A downtown Victoria bar and restaurant that has had a clean record with the B.C. Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch since it opened 10 years ago has been fined $7,000 for serving alcohol to a minor.
In a recent branch decision, Little Jumbo Restaurant and Bar at 506 Fort St. was disciplined for the infraction despite it being a first offence. Little Jumbo could have been fined as much as $11,000, according to the decision, and/or had its licence suspended from seven to 11 days.
The decision said the licensee, Little Jumbo, admitted it had served a minor alcohol on March 24, 2023, but was using a defence of “due diligence” through its staff training and business structure. That defence, however, was rejected.
“The licensee noted that this whole experience has been a humbling, humiliating and distressing experience for all staff concerned,” read the decision.
On the date in question, a branch inspector was conducting what is known as a minors as agents program (MAP) inspection. The branch hires minors aged 16 to 18 years old to help carry out the inspection.
The inspector arrived first at 5:03 p.m., said the decision, and sat down in Little Jumbo, a popular fine dining restaurant and bar. The minor agent, who is 17 years old, then came in and was sat at the bar by the restaurant’s host.
“A male bartender asked the minor agent if he was there for food and drinks,” reads the decision. “The minor agent replied ‘yes’ and then ordered a ‘Pathway Pale Ale’ from the menu. The male bartender did not ask the minor agent for identification and proceeded to provide the minor agent with a tall clear glass containing an amber liquid. The restaurant menu showed ‘Pathway Pale Ale’ as 16 ounces of beer with 5% alcohol by volume.”
The minor agent, who didn’t drink the beer, then asked for the bill, paid and left.
“The liquor inspector testified that he was able to hear the conversation between the bartender and the minor agent,” said the decision. “He testified that the lighting at the bar was quite dim. He stated that the minor agent had the beer in front of him for about one minute prior to exiting the restaurant.”
Little Jumbo had several people testify in its defence.
“All the licensee’s witnesses testified that they take liquor service very seriously and they are quick to respond, if ever, to any issues,” said the decision. “The witnesses referred to the restaurant’s focus on a more mature clientele and that the instances of minors requesting alcohol are pretty rare. They also referred to the early closing time which discourages late night drinkers from coming into the restaurant.
“The floor manager described the ID policy in the restaurant. If a customer appears to be 30 or under, staff are instructed to request two pieces of ID as set out in the SIR manual. The restaurant gets a lot of tourists; often they have to refuse liquor service if the ID presented is not one of the acceptable pieces of ID. When asked how the age of 30 was chosen, the floor manager responded that it seems to be the common guideline in the industry as it leaves little room for error. The floor manager added that staff are regularly told that if in any doubt about requesting ID, or they are reluctant to ask for whatever reason, to seek out him or the bar manager who will then ask.
“As to the type of training given to new staff on how to know when to request ID, the floor manager explained that they tell staff to ID anyone requesting alcohol who appears young – person may have a beard or tattoo. He stated there are no specific features and that they leave it to individual staff to make a determination as to whether someone appears to be 30 or under – that it comes down to judgment.”
Little Jumbo also presented a letter from the bartender in question, who was working their first shift alone after four shifts of shadowing and being shadowed.
“I was much more focused on the behaviour of the actual board officer (the liquor inspector) who seemed very sketchy, moving tables, being weird, than I was in anything else,” the bartender wrote to the branch. “He stuck out and was behaving oddly and was quite distracting. His demeanour seemed off – I was certainly focused on that.”
That point was specifically addressed and rejected in the branch decision.
“As the licensee’s witnesses emphasized several times in their testimony how unusual it was for a lone customer to appear immediately at opening and for another customer to be moving from one table to another, I wish to comment on the question of distraction as an excuse for why a contravention occurred,” said the decision. “The restaurant was not at all busy at 5:00 pm, even though staff would naturally be preoccupied with ensuring it was ready for the evening guests. Distractions are an inevitable part of any licensed establishment and may occur at any time. This does not excuse a relaxation of the rules around making ID requests.”
The full decision can be found here.