Being that I own a bar and restaurant in Portland, Oregon, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission yields significant influence on many aspects of my business. All sales of alcohol in this state, retail or wholesale, fall directly under the jurisdiction of the OLCC, which is a state agency. In short, the state of Oregon is in the liquor business. It sets prices and policy, enforces compliance, and doles out punishment.
Rightly so, the OLCC is concerned with underage drinking. So concerned, that they have implemented a decoy program. They hire 19 and 20 year old kids with valid ID’s to enter bars and try to order alcohol. Agents and police officers hide outside so that if any of these young decoys are actually served, they return service with a violation and fine for both the employee who accepted the ID and the establishment itself. This is expensive for first time offenders and perhaps decimating for repeat offenders.
If your establishment has a spotless record with regards to serving minors, you are awarded entrance into OLCC’s Responsible Vendor Program. I am very proud to say that my bar has been a part of this program for the last 4 years. However, I’m not sure about our status after this last Thursday night. One of my longest tenured employees, a lovely and responsible young mother and wife who has been working for me for over 11 years, got pinched by a decoy.
The summer months are extremely busy for us. Our one bartender serves the entire bar and makes all the drinks for an outdoor patio that can seat 80-100 people. We were not at capacity on Thursday around 8pm, but we were humming for sure. K simply said that the ’92 in the D.O.B section of the ID handed to her by the young customer looked like an ’82 and she accepted it. It was nothing more than an honest mistake at exactly the wrong time.
Within minutes the decoy was gone and replaced by two OLCC agents and two police officers. K was issued paperwork stating she was being charged with a crime, fined $350, and was ordered to appear in court in about 4 weeks. I, as owner, will be fined in the neighborhood of $1,100. For any small business and for any service industry worker, these are no small amounts. Factor in the current state of the economy and things feel even worse.
I’m lucky to say that this fine will not put me out of business. I intend to appear in court with K for support and will help her with the fine in any way I can. The younger man who was me 13 years ago would be arguing and crying foul all day long. The current me knows to pick his battles better than that and only focus on avoiding the same mistake again in the future.
Yet I can’t help but ask: is this decoy program entrapment? And is it an attempt by a government agency to increase revenue in a down economy? Like other government programs or agencies, they can point to good intentions as their cover. But my conservative nature knows better than to blindly accept all the consequences of those intentions when they are executed by a resource-devouring government behemoth.
Stay tuned. There will probably be more to follow on this later.