An operator of TGI Fridays restaurants in New Jersey has agreed to pay a $500,000 fine for serving customers cheap booze when they paid for top shelf after an undercover investigation by authorities.
Acting Attorney General John Hoffman said Wednesday that the fine levied against Livingston-based Briad Group should send a message to every bar and restaurant in the state that customers should always get what they pay for.
Twenty-nine establishments were raided as part of the operation. Officials said more than 100 state investigators worked on the year-long probe, which involved customer complaints and confidential informants. Investigators also secretly took drink samples from the establishments.
Authorities said the bars and restaurants were trying to "fool the customer and increase their profits."
The attorney general's office said the state decided to pursue charges against only eight of the TGI Fridays. The other cases remain under investigation.
Under terms of the settlement, Briad agreed not to contest charges that eight of its restaurants were selling customers cheap substitutes in place of premium alcohol. It also agreed to employ a state-appointed monitor through June 14 to ensure its restaurants and employees are in compliance.
As long as there are no further violations during that period, the businesses will avoid five-day suspensions of their liquor licenses, the attorney general said.
The fine includes $400,000 for the violations and $100,000 to cover investigative costs.
At one of the 29 businesses targeted, a mixture that included rubbing alcohol and caramel coloring was sold as scotch. In another, premium liquor bottles were refilled with water that was not even clean. The state never identified which restaurants or bars those were.
The eight TGI Fridays included in the settlement are in West Orange, East Windsor, Old Bridge, Piscataway, Freehold, Marlboro, Hazlet and Linden.