California Says Delivery Apps Are Making it Easy for Minors to Get Booze
Shortly after California governor Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order that restricted restaurants to take-out or delivery meals only, the state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) temporarily relaxed some of its restrictions in an effort to help the booze industry sustain itself during the shutdown.
As a result, the department has allowed craft distillers to make curbside deliveries, it's given the OK for licensed retailers to make sales through "a pass-out window or a slide-out tray," and it is also letting restaurants sell pre-mixed drinks or cocktails for pick-up or delivery, provided that they're sold in closed containers and that the driver doesn't drive off with, like, a gin and tonic in the cupholder. (The drinks are supposed to be transported in the vehicle's trunk or "in some other area of the vehicle that is not normally occupied by the driver or passengers.")
The mixed-drinks-to-go thing has also given a green light for alcohol deliveries from third-party services like Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Postmates, and it has also allegedly made it almost ridiculously easy for minors to order alcohol. Last week, the Department posted an update in the form of an Industry Advisory, which reminded restaurants and other ABC licensees that they're "ultimately responsible" for the delivery of any alcoholic beverages, and that, pandemic or not, it's still illegal to sell those drinks to anyone under 21.
"The Department has recently conducted enforcement actions throughout the state and found significant violations of the law," it wrote. "Most concerning is that minors are routinely able to purchase alcohol through delivery from restaurants. There have been instances in which the licensee’s own employees have done so, but a far greater rate has been evident among third-party delivery services. Licensees are responsible for these unlawful deliveries, and the Department encourages licensees to review the practices of these services and their reliance on them."
This all started in April, when the Washington Post reported that Uber Eats was allegedly delivering cocktails and other adult beverages without checking the customers' ID, and drivers were reportedly leaving the drinks on doorsteps and front porches without confirming that the recipients were of age. That led the department to conduct its own investigation, in which it ordered around 200 alcoholic drinks and had them delivered to customers, including some decoys that weren't of legal drinking age. The Post reports that the bars and restaurants' own deliveries dropped booze off with minors 25 percent of the time, but the delivery apps were "much worse," with an 80-percent failure rate.
Jacob Appelsmith, the director of the department, told the Post that he personally called the delivery services to let them know that they weren't doing a great job when it came to not serving minors, but a subsequent test still had a 50-percent failure rate.
He said that the state cannot sanction the third-party companies themselves, so the responsibility—and any potential criminal liability—is with the driver and with the restaurant that sold the drinks. "There’s a more fundamental problem, which is the drivers aren’t paying attention to what they’re being told to do so the companies need to figure out a way to get them [to] pay attention,” he said.
UberEats isn't supposed to be delivering drinks at all in the state of California, so the app doesn't ask for the customer to scan any ID. But, at the same time, it doesn't currently prevent restaurants from listing cocktails or mixed drinks on their delivery menus either.
“[W]e take these types of reports very seriously,” Uber Eats spokesperson Meghan Casserly told the Post. "We’re sending guidance to restaurant partners reminding them of our policies on alcohol delivery and the importance of alcohol regulatory compliance. If restaurants knowingly circumvent our policies or act in bad faith, we will take action including removing menu items and restaurants from Uber Eats.”
The Department has not stated how long it will allow delivery cocktails and other drinks to-go, but it says that it could withdraw those temporary rule changes at any time if it feels like public safety is being threatened.