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Erik Burgess, Published February 03 2014

Santa Lucia owner wants Fargo to waive fine because servers class didn't cover how to use calculators

FARGO – A longtime restaurant owner here is protesting a city-imposed penalty after her eatery failed an alcohol compliance test last year.

Santa Lucia failed a random test in December after serving a beer to a minor, but owner Maria Wilson blames the public health office, arguing its mandatory server training courses don’t properly teach how to use a calculator to determine a patron’s age.

A young woman asked for a Bud Light at Santa Lucia and was carded, but the server determined – erroneously – that her February 1993 birthdate made her 21. The server double-checked with another server, who made the same mistake, Wilson said.

“My staff did what they were supposed to do. I watched them,” she said. “If I wasn’t here, and I didn’t witness it, I wouldn’t have even believed what happened. I had to laugh … I said I cannot believe you both stood there and added on a calculator, both engineering students, and you got it wrong. Oh my God. That’s scary.”

Robyn Litke Sall, alcohol and tobacco prevention coordinator for Fargo Cass Public Health, said the server who failed the test didn’t attend the training.

“I’m really confused as to where she’s (Wilson) equating the failure to the server training class,” Litke Sall said.

The courses are mandatory for any server who needs to handle alcohol, said Steve Sprague, city auditor. Sprague said the courses cost $15 and are good for three years.

A first offense costs the restaurant $500, but that penalty can be waived if both the server and manager involved have been through the training course. A second offense within a year costs $750 and a third offense is a $1,000 fine plus a two-day suspension of the liquor license, Sprague said.

Servers who give alcohol to minors face more stringent criminal charges.

Wilson said she makes all her servers take the training course before they can serve. She said she also takes the courses. The compliance checks should be helping, not penalizing, restaurants, she said.

“They’re not supposed to be there to look for fining you and humiliating you to everyone else in Fargo, putting you in the newspaper,” Wilson said. “That’s what it’s become. It’s become a joke.”

Santa Lucia failed two compliance tests last year. The first failure was in March, when a server didn’t card an underage patron. Wilson accepted the blame for that incident.

But she wants the latest fine waived and the server training course improved.

“When you’re charging for a course, it should be done right,” she said.

Litke Sall said the courses do teach servers how to calculate age based on “today’s date,” and city law puts the responsibility on restaurant owners to make sure their staff is trained.

There will be a public hearing on the matter at 5:15 p.m. March 3 in the City Commission room.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518