The TABC Responds to Our Article on Over-Serving at Restaurants

Last week's blog post on the dangers of over-serving at restaurants was a broad topic to touch on in a single article -- perhaps too broad, as Carolyn Beck, director of communications for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, contacted us to clear up a few items about the TABC's role in combating over-serving.

"The main point of your article is great -- that over-service is a problem in restaurants just like bars," Beck wrote to us. "It's an important problem, and I'm glad you are bringing attention to it. I really liked everything that Sean Beck (no relation to me) had to say about the difficulty in regulating customer consumption. Over-serving in bars and restaurants is a huge problem that we focus on quite a bit."

"I'm just concerned that in the few places where you specifically talk about TABC, you don't have your facts quite right."

In the interest of clearing the air, here are some points which Beck wanted to make regarding some of the data we posted.

Firstly, the Houston Chronicle article we quoted about the TABC only having one investigator in a county with 800 alcohol-serving establishments was incorrect. The county TABC office in question was in Conroe, where Beck says that there are three agents with each assigned to 224 locations.

"That Chronicle article quotes a Conroe-area district attorney as making that statement, which was not true at the time and isn't true now," wrote Beck. "We told the reporter it wasn't true, but he decided to quote the DA anyway. The Conroe TABC office has three agents, not one. The state has been divided into service sectors that are designed to have one agent assigned to about 224 licensed locations."

Further, Beck emphasizes, "there is nowhere that we have one agent for 800 locations."

Most importantly, the data that we pulled from the TABC Public Inquiry system was misinterpreted, says Beck.

"It appears that you did the search of complaint investigations, but you only searched for criminal allegations of sale to [intoxicated persons], which brings up two in the last 12 months. If you search on that page for administrative allegations (which is what we focus on -- investigating the bar), you'll find MANY investigations for sales to [intoxicated persons] and three more for sale to an obviously intoxicated person."

In fact, Beck says, the TABC has investigated 80 establishments for over-serving in the last 12 months. The TABC does "a lot to curb underage drinking and over-service, but also drug trafficking, money laundering, and human trafficking." And of those 80 establishments investigated for over-serving, Beck says that plenty of them were restaurants.

"Places like Bennigan's, Chili's, Buffalo Wild Wings, Sam's Boat and many 'bar and grills' have been penalized for over-serving with fatalities. When you run the list of investigations in Houston, you'll see that many of them are restaurants," Beck says. "It may happen more in bars, but it is also common in restaurants."

Beck also wanted to stress that whether or not an establishment is a bar, restaurant or liquor store has nothing to do with how frequently it's investigated. "We conduct investigations following complaints, which have no regard for the type of establishment," she says. "And we conduct "priority list" investigations which are follow-up investigations on locations that have previous violations in the last 12 months."

Finally, I was surprised to learn this last fact, as I'd taken it as a rock solid truth for years: People serving alcohol are not required by law to be TABC certified. Instead, the TABC website says, the agency "strongly feels that trained sellers, servers, and managers are better able to identify and prevent sales of alcoholic beverages to minors, intoxicated persons, and non-members of a private club."

Our thanks to the ever-helpful Beck for clearing things up and our apologies for misinterpreting data, quoting an incorrect fact and failing to double-check our sources.

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Katharine Shilcutt