How to minimize your retail establishment’s risk of being punished and fined for liquor violations

This article was published in Irish American News (IAN) magazine, August 2018 edition.

My experience

Today I provide lessons from my experience working with the enforcement team of the Illinois Liquor Control Commission (ILCC). I worked with the enforcement team advising them on complex issues and difficult cases. During this time, I noticed the issues that are commonly written up and fined. In this post, I wanted to provide advice on how a retail establishment can engage in practices that will minimize it’s chances of facing punishments and fines.

A Roadmap for success

Any establishment which sells alcohol is subject to inspection by state and local authorities in Illinois. Violating state or local laws can result in substantial fines. Sometimes fines for numerous offenses could add up to an establishment paying 100s or even 1,000s in fines. For business owners it becomes very frustrating when the government dings you for what you see are nickel and dime issues. But a business owner can eliminate the need for the inspector to writeup these fines by following some simple precepts. I want to provide a roadmap on how to decrease your chances of committing punishable offenses. The roadmap won’t guarantee that you will never get written up and the roadmap does not include every offense, however by following the roadmap, you will minimize the odds of getting written up.

Here are some key areas a business should concentrate in to decrease your chances of committing an offense.

1) Sanitation-Keep your place clean!

Nothing shouts out that you should look at my place more closely than a dirty and filthy premise. Obvious issues of sanitation will raise red flags for the inspector. The bar, kitchen, and bathroom areas should be of a special focus.
Once an inspector notices your place is unclean on the surface, I can guarantee they will inspect your tap lines and find them unclean and fine you. Then they will inspect your liquor bottles to check for further issues. The fines will quickly begin to add up! Inspectors go to town on sanitation violations, so keeping your place clean will minimize potential fines.

2) Keep proper records.

A retailer is required to keep 90 days of records for any purchases of alcoholic liquor. Ensure that these invoices are available for the inspector.
If a manufacturer or distributor sells items to you, make sure you have invoices or other records which show that the items were purchased. Absence of these items will probably result in a sanction and a fine.

3) Hang and display your liquor license, pregnancy warning sign, drinking age requirement sign, and human trafficking sign.

It is not enough for these to be on the premise, they must be hung and conspicuous. It doesn’t take much effort to display them and conversely, it does not take much effort for the inspector to discover them and fine you.

4) Pay your taxes and keep your license updated.

When you run a day to day business, you lose track of the business compliance matters. If you don’t pay your taxes on time, the state can put a hold on your license and collect in addition to the taxes, penalties, interest, and administrative fees.
If you are operating without a proper license, then you are not operating a valid business and can be subject to additional fines on the state and local level. Further, the longer you operate without a valid liquor license, the more difficult it will become to renew your license, and the more money it cost to renew the license.

5) Do not serve underage drinkers.

The state takes this offense seriously and lays down severe fines and punishments. A first offense is subject to a $500 fine, the 2nd and 3rd offenses could constitute heavier fines and suspensions. A fourth offense can lead to a license revocation. Additionally, you may face sanctions at the local level.

6) Do not take free items from a distributor.

The general rule is that a distributor/manufacturer can provide a retailer consumer specialties, which are items that are small and that a consumer can carry away. Items such a barbeque grill are not small and cannot be carried away.
If the distributor/manufacturer brings items such as shirts or glasses, they either need to be passed onto consumers or paid for and properly documented. It is probably a bad idea for your employees to wear the shirts that should be passed onto consumers.

7) Do not buy alcoholic liquor from an out-of-state retailer and bring it into Illinois.

If an Illinois retailer purchases from out-of-state retailers more 108 liters of wine, 45 liters or more of distilled spirits, or 118 liters or more of beer, it can be subject to a Class 4 felony. If convicted of a felony, the license can be revoked.

8) Do not buy your alcohol from another Illinois retailer.

It’s a bad idea and since the state requires 90 days of invoices, this is low hanging fruit for the inspector.

9) Follow happy hour/discount rules.

Providing a lady’s night or a discount for mug club members seems like a great idea and lots of fun and you may even advertise this idea widely. Problematically, these discounting practices violate happy hour rules. The key is to know your happy hour rules and if you don’t know the rules, then don’t advertise the special.

Final wrap-up

The state and local officials want to ensure an orderly marketplace and frequently inspect retailers with a liquor license looking for violations. If you follow the roadmap I provided and implement it successfully in your business, then when the fines decrease significantly, you will owe me a beer!

Feel free to contact me with any questions about the above content or anything related to Illinois liquor issues.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *