Thursday, June 25, 2015

Liquor Sales & Service

by Jim Lannen

Absolut, Stoli, Jameson, Kahlua, Gran Marnier, Malibu and Patron are all big names in the liquor industry. These popular spirits may soon be unavailable from our extensive liquor selection due to recent customer service issues from their distributor. In fact, if we have to continue to do business with them, we might not be able to sell any liquor at all!
Ray has been in the business over 40 years and - as he would say - has seen it all. (With my 20+ years here, I've come to learn many aspects of the trade myself.)  The restaurant industry is service, service, service. It is what we do. Service has always been of utmost importance when you dine here.

So in return, we come to expect the same level of service when relying on vendors and suppliers who help us open our doors each day. Unfortunately, our level of service has been compromised due to the service offered by one of our longtime vendors.

The story begins this past March when I had placed my weekly order with Southern Wines and Spirits of Illinois. They are the "BIG" company in the state and our local distributor for many of the spirits you find behind our bar. That week, my salesman accidentally entered the wrong price on a product for our order, and we were overcharged $75. Honest mistake that should be easily fixable, right? As I called in the error, they admitted the mistake and told us they would process the credit. End of the month, we pay the bill (short the $75 that we were overcharged) and move on.

Two months later, I place a weekly order just like I always do, and for some reason, the next day the order does not show up? No phone call or email with any explanation. In trying to get a hold of anyone to help (you know how it is with a big corporations and the voice prompts), we were told the reason it did not come is because we short paid our invoice by $75.

We told them we were overcharged; they admitted to the error and said it would be taken care of. However, they tell us that the credit did not yet get processed through management. Two months and this does not get approved? A computer mistake? We may have understood initially, but this was the 5th time a situation exactly like this has happened with this company in the last 3-4 years.

We were then told that we had to send them the $75 check or we would be shut off from getting product. (Oh and one other thing... Illinois state law says that if you are overdue on an invoice with one company, not only do you not get product from them, you get shut off from EVERYONE. This means I can not get ANY beer, wine or spirits.) Our hands are tied over a computer mistake.

And just to further clarify how purchasing liquor works in the State of Illinois, the law says that a restaurant can only buy an item from 1 - that's right - 1 distributor. This means if I want to sell Absolut vodka, Miller Lite or a particular wine, I can only buy that item from the 1 company that is allocated to sell it in our area. How fair is this? We end up having to pay what they tell us to pay.  There is no shopping around like the food business for a better price, because with liquor, no competition is allowed. Who ultimately pays the price for this? 

Given our lack of options, we obviously wanted to clear up the matter quickly. Unfortunately, we were made to feel like the blame was on us.  Not to mention, the tone of our salesman was the rudest customer service Ray has ever experienced in the industry. He called the district manager, regional manager and director of customer service to try and get answers. He even tried getting in touch with the vice president. We wanted to talk to SOMEONE to get this cleared up.

This happened over 3 weeks ago, and we still have not gotten an answer if this was resolved. It is amazing that we could not receive an order because the accounting department cannot process a credit in almost 2 months. We even have correspondence admitting the mistake and thought it was taken care of.

Most important is the choice we are faced with. Because they can shut off ALL of our liquor, we have to choose not to business with them. This has happened 5 times, and we can't find one person in their company that cares enough to help us. So at this point, we have vowed to remove everything from our back bar that they distribute when our current inventory runs out.

Again, we live and breathe good service. In the rare instance someone here has a poor experience, we want to know about it.  Being able to react to the situation... to acknowledge, correct and learn from it, is crucial to good customer service.

Most of all, this lengthy article is to explain why you will not be able to order spirits such as Jameson, Absolut, Stoli, Malibu or Kahlua when you dine here. Hopefully with this explanation, you understand that if we continue to do business like this, we will not be able to order any products. The system has tied our hands.


  1. This is absolute nonsense, no pun intended. This is a call out to all Uptown Grill customers to voice their concerns over this. Support your local business.

  2. Capitalism prevails.