Appleton (Wisc.) Post-Crescent: It happened to TJ’s Japanese Steakhouse when a bartender sold a single bottle of beer to an undercover — and underage — police operative. The violation was the final straw in the city’s alcohol demerit system, and the owners were forced to sell their $2.2 million business.
If it sounds harsh, it is. Appleton takes underage drinking and other alcohol violations very seriously. Some say too seriously.
They wonder if an owner who dedicates his or her life and financial well-being to a restaurant or bar should have that snatched away because of three underage drinking violations.
In some ways, the strict system is working because there have only been two revocation hearings since 2012. Owners and bartenders in Appleton know there’s no room for error.
But, at the same time, it makes sense to study whether another punishment would still be effective. When bars are shut down for relatively minor infractions like serving a minor — and we’re talking about two or three times, not habitually — it leaves storefronts empty, workers without a job and the city without taxes.
Owners must immediately get rid of problem bartenders, and police should have a say when they think illegal activity is making a bar an undesirable or even dangerous place for patrons.
Those kinds of things shouldn’t be tolerated under the city’s demerit system. But getting busted in two sting operations? Maybe there’s a little more room for education or punishments that fall short of license revocation.
We’d encourage city staff to explore ways to keep establishments on the up and up without pulling a business out from under an owner’s feet.