‘Tis Always the Season for ATC Compliance

Meetings of the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (ATC) include discussions that impact the hospitality industry and the most recent meeting on December 3, 2019, inspired us to share important enforcement information and reminders for best practices for compliance.

Possible suspension of permits, rather than the monetary fines, for serving minors
The commissioners had a lively discussion with the ATC prosecutor regarding whether the fines imposed for serving minors sufficiently deter bad actors. The issue of fines versus permit suspensions has been a topic of discussion in alcohol permitting circles as of late and the ATC made clear during the meeting that they support suspension as a penalty for serving minors in “egregious” situations. Specifically, Chairman Cook stated that he would “encourage” the prosecutor to use suspension for permittees who are repeat offenders (e.g., two or three violations in two to four years). Commissioners Grubb and Krauss voiced their support for the same and Commissioner Krauss suggested that the ATC may also need seek an increase in the limit of monetary penalties from the Indiana legislature so that the fines would actually serve as deterrents. The current maximum fine is $1,000 per violation.   

Make sure your address and contact information are up to date with the ATC
Several permittees have missed their escrow hearing dates due to their not receiving the notice letter from the ATC. The commissioners reiterated several times that the ATC will not be sympathetic to pleas that a permittee didn’t receive notice because the ATC sent it to an old address. Period. Hard stop. The ATC will use the address that is on the last-filed renewal or application. Make sure your current contact information is on file with the ATC.

MQ Filings
While not discussed in the ATC meeting, there have been ongoing discussions with excise and the ATC regarding whether a business should file a Manager’s Questionnaire (MQ) on file for every manager at a location or just the “general” manager. The question arose due to recently-issued violations for an employee who tells an excise officer that he/she is the “manager” on duty and he/she isn’t the manager listed on the MQ on file. It is common to list only the general manager on the MQ. One way to protect against such a violation is to train employees not to call themselves a “manager” unless they have an MQ on file. For example, if the manager with the MQ is not at the restaurant or store, then the employee in charge should tell the excise officer that they are “the supervisor” or “the employee in charge” but not the manager and explain when the manager will return. While not an air-tight defense, it provides some protection. Alternatively, businesses can file an MQ for every employee that might be a manager on any given shift. And regardless of the employee’s title, for restaurants (and package stores) they must have a valid ATC-issued server’s permit on their person while on shift.