Even after a prominent Niles restaurateur sent a letter asking the village board to permit 18- to 21-year-old waiters and waitresses in restaurants to serve alcohol, a majority of trustees shot down the idea.
At their Tuesday meeting, trustees considered the idea of whether to amend the village's liquor ordinance to permit 18-to 21-year-olds to serve alcohol in restaurants, though not in bars.
Illinois law states that no one under 21 may consume alcohol, but Joseph Annunzio, the village attorney, said many Illinois towns, including some nearby, permit 18-to-21-year old servers to carry the drinks from the bartender to patron's tables and serve them.
The idea was originated by restaurant owners, said Katie Schneider, executive director of the Niles Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who came to the podium to speak in favor of the proposed ordinance change.
She read a letter from Tony Riggio, the owner of Riggio's Restaurant, which she said has been in business in Niles for 60 years.
Would help restaurants hire staff, they say
Riggio apologized that a schedule conflict prevented him from appearing in person, and said he favored changing the ordinance because it would relieve staffing shortages in the restaurant industry and provide more employment for young people. He noted that servers as young as 18 serve drinks at restaurants in surrounding villages and are careful about who they serve to.
Amici Ristorante and Chambers Seafood Grill and Chop House also supported allowing 18-year-olds to serve alcohol, Schneider said.
"All of these three restaurants have been in business for decades, and they're reputable," she observed. "They’re asking to open up their pool of (potential) employees."
She explained that because the restaurant business is somewhat down due to the recession, some servers may not want to work in restaurants because they can't earn enough to support a family. So the restaurants are looking at hiring employees who can afford to earn only a part-time or supplemental income, such as college students, who would be in the 18 to 21 age group.
Schneider added she also contacted Graziano's Brick Oven Pizza and Omega Restaurant but wasn't able to reach the owners on short notice.
Trustee Rosemary Palicki commented that teen drinking is a serious problem, expressing reservations about allowing 18-year-olds to serve alcohol.
Likewise, resident Al Schaefer came to the podium to express the opinion that the village ordinance should not sanction teens being around alcohol.
"I believe drinking is a big problem and if you have a waitress who is coming up to you who’s 18, when she goes back to the bar, the bartender has no idea who he is serving. What if she has her friends come in and they’re underage?" he asked.
Schneider responded that restaurants would not put their reputations on the line, suggesting there would be good management oversight.
Lack of information?
Trustee Louella Preston said, "I’m concerned about the lack of factual material I have, and consider it a very important issue. I would really like to have more information before I vote."
She made a motion to table, or delay, the vote until more information could be assembled, but no other trustee seconded it, and the motion died.
Trustees Chris Hanusiak, Rosemary Palicki and Louella Preston voted no to change the ordinance to permit 18-year-old servers; Trustees Joe LoVerde and Jim Hynes voted yes, and Trustee Andrew Przybylo abstained; he is a liquor license holder.
As to the legal details of the ordinance, Annunzio noted that the law makes a distinction between those who distribute or serve alcohol and those who sell it. Often in grocery stores, a cashier under 21 will need to call someone 21 or over to ring up a sale of liquor. In a restaurant, the cashier usually makes the actual sale of alcohol by ringing it up. But restaurants in many other municipalities allow 18 to 21-year-old servers to carry alcohol from the bartender to the table to serve patrons, he explained.