Some restaurants in one of the region's most prominent communities are under scrutiny for not following liquor laws designed to prevent underage kids from buying booze.
Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control investigators checked every restaurant in the county this year to see which restaurants would serve booze to the agency's underage "tester," a girl in plainclothes equipped only with her real driver's license, which shows she's underage.
Records reviewed by the News4 I-Team show 80 percent of the county's restaurants passed the test in 2014 -- a marked improvement from previous years.
But one community fared particularly poorly: The Rio neighborhood at the Washingtonian Center in Gaithersburg. Records show a 50 percent failure rate on compliance checks this year – seven of 14 restaurants, including the Macaroni Grill and the neighboring Guapo's restaurant.
Some violations result from inexperienced staff, investigators say.
"Constant turnover in the serving industry," investigator Lee Williams said.
Staff at most of those seven restaurants never asked the undercover buyer for a license, he said.
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The News4 I-Team learned operators of the Joe's Crab Shack restaurant in the Rio community hosted an emergency liquor law training session last week staged by the county.
The seven Rio restaurants aren't the only restaurants in the county to fail compliance checks. Seventy others sold to the underage buyer, too, the I-Team learned.
But the failure rate at Rio's restaurants is a blemish in a county in which restaurants are increasingly vigilant about keeping booze away from the under-21 crowd, investigators said.
Guapo's says it paid the financial citation and the county renewed its license Tuesday.
A spokesperson for Macaroni Grill sent this statement:
“Macaroni Grill has rolled out an alcohol awareness program, and all front-of-house employees and management have had third-party TIPS training and have gone through Montgomery County’s ALERT training.”