St. Petersburg restaurant and bar owners have been put on notice: Don’t serve hamburgers to anyone under 21 unless accompanied by parent or legal guardian. Restaurants serving alcohol have been hand delivered letters by uniformed officers advising them of a 43 year old city ordinance banning the presence of those under 21 if unaccompanied by the legal guardian. The police department is stating they are working to decrease underage drinking in the city as the summer nears. However, interviews with local restaurant owners indicates this is an unnecessary policy that could harm business without having any significant impact on the problem. The ordinance itself may lack legal teeth to be used in the intended fashion.
The letter was distributed under the orders of St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway in May. SPPD spokesperson Yolanda Fernandez indicated “this letter is simply intended to reduce underage drinking and the car accidents and injuries that can result.“ The letter quotes a 1973 ordinance* (modified twice since then) that appears to have contradictory language. One paragraph indicates that no person who sells alcoholic beverages “shall allow any person under 21 years of age to enter or remain in the place of business unaccompanied by a parent or lawful guardian.” However, the following paragraph then indicates that nothing in the ordinance “shall be construed to prohibit minors…from entering any restaurant as long as minors do not possess and are not sold, served or allowed to consume alcoholic beverages.”
Two local restaurant owners were interviewed for this story. They indicated they were very concerned about the additional regulatory and law enforcement burden that could be placed on their small businesses. Both have been kept anonymous, but indicated it would be an unnecessary and expensive burden to expect them to be required to ask for ID and block those under 21 from entering their restaurants. The restaurant owners point out that they are very careful about verifying the age of those purchasing alcohol under many other strict laws. Furthermore police have operated sting operations to uncover illegal sale of alcohol to minors which are usually very effective. One owner indicated that business is good for alcohol sales to those over 21 and there is no need to sell to minors which are far more likely to obtain alcohol illegally in convenience stores.
Mayor Kriseman’s office has been contacted and was unaware of the police activity within a week of its implementation (according to Mayoral Chief of Staff Kevin King) The SPPD confirmed the decision did not come from the Mayor. As of last week, the Mayor’s office was still not commenting on the action. SPPD Spokesperson Fernandez indicated that this action was prompted in part by a Central Avenue establishment, “the Platform”, advertising an “18+ dance party” in Ybor city to attract cross-bay business. Apparently the event would happen only on one night a week, but was later cancelled. The platform is listed as a “gay bar” and is now closed according to this site. Apparently this establishment only served alcohol and not food.
Analysis of the ordinance seems to indicate that there would be no basis for fining, penalizing or arresting any restaurant owner for serving a person under 21 in their restaurant. This appears to be an attempt by the Police department to ask for caution by restaurant owners rather than an attempt to place new penalties upon them. That said, there has been a chill sent through the local service industry by this action that needs to be addressed. Strict enforcement of this ordinance could have a substantial negative impact on revenue, endangering the economic viability of what are predominantly small businesses.
The Sunbeam Times will be following this issue over the summer to see what impact it is having on the community.
(a) It shall be unlawful for any person under 21 years of age to enter or remain on the licensed premises of an establishment licensed to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises unaccompanied by a parent or lawful guardian. No person who is a vendor of alcoholic beverages shall allow any person under 21 years of age to enter or remain in the place of business unaccompanied by a parent or lawful guardian.
(b) Nothing contained in this section shall be construed to prohibit minors from entering any establishment holding a license to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises when accompanied by a parent or lawful guardian nor from entering any restaurant as long as minors do not possess and are not sold, served or allowed to consume alcoholic beverages.
(Code 1973, § 5-20(b), (d); Code 1992, § 3-13; Ord. No. 568-G, § 3, 11-21-2002)