- August 29, 2016

Tell TABC, Take Your App And Shove It! An Austin Bar Owner’s Manifesto


It’s 1:45 a.m. on a Saturday in Austin, Texas. Hoards of bleary-eyed revelers are attempting to get one last liquid nail in their moral coffin so that jumping into a rideshare with that besandled pastel bro seems like a better idea than another late night Whataburger taquito run.

Enter Stacey and Chad (it’s always Stacey and Chad). They’re drunk enough to think they’re not drunk enough and they definitely need to get into one last bar for last call. At the door is a less than enthusiastic door guy who has seen this exact scenario play out a dozen times this week. As Stacey and Chad wobble their way to the entrance, our unsung hero with his trusty flashlight firmly but kindly informs them they would not be entering this particular establishment tonight due to their current state self inflicted impairment.

Stacey is not happy. Chad is not happy. Stad, or Chacey, or whatever they call themselves, are not used to being told no. Stacey used to work in a bar, you see. She knows her rights. After a throatful of expletives and Trumpian nonsense bubble from Chad’s noisehole, Stacey proudly proclaims victory over their shared plight. She doesn’t need this stupid place. The door guy is probably just some poorly endowed mama’s boy on a power trip. Plus, she has a friend that knows the owner.

Generally this is more or less where the story ends. Stacey and Chad wake up the next morning with little more to say about last nights saga than “That guy was such a dick. We weren’t even that drunk.” Sometimes there’s even a Yelp review that claims the bar is a complete trash heap with rude staff and weak drinks. “One star!” Even the negative post does little to damage anyone involved.

This is the way it has been. Up until now. You see, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) has an app for consumers to take a direct part in seeing to it all permitted establishments in Texas are following the archaic and amorphous rules set forth in the trusty and rusty handbook.

You remember when Stacey said she used to be a bartender? Well, that was true. Turns out she spent eight grueling months at a restaurant bar, eye rolling at customers and sneaking shots of pineapple butternutz, or whatever it is kids these days drink. She had to be certified through a TABC course to serve alcohol. In that course, and throughout her short-lived career, she found that the TABC is a complaint-driven entity that can make your life hell.

Luckily for most alcohol-serving establishments, as long as you’re not serving minors, not serving after hours, or not allowing Chad and his buddies to start fights, you’re pretty much in the clear (but only if the owner is paying a 14.95 percent tax on all alcohol sales). Sure, if someone really wanted to, they could go online, find the TABC site, find the link to file a complaint, and stay anonymous. This happens from time to time, and even the TABC has acknowledged to me that most of them are disgruntled employees or intoxicated customers. But hey, they gotta check it out just in case right?

Well, Stacey knows whats up. Stacey actually downloaded the TABC Mobile app. It takes all of two minutes to make an anonymous allegation about the bar she wasn’t allowed in. Specifically, she somehow just knew they were serving minors all night long, despite having remained outside. Naturally, her bogus claim is taken seriously, as they all are, and an enforcement officer will make a visit.

Better yet: TABC officers can visit any time they please. They can ask to see everyone’s certification. They can walk behind the bar while you’re trying to work to check that all bottles have the correct TABC stickers on them. They can (and will) put someone at each entrance/exit to storm your place after hours in an attempt catch you in the act of malfeasance. They can visit in plain clothes and try and get your bartender to serve one person 3 beers (which is illegal, but a pitcher of beer is not). They can pull customers outside to double check their identification and even give them a field sobriety test. Oh and if that person doesn’t pass? Well, now they can handcuff and jail the last bartender to serve that person.

See how this can get out of hand fast? I’m not even touching on the consequences of losing one of your two state-mandated, $5,000 Mix Beverage Tax Surety Bonds, being forced to choose between a fine or being closed down for days/weeks at a time, or being completely shut down altogether. All this because Chacy wanted to get the last laugh over a venue that is trying to obey the law at all costs.

If it weren’t clear already, this isn’t like Yelp. It can have very real world consequences. At the very least, abuse of this TABC app can make one annoying interaction into a series of truly unfortunate, sometimes costly events — for the taxpayers and for business owners.

I’m not saying the public shouldn’t be allowed to have access to the authority that oversees the sale of alcohol just in case there’s a bad actor out there running amok. What I’m saying is that embedding this capability into an app, which admittedly happened a few years ago, continues to subject law-abiding business owners to unfair treatment. To make matters worse, it also has the potential to give a lawmakers even more justification for funding an unwieldy, outdated state agency that’s long been under fire from liquor-lubed complaints.

I’m also saying don’t name your kid Chad or Stacey. Cool?

Got a real stake in this city and something to gripe about? Maybe you could write our next entry in “Complainer’s Corner”! Send your ish to [email protected].