As many of you may know, Washington, DC, is an international city. It is also a college town. As many of you also know, the legal drinking age in the US is 21. Now, before the words cross your lips, I am not particularly interested in arguing the merits of European drinking models, but some of you don't know the penalty of underage drinking on a bar or restaurant. In DC, here is the penalty breakdown:
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Fine: $1,000 (Min) - $2,000 (Max)
License suspension (How long they shut you down): 5 days
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Upon conviction for the first offense, be fined not more than $1,000, or imprisoned up to 180 days, or both
Fine: $2,000 (Min) - $4,000 (Max)
License suspension: 10 days
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(2) Upon conviction for the second offense committed within 2 years from the date of any such
previous offense, be fined not more than $2,500, or imprisoned up to 180 days, or both;
Fine: $4,000 (Min) - $10,000 (Max)
License suspension: 15 consecutive days
Other: Board may revoke license
(3) Upon conviction for the third or any subsequent offense committed within 2 years from the
date of any such previous offense, be fined not more than $5,000, or imprisoned up to one year,
This is really serious stuff. Now, I wanted to look up some stuff on exactly how ABRA conducts sting operations. This is not exactly the easiest information to get, and between talking with fellow industry professionals and calling the ABRA offices, here is what I gathered.
1. The All-famous sting operation
ABRA will use underage agents to come in and try to purchase alcohol. Technically, from what I have understood, they cannot present you with a fraudulent ID; that is entrapment. When asking the ABRA official on the phone if they can present a fraudulent ID, she expertly dodged the question. It is my impression that they conduct a sting with the follow criteria:
- The ID is expired (this is the most popular)
- The ID is valid, but is not the ID of the person presenting it to you.
- The ID is valid, but the person is underage and you deserve to be shut down for your carelessness.
I have had ABRA come into my establishment, look around for someone who looks underage, and ask for their ID. I was never sure if it was legal for them to do that, but in the law it states:
25-801(f) ABRA investigators may request and check the identification of a patron inside of or attempting to enter an establishment with an alcohol license. ABRA investigators may seize evidence that substantiates a violation under this title, which shall include seizing alcoholic beverages sold to minors and fake identification documents used by minors.
So what will happen is that ABRA officers will come in and ask for ID. If they find someone, the results can be bad. But here is the question that I am up against: How the hell am I supposed to catch all of the fakes?
This is a daunting task in the District of Columbia. We have a high volume of college kids with disposable incomes, so they can afford a fake ID that will cost $300 or more. Moreover, there are many people with international ID's; how the hell am I supposed to be able to tell if an ID from Honduras is legit? Can I even accept a foreign ID? Well, yes and no. The law says:
(3) For the purpose of determining valid representation of age, each person shall be required to present to the establishment owner or representative at least one form of valid identification, which shall have been issued by an agency of government (local, state, federal, or foreign) and shall contain the name, date of birth, signature, and photograph of the individual.
What this says is that technically if it is a government issued ID, then you are a go. Keep in mind that an "International Drivers License"is not. Sorry. Also a copy of a document (like a copy of a passport) is also not a document. A picture on their phone is not a document. With even a basic understanding of photoshop I can make my ID say that I have blonde hair, blue eyes, and was born in 1886. The moral of the story on Foreign Government ID's is to use your discretion. In Boston, they won't anything but US passports or MA ID's. I have seen doctored passports, State id's and foreign ID's. The key is to reduce your risk, and not be afraid to say "no."
Tricks and Tips
Now that we have gone over the law, lets fast forward.
I had a gaggle of girls come into my venue a few weeks ago. Two of the places down the street had been hit by ABRA in a sting. Another friend of mine was going into court for ABRA fishing in his place and they caught someone. His place had a competent door guy, but unfortunately the Chinese are making very very good fakes right now. I asked him what he was arguing in court, and he told me to read the law. I did, and here is what I found:
Astr Trim Director Archives Dr Speaks David Adventist Facebook Speaks David Dr Archives Facebook Director Adventist Trim Astr 25-783 (b) A licensee or his agent or employee shall take steps reasonably necessary to ascertain whether any person to whom the licensee sells, delivers, or serves an alcoholic beverage is of legal drinking age. Any person who supplies a valid identification document showing his or her age to be the legal drinking age shall be deemed to be of legal drinking age.
What does this actually say? The words you need to pay attention to is "steps reasonably necessary." This tells me some important information. First it tells me that there is a minimum expectation of diligence required, and it tells me that I AM NOT A FEDERAL AGENT. The argument my friend is putting in court is that there are fake ID's of such a high quality coming out that they are taking reasonable measures to detect them but technology simply cannot keep up. So, here are your two levels of ID checking that I recommend.
Level 1: Basic Restaurant/bar venue, medium volume, non-college area/ non-city
- The key to detecting a fake ID is knowing the answer before you ask the question. 90% of the time I catch an underage or a fake, I had flagged them the moment that they walked in and told my server I want to ID them myself. Trust your instincts and go in for the close look.
- Remember that you don't know these people, and they may be trying to commit a crime (if the police catch them using a fake ID, first offense is a $300 fine and/or 90 suspension of license) that can put yours and your coworkers jobs on the line. Service only extends to those guests who don't disrespect and jeopardize my establishment by defrauding me.
- Look for the telltale psychological signs of someone being 18/19/20. They aren't going to look comfortable, you will notice them looking around a lot. Announce yourself as a manager and see if they get scared. Ooze confidence and see if they look like they're going to shit themselves.
- Look for the telltale physical signs of someone being 18/19/20. For men, check their hairline, look for any signs of recession. See if they have shaved today - most men have to shave every day or they will quickly get stubble, (unless your a manly man like me with a large unkempt beard that pisses your wife off.) Look under their eyes or on their brow for signs of aging. Remember, drinking AGES you.
- Watch as they take out their ID. On most purses and wallets there is a transparent spot for the ID to go. Kids are usually arrogant and lazy, so they will sometimes have their real ID in that spot and pull a fake from another place in the wallet. Also see what else they have in their wallet - look for credit cards. You may need to ask for a second form of ID or a card, and if they say they don't have one, you know the ID is fake.
- Feel the ID. Before I even look at it (I like to maintain eye contact while I slightly bend the ID in my hands. What's that I smell? FEAR.) But seriously feel it. The same way that experienced bartenders can feel exactly how much is left in a bottle by weight, experienced ID checkers know what each state's plastic feels like. I had a Serbian guy who spotted Virginia fake ID's by flicking them with his fingernail a few times while holding it up to his ear. Imagine a big bald scary guy who sounds like Ivan Drago saying "The ID will exsplain to me if they are lyink." He knew the sound so well he could tell if the plastic was wrong. Pretty amazing. I saw this same guy punch someone so hard that their shoes flew 20 feet across the room. Also pretty amazing.
- If the Id is cracked or hole punched, or the integrity is damaged in any way, it is not valid.
- Adventist David Speaks Director Archives Facebook Astr Dr Trim Make sure that the ID fulfills the law. There are 5 different qualifications that must be met.
- Must be issued by a government (International Drivers License is not valid)
- Must have a name
- Must have a picture
- Must have a date of birth
- Must have a signature
- Trim Director Archives David Dr Facebook Speaks Adventist Astr Next, look at the person. Then look at the picture. Look at the person again, and back to the picture. The next part is seeing if the picture is the person in front of you. Be careful; older siblings will often times pass their ID's down. I look for things like nostrils, ears, cheekbones, and jaw structure. These are things that are normally different in siblings. Don't get caught up with stuff like eye shape or hair color; any girl knows how to change these things with makeup and other cosmetics. If you look at a person twice, the fake ID guest will usually start to get nervous. Pay attention to non-verbal cues.
- Check the date of birth: they must be born before todays date, 21 years ago. If your staff cant do math, hang up a sign with date before.
- Check the expiration date. If the ID is expired, you cannot serve that guest. No exceptions. Well, ok there is one exception. If you have someone come to drink and they clearly lived through at least one world war, serve them. Worst case scenario is that they're Benjamin Button but that would be a pretty compelling argument in court.
- If one of these things isn't working, or you just don't feel quite confident, ask them if they have another form of ID. 9 times out of 10 they will. This is where watching their wallet comes into play. They will usually take it out and start looking, but then have to scramble to see what they can show you. Just yesterday I had someone sort through their wallet looking for a second form and I saw a drivers license from a different state. I said "oh, there's another form of ID!" and he quietly walked out of the bar. If they don't have another form, ask if they have a credit card with their name on it; it will let you gauge the quality of the ID if it's fake. By now, trust your instincts.
- THE FINAL TEST: if you still aren't sure after all of that, call the bluff and tell them that you can't accept their ID. Most kids that are underage drinkers will quietly say "Ok, that's fine." and just be glad that you are not taking their fake from them. Anyone who has a real ID will likely make a pretty big fuss. This is where you discover how big of balls they have. I had a girl in the other night and I told her I wouldn't take her ID and she said "Well, if you're going to be an asshole about it, then fine." To which I responded: "It is your right to have the police verify your identity if you would like. In fact, if they do, your drinks are on me for the inconvenience." This is the part where you discover how far they want to take it. She dropped the issue immediately and I told her that she needed to leave; nobody but my friends can call me an asshole in my place and stay. This is true, a police officer can verify an ID for you.
- The moral of the story is that these are what I have always used as my restaurant/small bar guidelines, and I have never been busted by ABRA as a bartender or manager.
Level 2: Lounge/Nightclub/higher volume establishment
- Black lights should be int he tool box of every manager. Not only are they the standard for checking for increased authenticity, but they are a great way to see what needs to be cleaned. If you are a manager and think your place is clean, I dare you to put a black light in your bathroom or in the walls of hallways and see how clean it really is.
- Grab an app called "MobileID Guide" for your phone. It is $.99 cents, easy to quickly navigate state ID's and each state will have microprint and blacklight things to look for. It's a great tool for US ID's and it updates as well. This is most useful for checking for blacklight patterns on the ID.
- ID scanners are a must-have for any truly large venue (500+ people) but are sometimes an unnecessary expense for a place like mine that will have 150-200 people on a saturday night. I found a great little app called "barZapp" for $1.99 that will scan the barcode of an ID using your smartphone camera. It will tell you the name, birthday, and give you an opinion if the ID is valid or not. It's a terrific tool as a last means for an ID that I am 80% sure is legit but just want some additional insurance. Between that and Mobile ID guide, accompanied with some experience and common sense, this is what I see as reasonable steps.
The one question that I couldn't get answered by ABRA is on foreign government ID's. Many college kids will either have an international fake or be truly international with no US form of ID. This can be a tricky problem. The general consensus that I got was that ABRA will not ever put forth a fake foreign ID. Make sure it's not expired and go from there. The argument is that I am not a federal agent trained in detecting counterfeit ID's from countries across the world. If you are really worried I would go to By Middle 2017 British amp; Europe Isles Americas The East c0wXg8qwr and order one of their international ID books; just be careful to keep an updated one nearby. If a US ID scans, passes blacklight, has all the points of ID then I think I have taken more than reasonable steps to detect a valid ID and have exhausted my other options.
This is a ton of information, I know. I am going to try to keep this as a living document that I will be changing. If anyone has any questions, comments, tips or tricks, please re-post and leave comments.
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