A Michigan woman says a 4-year-old girl and two teenagers were served liquor at the Outback Steakhouse restaurant near Kings Island in Mason last month.
Kim Erhart told The Enquirer’s Jennifer Edwards Baker on Thursday her children, 15 and 13, and 4-year-old niece were served sample-size portions of a slushy fruit drink containing vodka and peach schnapps while they waited for a table at Outback on Kings Center Court the afternoon of Aug. 27.
Edwards Baker has more details:
Erhart’s family had driven down from Camden, Mich., a few days prior and was spending time at Kings Island amusement park nearby. They decided to leave the park Aug. 27 for a late lunch at the Australian-themed steakhouse.
Ehrhart said she specifically asked the young female hostess as she served the drinks if they contained alcohol and was told they did not.
The drinks were served again once the family sat down at a table – and this time Ehrhart said she finally tasted one.
“I drank mine and I was like, ‘Whoa, wait a minute! These have alcohol in them!’” Ehrhart recalled Thursday.
Ehrhart said her sister, Kelly Kerwin, who is the 4-year-old’s mother, flagged down a manager and asked if the drinks had alcohol.
“The manager said, ‘Yes, they do,’” she said. “And he started grabbing them off the table real quick, all the little cups. He just started swooping them up off the table real fast. He called the owner and the owner said to give us his business card. He wanted us to contact him and pay for our meal while we were there.”
The family ate dinner, which was picked up by the restaurant, and returned to Kings Island, where they had been earlier in the day. None of the children appeared to be intoxicated or sick and did not require medical attention, Ehrhart said.
The family returned to Michigan on Sunday and called the owner of the restaurant Monday.
“He said he couldn’t sleep, he was worried sick about it,” she said. “He seemed like a really nice guy. He said, ‘What can I do for you guys, is there anything I can do?’”
Ehrhart asked him to donate to the family’s church food pantry. She said he agreed.
“Our local food pantry is running real low,” she said. “I just figured everybody wins this way. It was a lesson learned. I am sure they are not going to serve alcohol again. I was so excited. You know the times. Lots of families come through this pantry.”
She said she never considered filing a lawsuit against Outback Steakhouse – and still doesn’t.
“We are not sue-happy people,” she said. “We just want them to do the right thing and that was all.”
But then the family was asked to contact the restaurant franchise’s legal department in Florida. That’s where they were told the hostess had been fired, their meal had been comped, so the company felt there was no need for the donation.
That outraged the family even more.
“They went back on their promise,” Ehrhart said. “I think that is so shady. I am just pretty disappointed right now because here I am trying to teach my kids alcohol is not good. I am still kind of blown away by it all.”
In a statement, Joseph Kadow, executive vice president of OSI Restaurant Partners of Tampa, Fla., apologized for the incident.
“We were serving samples of one of our specialty cocktails to adults waiting to be seated,” Kadow’s statement reads. “Our server failed to inform the adults in the Kerwin family that the drink contained alcohol. A member of the family then gave the sample to two of their children. Our server gave samples only to the adults in the Kerwin party and was not present when the adults gave the samples to the children. Regardless, we should have informed the adults the samples contained alcohol. We sincerely regret this mistake and apologize to the Kerwin family. We have terminated the server’s employment and will no longer serve samples of alcohol beverages.”
Although alcoholic drinks will no longer be served to guests waiting for tables, customers waiting for tables can still purchase drinks. The restaurant referred all calls Thursday to its corporate office.
This is the first known local case of a restaurant accidentally giving youngsters alcohol. The trend has occurred nationally in places like Madison Heights, Mich., where Applebee’s restaurant chain changed how it serves juice after a 15-month-old was accidentally given alcohol mixed with apple juice in April.
In March, a 2-year-old was served alcoholic sangria, not orange juice, at an Olive Garden in Lakeland, Fla. Both children have recovered, but the incidents sparked negative media coverage for the eateries.
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