It was the proverbial bureaucratic hammer in search of a nail.
Until D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray found out about it.
Late last week and on the heels of Gray’s stated intention to make the District “the most business-friendly city in the country” and his formation of a task force to review city regulations ripe for reform, the mayor proved he had the mettle to immediately act on a sudden bump springing from the cobble on that lengthy road.
Any doubt that Gray was serious about these objectives, a hospitality industry source with knowledge of the situation has informed me, were quickly dispelled when the mayor ordered the “suspension” of a new business inspection program announced by the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) when brought to his attention. DCRA spokesman Helder Gil has flatly denied this assertion, claiming that the decision to halt the inspections was made solely by agency director Nicholas Majett.
Majett had recently announced the nascent program in an information pamphlet so amateurishly produced and devoid of understandable content that it might have been a jokester’s spoof of city regulators gone wild. In it, Majett identified the agency’s undertaking of a new city inspection program to measure alcohol pour amounts at bars and restaurants.
DCRA had conducted only approximately 10 inspections at venues along the H Street, N.E., entertainment corridor, when word started to spread about the incipient undertaking.
In announcing the plan to inspect nearly 1,200 alcohol-licensed hospitality establishments, DCRA released a “Restaurant and Bar Owners Guide to Weights and Measures Inspections” purporting to detail “what types of materials will be inspected” and “in what manner.” Except that it didn’t.
Instead, illustrations of beer, wine and rocks glasses with corresponding liquid ounce measurements noted alongside each graphic were displayed. The numbers don’t correspond with the actual volume size of each drink vessel, but an allegedly required pour amount for each drink type.
The pamphlet declaratively specifies, for example, that the “District of Columbia requires a five-ounce pour for all glasses of wine.” Except that it doesn’t.
The D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) confirmed this week that there are no city regulations specifying the amount of alcohol that is required per serving for variable alcohol types.
In other words, in the absence of any legislation or rulemaking, DCRA concocted its own imaginary standards, stating that the city “has zero tolerance for incorrect pours” in their mythical world.
A reasonable person would be hard-pressed to comprehend any rationale for the program. DCRA claims to have received about a dozen complaints regarding “light alcohol pours” in the past year by unhappy, or perhaps just un-drunk, drinkers.
DCRA claims authority for this new inspection scheme based on the D.C. Regulation and Inspection of Weighing and Measuring Devices Amendment Act of 2004. The law authorizes inspection of mechanical weight and volume devices such as UPC scanners and grocery food scales, pharmaceutical scales and those used in dialysis clinics, compressed natural gas meters, gas station pump meters, vehicle weighing scales and the like.
The DCRA alcohol materials reference bar “jiggers” as a volume measurement device subject to inspection on a twice-yearly basis and $2,000 fine if unregistered, despite not being included on the “Device Registration Application” under any of 15 device classes.
Consumers know that it is extraordinarily rare for a bartender to utilize a shot jigger to measure poured liquor. Manual free-pours are the common industry practice. Customer loyalty and return patronage directly correlates to the “weight” of those pours.
Majett’s agency has sufficient critical device inspections to conduct with only four department inspectors without trolling through bars and restaurants to transfer water from jiggers into calibrated glass measurement beakers to determine if this standardized object is compliant, if even ever used. If not, DCRA has a skewed sense of agency priorities.
D.C.’s distinction as the nation’s perennial worst business environment is a hard-earned shame, indeed. So-called enforcement of fabricated standards by the city’s business regulatory agency is one good reason.
Nail, meet hammer. Rather, meet the thorn in the side of local businesses, Mayor Gray.
Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.