The Control States Best Practices Awards 2015 Winners

Best Enforcement Program

Incentivizing ID Checks

By Jeremy Nedelka

In an effort to raise alcohol compliance in a positive way, the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control partnered with the Responsible Retailing Forum to conduct a mystery shopping program. The program provided alcohol retailers (who are independent in that jurisdiction) with detailed feedback on employee age-verification compliance, recognizing businesses whose staff properly check IDs.

“The program was brought to us by the RRF, a non-profit that we’ve worked with for years,” says Licensing and Outreach Manager, Emily DeTitta. “They were looking for a test market for a specific kind of mystery shopping program that had incentives attached, so we were a natural fit for them as a control agency.”

The DLC runs annual compliance checks in conjunction with the county’s police department. During those checks, an underage volunteer (19 or under) attempts to purchase alcohol using their vertical ID, which indicates they’re underage. Over the years, compliance percentages have declined despite continued server and seller training.
As a result, the agency implemented the mystery shop program in Bethesda.

Each mystery shopper is of legal age and in their early 20s, which is young enough to trigger an ID check. Servers or sellers who check the shopper’s ID are given a green card, those who don’t are given a red card. Unlike the compliance checks, which often result in monetary fines and criminal charges, the mystery shop has no penalties or fines associated with it, just feedback for managers.

As an added incentive, each licensee was mailed a notice about the mystery shop program with a special card (the mailing also detailed mystery shoppers’ first and last names and date of birth). If a staff member recognized the mystery shopper and gave that person the special card when handing their ID back, they received $100.

“We’ve had so much positive feedback from licensees who thank us for making them feel like a partner in this program,” DeTitta says. “Usually when they see inspectors it’s with the threat of a violation, so they’re happy to get feedback and free training, as well as the ability to incentivize their staff. It’s a win-win for licensees and the department.”

Compliance levels have increased dramatically since implementation, from 69% in Bethesda during the annual compliance checks before the mystery shop program, to 89% in the checks immediately following the mystery shopper visits.

“The program by itself didn’t boost the levels by that much, but it’s definitely a piece of the success,” DeTitta says.

Grant funding was also provided by the NABCA for the first round of the program, and a supplemental grant has been issued for a second round of mystery shopping visits early next year.

“We’ve already contracted for another round of the program,” DeTitta adds. “It’s been very successful for us.”

Thank you to all the agencies who entered the awards, and we look forward to seeing the new innovations you’re working on for 2016!

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