June 25th, 2010


My Dear Gordon letter

I am, most of the time, an easy-going person. I try not to get worked up over little things, and I try not to take things personally when they're clearly not. But sometimes something will happen that just plain makes me angry.

My daughter turned 21 a week ago. One of the things she and we had been looking forward to was that when we went out to dinner, if she wanted a drink, she could have one. Sounds obvious, right? It's a state law in (I think) every state in the Union: Under 21, they won't serve you booze. Over 21, no problem.

Not at Gordon Biersch, actually. I don't know how many people out there know this chain of brew pubs. It's nationwide and doing well, especially in downtown Rockville. They take reservations, and they have a nice loyalty program, so we have been regular and very good customers since one opened near us in Rockville's new Town Center.

Tonight we went there for a nice relaxing dinner. My daughter knew she would be carded, so she brought her ID, but when she presented it, the server took one look and told her she couldn't serve her. Not because it was a fake ID (it wasn't). Not because the picture didn't look enough like her (it's a good likeness), not because it showed it sign of being tampered with (it was in pristine shape), but solely because it was a "vertical ID." When the Motor Vehicle Administration issues a driver's license or learner's permit, they print the photo and the text in a horizontal orientation unless the person is under 21, in which case they print it vertically. When a horizontal ID is presented, it it's obvious to the servers and bouncers that the customer is over 21.

But a license doesn't magically change once your birthday happens. It's analog, not digital, and in order to get a new one, you have to go to the MVA, something that can take hours and has to be done during MVA office hours. So if an ID is vertical, it doesn't mean the person is under 21; it means you have to read the birth date to figure their age. Gordon Biersch has decided it is too risky to allow anyone in their employ to assess the ID, make sure it's really that person, then read the date, do the math and say yes, you can buy a beer. It's much safer and simpler for them to say "No horizontal ID, no alcohol."

Our waitress offered to send the manager over; we said yes, expecting that said manager would in fact do more than parrot the same excuse, but in fact he didn't. GB's policy as he expressed it is absolute. He did not ask to see my daughter's ID; he did not do a single thing except say that this was a corporate decision and he was not going to go counter to it. I suggested that BG were, in effect, writing their own law on who could drink legally. He said it was no different from GB declining to serve Guiness. Personally, I consider picking and choosing customers to be a different matter from choosing the menu. I don't like to blame employees for management decisions, but this man was either an excellent actor or he had no problem with this policy.

I could understand the waitress not being allowed to serve someone with a vertical ID without having the manager assess the situation. But he didn't do that! The fact that my daughter was with her parents didn't matter (even though Maryland is enlightened enough to allow parents to let their own kids drink at home even under age 21). That fact that she had a legally issued photo ID did not matter. The fact that she had only had a week since she could have gotten a horizontal ID didn't matter.

Such rigid thinking makes me grind my teeth! After all, if she was going to cheat, she would have had a fake horizontal ID! It was difficult to enjoy dinner after that display of unbending stupidity. GB clearly does not need our business; there is a line out the door on Saturday nights. Well that's a good thing for them because I just unsubscribed from their email notices and I am not going back. I think it's a unique form of age discrimination, and I don't plan to support it.

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