business and the officers issue a citation to the offender who served him.
Additionally, a report of the infraction is forwarded to the Arkansas Alcohol Beverage Commissionl.
Local restaurants checked during the operation and were determined to be compliant were: La Hacienda, Riviera Maya, Smokey Joe’s Barbecue, Colton’s Steakhouse, Applebee’s, Chili’s, Sakura, U.S. Pizza, Luigi’s, Whole Hog Café, Ruby Tuesday, Logan’s Roadhouse and Mi Ranchito II.
The three establishments that failed were: Gino’s, Casa Mexicana and Patron Mexican Grill.
"It was a mistake, and we're sorry. We'll do whatever it takes to (be in compliance)," a manager of Patron told The Saline Courier. "We've been (in compliance); we've been doing what we are supposed to. It was just a mistake, and we are very sorry."
The general consensus of the mangers of the three restaurants that were cited for unknowingly selling alcohol to a minor is that the incidents were isolated mistakes by individual employees.
"As a business owner, you try to teach (employees) the right things to do, but if they don't do it right — it is not like this happens every day," a Casa Mexicana co-owner said. "This was one person's mistake, and it doesn't reflect what (Casa Mexicana) is doing. The server did ask for identification and a membership card, but the card must not have been looked at correctly, or it could have been fake, I don't know."
He added, "I'm trying to find a better way to get identification cards read. But it is not like kids can come here and get (alcoholic) drinks. That is not what we do here."
A manager of Gino's said it surprised him because "I am very strict about the employees reading the (identification) cards." However, he noted that he wasn't there on the night of the incident. He said he believes the employee read the month and year on the identification card correctly, but not the date.
"Our employees will just have to look closer and in more detail," he said. "I was already strict about it, but now I'm going to have to step it up more. No one wants to serve minors alcohol because that's not good for anyone."
The manager of Gino's said that in the two years that he has been at the establishment, this was the first time he had encountered this situation. However, he said he'll make sure that employees "will be on top of it."
The owner of Casa Mexicana added, "We know it takes a lot to get an alcohol permit here. We aren't going to lose it. We've just got to be smarter about it. We've got to look at the identification cards correctly, so that we can keep this from happening in the future."
The alcohol compliance checks are part of an Enforcing the Underage Drinking Laws grant that is awarded through the State Finance and Administration office. It provides funding to departments to conduct operations such as this one to ensure that restaurants are complying with the law.
The Benton Police Department also has used these funds during the previous year to provide education and awareness programs about the dangers of drinking and driving. The funds were used to display public education billboards, a commercial that ran on local television stations, and an education program during prom season.
Establishments that passed the compliance check were given letters of appreciation. The goal is to have 100 percent compliance during future operations, "which will be conducted again this year with officers from the Bryant and Benton Police Departments," authorities said.