Unless your usual drink order is brown rubbing alcohol on the rocks or a dirty dish water martini, the findings of a year-long investigation of 29 bars and resturants across New Jersey will likely leave you nauseated.
The investigation, aptly titled “Operation Swill”, culminated last week when more than 100 investigators raided 29 bars and restaurants across the state of New Jersey based on the suspicion that they had been serving cheap alcohol (and some other horrendous stuff) as premium brand liqour.
One establishment allegedly served caramel colored rubbing alcohol to unsuspecting patrons, and another is said to have filled booze bottles with nothing more than dirty water.
“What these 29 establishments have allegedly done threatens the integrity of the alcoholic beverage industry as a whole,” said Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa. “This alleged scheme is a dishonest ruse to increase profits, and it is a slap in the face of the consumer. The consumer should have the peace of mind to know that when they pay for something, they get exactly what they paid for, no exceptions.”
Thirteen of the eateries identified were TGI Fridays franchises run by the Briad Group, a Livingston, NJ-based hospitality company that runs several different establishments across multiple states. This disturbing discovery prompted Briad president Rick Barbrick to release a statement, saying that the allegations were “troubling and surprising to us.” The statement continued:
“We can assure our loyal and valuable guests that it is our corporate policy to treat all of our patrons honestly and fairly…We have already begun our own investigation to learn if any of these allegations are true. If they are, we will take immediate steps to correct any issues that may have led to less than a 100 percent quality experience for our guests…Regardless of the outcome, we will be deploying additional measures, supervision and quality checks into our process. We want every assurance possible that our guests can continue to feel confident in the great food and drink they order at our TGI Friday’s restaurants.”
The debacle has also left TGI Friday’s corporate offices in Texas scrambling for damage control. The company released the following statement late last week:
“If accurate, they would represent a violation of our company’s values and our extensive bar and beverage standards which are designed to deliver the highest guest experience in our restaurants…We have zero tolerance for actions that undermine the trust of our guests and call into question the reputation we have built up over the past 48 years…Although this is isolated to one group of franchised restaurants, I want to reiterate to all of our guests that we remain committed to delivering the ‘In Here, It’s Always Friday’ experience to every guest in every restaurant. That’s always been and will continue to be our focus and promise to our guests.”
Although the authorities have not said which establishments were thought to be serving cheap booze as top shelf liquor and which might have been serving rubbing alcohol, the complete list of raided restaurants can be found here. And that list is likely to grow; Michael Halfacre, director of the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, says more raids are possible at over 7,200 bars, restaurants and taverns with liquor licenses statewide.
Halfacre says it all boils down to one thing: accountability. “This is essentially a wake-up call to the less altruistic operators in the industry that they need to get their act together,” he said.