Another toddler served alcohol at restaurant

By Tribune newspapers
Posted April 13 at 12:43 p.m.

ORLANDO — A 2-year-old boy was accidentally served sangria instead of orange juice at a Lakeland Olive Garden last month, prompting Orlando-based Darden Restaurants to caution its employees to be more careful with alcoholic drinks.

Earlier this week, a toddler was mistakenly given a small amount of alcohol at a Detroit-area Applebee’s restaurant — because a mixed drink was mislabeled as apple juice.

Jill VanHeest of Lakeland said she took her son Nikolai to the hospital after the March 31 incident, where he was given fluids and released a couple of hours later. He has suffered no lasting effects, she said.

Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers blamed the error on “a failure to follow our strict operating procedures.

“The person poured the wrong container into the child’s cup,” he said. “We have absolutely no tolerance for failure to follow our operating procedures. We took swift and appropriate action to deal with the situation.”

But Jeffers would not say whether anyone was fired or give details about how the restaurants try to keep such mistakes from happening.

VanHeest said it took employees about a half hour to realize something was wrong. She said she noticed a problem when Nikolai began acting up.

“His eyes were completely dilated and red,” she said.

A waiter removed the child’s drink and said he needed to get her a new one, but didn’t tell her anything more, she said.

“When he came back, I said, ‘I need to know what was in the cup in case he has some kind of reaction,’ ” said VanHeest, who owns a restaurant with her husband. “He said, ‘the manager will be right over, but it was tropical sangria.’ ”

VanHeest has an attorney but isn’t sure whether she will sue. VanHeest’s attorney contacted the news media in Tampa this week after reports surfaced that a Michigan Applebee’s accidentally served a margarita to another toddler.

After the accident, Applebee’s said it will now pour apple juice from single-serve containers served at the table.

But Jeffers said no such changes are going to take place at Darden’s restaurants, which also include Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse.

“There’s nothing that we’re going to change,” he said. “We think our standards are very strong. In this case, it was a failure to follow them.”

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  1. mike April 13 at 12:54 pm

    Oh get over it…

  2. LAB April 13 at 1:56 pm

    Very dangerous accident, Mike. Getting over it is not an option. Children’s beverages should be served in single-serving containers at the table to be dispensed by the parents. And FYI, my family has owned and owns restaurants in the Cleveland area for over 100 years.

  3. Djeen April 13 at 4:16 pm

    This toddler was not hurt by having a small amount of sangria. Many toddlers manage to ingest booze at some point and a small amount does not pose a problem. She does not need a lawyer and I don’t believe the case has any merit. Mike is right, get OVER it.

  4. Mom of 5 April 13 at 4:46 pm

    it is ultimately YOUR responsibility what YOUR child ingests. I always tested my kids food at a restaurant to make sure it wasn’t too hot in temperature or overly spicy. (We once had a waiter mistake Bar-b-que sauce for French dressing on a salad.) I always took a sip from any cup that I had not filled MYSELF… only once did I catch spoiled milk – but it was MY responsibility… not a busy waiter / waitress who needed to take care of 10 tables during a dinner rush. Accidents happen / mistakes are made. Waiters / waitresses are human, too. Yes, I am glad the kid was not seriously ill… but I agree – GET OVER IT!

  5. Mary Ann April 13 at 8:35 pm

    I personally think that young toddlers should not frequent restaurants that serve hard liquor; they are too young and need to go to family type restaurants. These errors are happening too many times and the management team needs to educate and instruct the waiters/waitresses the proper procedure in serving children even if they are with their parents. It is up to the parents to check the drink before the children ingest it. If I were the parent I would not take my toddler/child to those same restaurants. Leave them home with a responsible adult.

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