Perhaps Too Sensitive, Chipotle Fumbles, Again - By John Hendrie

They are in the news again, this time over refusing a guest an alcoholic beverage, because he was using his Mexican Passport as identification.

Chipotle This may have been an over-reaction by the restaurant manager in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, when a Laurencio Valadez Estrada, a Mexican National, tried to buy a cerveza.  As you may recall, Chipotle is already in hot water, reportedly having hired undocumented workers.  I am not sure that the incidents are aligned, but they surely reflect some of the hurdles our Hospitality businesses face.  Perhaps, the CEO of Chipolte needs to return to the corporate offices and attend to business, rather than promote a television series.

Two issues – carding for identification and hiring practices.

On the ID carding side, I am far removed from the age where this happens all the time (my gray hair gives me away, plus, I do not drink).  Whether or not we agree with the age of 21 as the entre for alcoholic entitlement and resultant bliss, it is the Law in most states, and we train our servers, bartenders and Crowd Control specialists in the art of validating identification – primarily through Driver licenses.  One would think that a Passport proves age at an even greater validation level – beyond DNA (which has nothing to do with recipient age), a Passport is the top identification document.  Driver Licenses can be tampered with (as a youngster, I was pretty good with a razor blade and typewriter, as were most of our friends) or even purchased on the black market.  And, Minnesota has on their books, probably like most States, that a National’s Passport is sufficient for identification.  So, on the surface, the Chipolte Manager, may have erred (plus, a little common sense goes a long way – the complainant was 37).  However, carding is still tricky.

The hiring process is even more devilish, for our mantra in Hospitality (hotels, restaurants, gaming, entertainment, etc.) has always been “give me warm bodies”.  With our high turnover, this revolving door almost invites problems.  Administratively, we can try to meet Federal and State requirements, but too often a “blind eye” is turned.  It is not conspiratorial, rather “ho-hum”.  We have laws, Immigration is a thorny issue, the debate goes nowhere (volume only up in vitriol), and the INS does its job – we get raided.  Chipotle was the recent target, but any other chain is just as suspect (scrambling, I am sure, now, but all this will pass until the next surge).

Years ago I was responsible for the staffing effort at a major new Hotel, opening in downtown LA.  We interviewed over 15,000 people for some 1,500 spots in about three months.  New Hire processing for this crowd  was intense – paperwork, forms – you know the drill.  One step, which was unusual and dramatic, was the last – please go through that door for the last piece of the process – all new hires met with INS in that other room.  The hotel certainly tried to comply and was mostly successful at that specific point in time.

Greater sensitivity would help, rather than business as usual.  Mostly, liability and bad press create some resolve, but this is only transitory.  However, when money becomes involved either through settlement or lawyer fees, we tend to pay attention.  Cash outlay, the great equalizer and din to that “Tin Ear”!


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