On-demand food delivery apps are letting minors order alcohol, regulators say

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Food and beverage delivery services like DoorDash, Postmates, and Uber Eats aided in a surge of alcohol deliveries to underage minors in California last month, the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) found in a new investigation. And because of relaxed restrictions around alcohol takeout and delivery during COVID-19, the issue is getting worse, regulators say.

The investigation’s findings, posted as an industry advisory to the ABC’s website, say “the Department’s recent enforcement actions have revealed that third-party delivery services are routinely delivering alcoholic beverages to minors,” and that “many licensees, and the delivery services they use, are failing to adhere to a variety of other legal obligations.” The situation is being exacerbated by the pandemic because of “a marked increase in deliveries” once the state began allowing the sale and delivery of to-go cocktails and other forms of liquor in March.

The investigation was spurred by an April article from The Washington Post, which also first reported on the investigation’s findings on Friday, that detailed the ease with which Uber Eats customers could order alcohol for delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic without needing to show proper age verification. DoorDash, Postmates, and Uber did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Post, in its testing of alcohol delivery via on-demand apps in California, found that some drivers left drinks outside without interacting with customers and the apps allowed the ordering of alcohol without an accompanying food item, which is against the state rules around alcoholic beverage delivery. The issue is a pressing one for both on-demand apps and the restaurants they service, as both could be held criminally liable for selling and delivering alcohol to minors, The Post reports.

California regulators say the fault lies mostly with the on-demand delivery services, as those platforms and their drivers are more often failing to properly ID customers and abide by other state rules. In the case of Uber Eats, which doesn’t permit alcohol sales officially and so doesn’t have a built-in ID check mechanism in the app, some partnered restaurants were selling alcohol anyway and doing so without checking the age of the customer upon delivery. DoorDash and Postmates have ID checks built into their apps because both officially support alcohol sales, but regulators say those guidelines are often ignored by delivery drivers.

“The Department has recently conducted enforcement actions throughout the state and found significant violations of the law. Most concerning is that minors are routinely able to purchase alcohol through delivery from restaurants,” the advisory reads. “There have been instances in which the licensee’s own employees have done so, but a far greater rate has been evident among third-party delivery services. Licensees are responsible for these unlawful deliveries, and the Department encourages licensees to review the practices of these services and their reliance on them.”

Regulators say that DoorDash, Uber, and Postmates — which it declines to name directly but which are the dominant food and beverage delivery apps in California — have guidelines in place to protect against delivering alcohol to minors. “But those guidelines are largely being ignored by the delivery personnel,” the advisory reads.

In its investigation, ABC officials ordered about 200 alcoholic beverages over the course of multiple weekends using both on-demand apps and delivery services of individual restaurants and bars, and it used decoys under the age of 21 as recipients in some cases, The Post reports. The restaurants and bars illegally provided minors with alcohol about one out of every four deliveries in the test, or a 25 percent failure rate, while on-demand apps did so four out of every five, or a staggering 80 percent failure rate.

The ABC says it saw on-demand apps’ failure rates improve after initially contacting the companies, but half of all deliveries to minors are still slipping through, The Post reports. The ABC can’t sanction the companies themselves, so further action might involve going after drivers or restaurants, and the ABC is warning Uber and other platforms that it may have to do so if the situation continues.

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