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Mystery Shoppers are moving forward

BY ABIGAIL MEIER | SEPTEMBER 12, 2013 5:00 AM

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Iowa City officials have decided to move forward with the Mystery Shopper Program downtown. 
This program is intended to help businesses with liquor licenses pass compliance tests.

At the Partnership for Alcohol meeting Wednesday, members decided to investigate further the potential for implementing this program in order to improve the downtown bar and restaurant experience. 

Bonnie Weldon, the owner of Sneak Peak, 3460 Highway 1, said she could help businesses practice passing compliance checks without actually fining them if they fail.

“Our goal would be to try to train all employees so that they card everyone to avoid the charge of underage fines,” she said.

Weldon said that if a business owner were to adopt the program, someone would enter the business anonymously and determine if the employees card the customer.  If the employees failed, she would help give the necessary retraining to the business.

“When we come in, we are not there to punish,” Weldon said. “We are there to let them know that they are there to make sure they card everyone that walks through that door.” 

The program is paid on a per-shop basis and designed to tailor to the specific needs of the business.

“Mystery shoppers” tailor their activities to the desires of the business owners, but some of the things they would do include buying one or more drinks, ordering a meal, or even just checking if employees are carding. 

“I think we do need more organization in the restaurant community,” said Nancy Bird, the executive director of the Downtown District. “Bringing up positive methods on how to do compliance checks is a slam dunk.”  

Not only will this program help businesses pass compliance checks, it would ideally bring awareness to more employees.  Weldon said she only uses volunteers between the ages of 21 to 24 who serve as the undercover shoppers.

George Etre, the owner of Takanami, 219 Iowa Ave., and Formosa, 221 E. College St., said that on nights in which restaurants and bar owners see roughly 100 IDs a night, they may accidently have one ID slip that could potentially threaten the business’ liquor license. 

“I think it’s a great resource and the step in the right direction,” he said.  “Anytime you make anything free, I think it’s a great resource.” 

Jim Rinella, the owner of Airliner restaurant, said that he wants to provide great collegiate experience for families and friends and would gladly accept a program that would help ensure his business could do so.

“We would welcome any program that will help us regulate things legally and ethically.”


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