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Drinking Laws - Mitchell and Butler style

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If the waitress implies you're a liar, you have no defence!

Our correspondent writes ...

The more I see and read about the farcical things happening in this country, the more I am filled with despair. Everything seems to be designed to irritate. And I do get extremely agitated because I am old enough to remember a time when this was a great country and a good place to live. But now there are just too many people trying to interfere with our enjoyment.

Last Sunday (18th March 2012) we decided spontaneously to dine out in the evening. It was, in one sense, a special occasion as our son was staying with us for the weekend. So we booked a table at the Jacobean Barn at Hall Place in Bexley. Miller and Carter Restaurant

On arrival we were shown to our table and started to browse the menu. Minutes later, a waitress came over to take our drink order. My wife ordered a G & T, I decided on tomato juice (as I was driving) and my son ordered a cider. The waitress immediately asked for his ID claiming he looked under 18. Naturally, one doesn't think to put one's passport in one's pocket when going out for a meal so, NO, he didn't have any ID. In that case, NO CIDER, decided the waitress.

At this point I think it would be fair to say my blood was beginning to simmer. My son is not a drinker per se; he is the marketing manager of a large company in London ... and he is 23 years of age. I told the girl that I was his father and gave her the year he was born. Not good enough, she said. In other words, you are probably lying.

I asked to see the manager and, some while later, a small woman of Oriental appearance came to the table. I repeated my statement that I was his father and could vouch for his age but got the same response. We can't believe you because, in our judgment, your son is under 18.

By now, my wife is beginning to sense that my blood may be reaching boiling point. Let it go, she advises. In any event, my son has settled for a Coke and there is little point in upsetting the whole restaurant. She was right, of course, but I stewed throughout the meal and my evening was ruined.

What I find so galling is that on most evenings the London Borough of Bexley is awash with youths who are out of their skulls with booze. And thanks to the effects of cheap drink, there have even been some violent incidents - one not long ago that resulted in the death of an innocent man. Some of these incidents actually take place in the town centre, just a few yards from our magnificent police headquarters, but our local police, useless as they are, are never ahead of the game; they always turn up when it's too late.

So what it comes down to is this: get pissed out of your skull and you have little to fear; but try to order one bottle of cider and be prepared to suffer the wrath of British justice, Miller and Carter style!

Noticeably, the borough is also increasingly awash with foreigners, many of whom appear not to work and seem to have no regard for the laws of our country. Yet, here am I, generally law-abiding, being treated like a prospective criminal by a waitress and manageress in the Miller and Carter restaurant.

I realise, of course, that it is not entirely their fault. If they are caught selling drinks to an underage person they will be heavily fined. The fault actually lies with the stupid people in local government, councillors, and the police, who make these stupid rules and the so-called responsible people who interpret them.

However, staff should at least be trained to know the difference between a 23-year-old and an 18-year-old. That's a five year gap. And they should be able to take a parent's word as a guarantee. After all, I like to think I still have some rights, including an expectation to be believed!

So my message to Miller and Carter is that if this is the way you treat your reasonably regular customers I will have second thoughts about using your restaurant again. After all, the food wasn't that spectacular considering the price you charged!

Footnote: I haven't worked out the logic of refusing to serve an alcoholic drink to someone who is not actually paying for it. There would be no law against giving an alcoholic drink to a 17-year-old in my own house. And the laughable thing is: if I offered my son a drink any more potent than cider, he would refuse it. As I said before, he is not a drinker!

Addendum: A worrying thought has been nagging at me since this incident so tonight (20th March) I went online to discover what the law actually says about underage drinkers. And yes, it confirms that the Miller and Carter staff had no right to refuse to serve my son alcohol.

Any person aged 16 or over can be served beer, wine or cider if it is for consumption with a table meal at relevant premises and the person is accompanied by an individual aged 18 or over.

I have registered a complaint on Miller and Carters' website and it has been acknowledged with an auto-responder. So let's see what they have to say for themselves.

The reply from Mitchells and Butlers

On 26th March I received this reply from Mitchells and Butlers who presumably own Miller and Carters:

As a retailer of alcohol, we are mindful of our duty of care to our customers, staff and the wider community. It is therefore the policy of Mitchells & Butler not to allow under 18's to consume alcohol on our premises under any circumstances.

Furthermore, should a guest look under the age of 21, then identification will be asked for, of which only the following will be accepted:

  1. Proof of age card with 'PASS' accredited hologram
  2. International passport
  3. UK photograph driving licence - full or provisional

I can confirm that on this occasion the staff were acting according to company policy.

Yours sincerely

Kayleigh Thomas
(Actual signature appears to read ?? Bean - Mr Bean perhaps)
Guest Services Representative

Editorial Comment:

So there we have it: the staff were acting according to a company policy which appears to disregard the law. The same company policy presumably allows staff to call customers liars and embarrass them in front of other diners.

Kayleigh Thomas - the Guest Services Representative who can't be bothered to sign her own letters - specifically says guests who look under the age of 21 will be asked for identification but the waitress who served us said my son looked under 18. In this regard, she was backed up by her manageress so clearly neither of them is particularly well trained.

But what really galls me is that Thomas' letter contains not a hint of apology or even concern that they might have offended a customer. Like so many others these days, she was not prepared to admit her company might have made a mistake.

As it happens, Miller and Carter's meals are quite expensive and not particularly good so I certainly won't be dining there again. My starter was prawn cocktail - a starter I have enjoyed many times in the past, often at proper restaurants. Yet I have never before been served one with lettuce that the kitchen staff could not be bothered to slice into manageable pieces and I have never ever been expected to eat the salad with a desert spoon!

But, hey, if you're happy to be served with an expensive but average quality meal by waiting staff who dispute your honesty and integrity, I can highly recommend the Jacobean Barn at Bexley.

Kenneth Munden of Bexleyheath Kent writes (on 10 October 2012):

We visited today with friends and had a nice meal with good service.

Editorial Comment:

Pleased to hear it. I also have had some good meals at the restaurant on previous occasions but it wasn't good on the night in question. But I think you have rather missed the point about my article yet, strangely, your vote was that you agreed with it.

Putting aside my comments about the meal itself, the point I was making is that Miller & Carter broke the law by refusing to serve an alcoholic drink to my son. I was paying the bill, not my son. So he wasn't buying the drink. And even if he had been 16 he would been entitled to drink beer, cider or wine for consumption with a meal in the company of an adult aged 18 or over.

"Many men stumble across the truth ... but most manage to pick themselves up and continue as if nothing had happened."

Winston S Churchill

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