On Wednesday morning, nj.com reported that New Jersey authorities raided 29 bars and restaurants as part of “Operation Swill” a statewide effort to crack down to establishments suspected of refilling “top shelf” liquors with cheaper alternatives.
Using a ploy as old as bartending itself, customers who ordered expensive, premium liquor were sold, unbeknownst to them, low-grade alternatives. This subterfuge was designed to increase profits by selling inexpensive liquors at premium prices.
Wednesday morning over one hundred investigators raided twenty-nine suspected locations.
Interestingly the investigation began as a result of customer complaints and confidential sources. Evidence against the establishments was reportedly confirmed by using new technologies to test the quality of the liquor bought while on the premises.
The following locations were part of Wednesday’s raid:
- Applebee’s, Kearny
- Bell’s Tavern, Lambertville
- Blackthorn Restaurant, Parsippany
- The Brick House, Wyckoff
- Brunswick Grove, East Brunswick
- Café 34, Matawan
- Cucina Calandara, Fairfield
- Graziano’s Ristorante, Chesilhurst
- Italian Affair, Glassboro
- Murray’s, Dover
- Railroad Café, East Rutherford
- Ruby Tuesday, Bridgewater
- Sona Thirteen, Morristown
- Sunset Tavern, Burlington
- TGI Fridays, Clifton
- TGI Fridays, East Hanover
- TGI Fridays, East Windsor
- TGI Fridays, Freehold
- TGI Fridays, Hamilton
- TGI Fridays, Hazlet
- TGI Fridays, Linden
- TGI Fridays, Marlboro
- TGI Fridays, North Brunswick
- TGI Fridays, Old Bridge
- TGI Fridays, Piscataway
- TGI Fridays, Springfield
- TGI Fridays, West Orange
- Villari’s Lakeside, Gloucester Township
- Yesterday’s Marmora
Thirteen of the raided locations were TGI Fridays managed by the Braid Group the largest TGI Fridays franchise operator in the United States.
While New Jersey officials comb over the seized records the whole affair has left New Jersey restaurant goers feeling quite uneasy and with good reason. Local resident Cleveland Cunningham is quoted as saying “If they’re doing that, what else are they doing to cut corners? If they’re skimming the alcohol, what about the food?”
Personally, I find it highly suspicious that the thirteen raided TGI Fridays were all coincidentally defrauding their customers in the same way. It seems to strongly suggest that management in some form or fashion, was directing the various locations to perpetrate this fraud.
If so this is highly disturbing that that Braid Group was using its managerial power to defraud TGI Fridays customers on such a large scale.
What I find truly amazing is that customers were able to tell the difference between the high end liquors and their low quality counterparts at these locations known more for cocktails. They then complained to the restaurant and authorities. It was also refreshing to hear that confidential informants, which I took to mean bartenders working at the establishment, confirmed the practice with authorities prior to the raids.
In the end I suppose consumers should always be suspicious that what they order isn’t what they are getting, especially if they cannot inspect the source themselves. While I suppose this ruse could be done to craft beer enthusiasts I think the annoyance of personally rebottling expensive beers with cheaper beers would not be worth the effort. Though perhaps mislabeling a tapped keg as a rare and thus more expensive beer might be possible.
The moral of the story is to be vigilant and know what you are drinking. Bars and restaurants guilty of this type of fraud should immediately and permanently lose their liquor licenses.