By Jennie McKeon
SANDESTIN — Monday morning, Sunset Bay Cafe Owner Bryce Jarvis started his week by turning away an underage student who tried to order a mimosa with a fake ID.
“Fake IDs at 10 a.m. My favorite time of the year,” he posted sarcastically on Facebook.
The truth is underage drinkers are a major pain for retailers and restaurant employees. As technology becomes more advanced, so do the illicit IDs.
“It gets harder and harder each year,” said Jarvis. “We go through classes four to five times a year. We re-train every three months as we get new employees.”
Law enforcement is also constantly on the lookout for fake IDs, which can be more prevalent during the spring break season. They can range from “poorly done to very sophisticated,” said Michele Nicholson, spokeswoman for the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office. She advises businesses to look for differences in weight and thickness between authentic and fake IDs. Also look for irregularities such as bumps and ridges and consistency in font and color patterns.
Tim Edwards, co-owner of Fudpucker’s, said it’s important for any employee who serves alcohol to know the law.
“It’s a big area of liability … and it’s not just spring break,” he said. “We have some minors that tell us ‘Back home I can have a drink with my parents.’ Well, it’s not back home.”
When employees do come across fake IDs, Jarvis said he can’t legally confiscate the IDs, so he simply refuses service. Same goes for Edwards at Fudpucker’s.
“Sometimes kids grumble, but usually they leave … they don’t want us to call law enforcement,” he said.
Nicholson said restaurant employees could be walking a “thin line” when determining that an ID is fake. When in doubt, ask law enforcement, she said. So far this year, OCSO has not confiscated any IDs.
“If it is not authentic, it will be confiscated and the person in possession of it will be arrested,” she added.
In some cases, underage drinkers may try to use IDs of their older relatives.
“That’s a tough one,” said Corey Dobridnia, spokeswoman for the Walton County Sheriff’s Office. “It never hurts to ask about the information on the card, see if they start fumbling. It’s still considered a fake ID. It’s still the same charge.”
At the WCSO mobile station across from Whale’s Tail in Miramar Beach, deputies run IDs through their equipment to see if a match comes up in the Department of Motor Vehicles. She recalls at least one instance last week when a spring breaker insisted an ID belonged to him even though it did not show up in the system.
“One deputy told me if he rolls up on a group of 21-year-olds, they have their IDs out,” he said. “When they tell you, ‘I left my ID at home,’ chances are they aren’t 21.”
As for restaurants, she said it’s up to employees to use their best judgment. And they may want to err on the side of caution. Serving alcohol to minors could result in hundreds of dollars in fines, jail time and even a driver’s license suspension or revocation.
“Once you serve a minor, then it’s on you,” she said.