The franchisee of 13 TGI Friday’s in New Jersey was fined $500,000 by the state’s attorney general after an investigation found customers asking for top-shelf liquor were actually served the cheap stuff.
Briad Group, the franchisee, agreed to the fines in exchange for not contesting the allegations, Acting New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman and New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Director Michael Halfacre announced in a statement Wednesday.
“Briad’s restaurants were scamming customers by serving them a cheap substitute for what they ordered,” Hoffman said. “This unlawful practice took advantage of consumers who were cheated out of what they thought they were purchasing. This fine should send a clear message to every bar and restaurant throughout New Jersey that customers should get what they pay for every time, without exception.”
The investigation, dubbed “Operation Swill,” involved raids of 13 TGI Friday’s restaurants owned by Briad that led to the seizure of 250 bottles of liquor.
The settlement between Briad and state authorities includes the franchisee agreeing to employ an ABC-appointed monitor until June 30, 2014.
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“The compliance officer will have the full cooperation of Briad’s restaurants and its employees as well as access to all books, records, compensation programs and any other information the monitor deems appropriate,” the state said. “The compliance officer will then report his findings to the ABC. In addition, Briad will make internal changes that include updating employee training and inventory software.”
The $500,000 in fines for the TGI Friday’s restaurants includes $400,000 for the violations and $100,000 for the cost of the “Operation Swill” investigation.
Halfacre said the violations are not minor.
“Drink substitution threatens the integrity of the alcoholic beverage industry, and retailers, wholesalers and customers all lose because of this illegal activity,” he said. “The financial penalty imposed on Briad should serve as a deterrent to licensees, and we are optimistic that the corrective actions taken by Briad will prevent any further deceptive practices.”
The TGI Friday’s restaurants were accused of filling premium-brand bottles with non-premium brands “in an effort to deceive the customer and increase their profits. The customer paid for the premium brand but was instead, unbeknownst to the customer, poured the non-premium brand.”