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Sampling alcohol on job now allowed

Rapids Spirits employees will now be able to sample new alcoholic products while working, to give them a better understanding of the products to assist customers.

Scott Olson, Rapids Spirits manager, presented a resolution to the Park Rapids City Council Tuesday to amend a personnel policy regarding alcohol use for city employees.

The employee personnel policy did not allow the use of any alcohol on city property by any city employee unless authorized by the city administrator. Olson said the Rapids Spirits employees are under direct supervision of the manager and should be allowed to sample products and not be in violation of city policies.

The proposed policy change arose out of a seminar Olson attended.

Other cities with municipal liquor stores, including Thief River Falls, have this exception in their personnel policies.

Minnesota Statute 340A.510 regarding sampling alcohol says that on- or off-sale retail licensees and municipal liquor stores may provide or permit a licensed manufacturer or a wholesaler or its agents to provide on the premises samples of wine, liqueurs, cordials and distilled spirits without obtaining an additional license. The quantity must be less than 50 milliliters of wine per variety per customer, 25 milliliters of liqueur or cordial and 15 milliliters of distilled spirits per variety.

Malt liquor samples are also authorized in quantities less than 100 milliliters.

"From time to time we might have vendors come in or in-store tastings," Olson said.

The amended policy allows for the employees to also sample the beverages.

"The fact that from time to time we have vendors coming in the store that may have a new product or we may have a tasting at the store," he said. "Under those guidelines our staff would not be able to try a new product while on the job."

Councilwoman Sue Tomte had concerns with changing the policy.

"I'm not in favor of it," she said. "I think it opens up potential for abuse in some way or another ... I just see that as being more issues than we need to have."

Councilman Paul Utke asked how often tastings might occur at the store.

"Sometimes it may happen two to three times a week, sometimes it may not happen for a month" depending on the number of new products, Olson said.

Mayor Nancy Carroll said she could understand Tomte's concerns but also can see how it could be beneficial for employees to have additional knowledge of products.

Olson said employees would not be required to sample products.

"The dilemma I have is if we have a new bottle of Zinfandel and it's a $20 bottle, how many staff members am I gonna get to buy a bottle of that to take home versus having a salesman there," Olson said.

Tomte still had a problem with the policy change.

"Every time I get a new product, if I want to know what it does, I'm gonna take it off my shelf and use it personally," Tomte said. "But that's a cost to me and it isn't a potential liability to anybody else."

"But, Sue, do you have seminars in your establishment where people can come try stuff?" Olson asked, referring to her Mary Kay business.

"Yes," she said.

City administrator Bill Smith said that by allowing employees to taste the alcohol it would add credibility. The sales person could say, "Yes, I have tried this," he said.

"I guess I like it because they have an actual wine person there giving them knowledge," he said. "They can try a chardonnay and say, 'I see that in it' rather than doing it on their own."

"I would prefer that they learned about it after hours," Tomte said.

City councilman Paul Utke made a motion to pass the resolution to change the personnel policy. It passed 3-1 with Tomte opposed. Councilman Pat Mikesh was not present at the meeting.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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