Westminster restaurant hit with $2K fine

The Ruby Tuesday restaurant in Westminster, cited for several instances of selling alcohol to someone not of legal age, has been slapped with the highest fine allowed under the law by Carroll County's Liquor Board.

During a hearing Wednesday,


The Liquor Board voted unanimously Wednesday to fine the restaurant $2,000 because an employee served an underage volunteer working with the board — the restaurant's fourth such violation in a little more than two years. The most recent incident occurred in May, and the three prior violations took place in April 2013, October 2013 and December 2014. The restaurant was fined $300 for the first violation and $1,000 fines for each of the following two.

Ruby Tuesday will also be donating $2,000 to the Carroll County Coalition Against Underage Drinking, a volunteer organization that works to raise awareness in the community and addresses policy issues targeted at reducing youth access to alcohol. The donation is being made at the suggestion of the business' lawyer, Edward Gilliss, who raised the issue Wednesday during a hearing before the liquor board. Gilliss is also the holder of Ruby Tuesday's Class B beer, wine and liquor license.

Jo Vance, administrative hearings coordinator for Carroll government, said only one other liquor licensee in the county is also an attorney and that person has never represented the company before the Liquor Board. Gilliss did not return phone calls seeking comment for this article by 5 p.m. Thursday.

The Liquor Board also discussed suspending the restaurant's liquor licenses, but decided not to, according to board chairman Roland Meerdter.

"With all you've done, I don't know what else you can do, but you have to do something else because you can't come back here," Meerdter said at Wednesday's hearing.

Despite the fine, Carol Mullen, prevention coordinator for the Coalition Against Underage Drinking, said she's "kind of half way with the verdict."

"Realistically, the coalition wanted [the Liquor Board] to suspend their liquor license for a short time, maybe a weekend," Mullen said.

During the hearing, Mullen said, on behalf of the coalition: "One [violation] you can understand. ... People make mistakes. But with three or four there is a disconnect. There is an outrage about the number of violations over a two-year time period. The truth is the server did not card the young man who came in for the compliance check. [The restaurant] was supposed to put things in place after the December violation to prevent this. The question is how many times have they served underage youth without being carded?"

Mullen went on to say: "Despite them being fined in the past, is that enough to save someone's life? There are a lot of dire consequences associated with underage drinking."

Gail Kessler, deputy county attorney, also suggested the board suspend the restaurant's license.

"I'm not suggesting you put them out of business," Kessler told the Liquor Board Wednesday. "I think the board could craft a short suspension so that Ruby Tuesday wakes up. They need to put a stop to this so that something like this doesn't happen again."

Meerdter questioned whether a suspension would be effective in reducing the number and frequency of violations.

"I would like to find an answer to make a difference but we are dealing with human beings," Meerdter said. "I don't know what to do with this. We could hang them high, but what else can they do?"

Since the April 2013 violation, the restaurant has taken steps to reduce the number of such violations, Mullen said, including hiring a liquor consultant to teach a training course on identification protocol and procedures, and requiring all bartenders and servers sign a responsible service statement policy. The server who committed the May violation was terminated, she said.


When reached by phone, a manager at Ruby Tuesday said all inquiries must be directed to the restaurant chain's media relations department, which did not respond by 5 p.m. Thursday to inquiries by the Times.

The Liquor Board deliberated in private session Wednesday on the legality and consequences of suspending Ruby Tuesday's liquor license before returning with the decision to fine the restaurant but not suspend its license.

Prior to Wednesday's hearing, the restaurant chose to challenge the validity of the violation. The hearing had been originally scheduled for June but was postponed due to the absence of a witness to the violation. The hearing Wednesday began with Gilliss calling the witness, who claimed the youth volunteer had lied in order to convince the server he was of legal drinking age.

Kessler argued Wednesday any possible misinformation provided by the volunteer would have been inconsequential if the server had followed protocol and checked his ID.

In a separate interview Thursday, Linda Auerback, substance abuse prevention supervisor with the Carroll County Health Department, said she did not understand the basis for their challenge.

"If you check the license — unless you can't read the date — that's the bottom line," Auerback said. "[The cadet] didn't try to trick anybody."