Important Information for Victims About Dram Shop Lawsuits Against Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen
Because my firm has sued more bars and restaurants than any other practice in Texas, I'm pretty familiar with just how prevalent negligent over-service of alcohol is, and how terrible the consequences can be for those injured or killed as a result. But unless they know or are close to someone harmed due to an establishment's carelessness, I'm not sure most people truly appreciate the magnitude of the problem. That's why I do my best to use my platform to raise awareness in a variety of ways, including going through the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission's database of complaints and publishing my findings. If you believe you may have a dram shop claim and would like to discuss it with one of our veteran attorneys, please call (855) 326-000.
Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen, formerly known as Cheddar's Casual Cafe and almost always referred to simply as "Cheddar's," is a fast casual (think Chipotle or Panera Bread) restaurant chain started in 1979 in Arlington, Texas. Since its inception it has grown considerably and now encompasses more than 160 locations in 23 states. Purchased in 2017 by the multi-brand restaurant operator Darden Restaurants, Inc., which also owns popular chains like Olive Garden and The Capital Grille, Cheddar's brings in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue annually.
Popularity does come with a price, though, with part of that price too often being more violations of safe alcohol statutes. Since the start of 2010, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) has been called to Cheddar's restaurants in the Lone Star State 36 times. Unlike some other chains where the complaints are mostly administrative (issues with signage or promotion), Cheddar's locations seem to be plagued with serious allegations like serving alcohol to minors.
Note: Investigations are not guarantees of guilt. Just because a complaint was filed does not mean that Cheddar's actually violated the law governing responsible alcohol service. However, even if sufficient evidence of a violation is not found, that doesn't necessarily mean the restaurant is innocent--only that the misdeed couldn't be proven. In order to make any allegations stick, investigators have to find ironclad evidence that the company violated Texas dram shop law. Due to the nature of these offenses, this proof can be difficult to find.
Cheddar's Locations that Have Been Investigated Since 2010
Austin - 13301 Hwy 183N Building C
1/07/2011: According to the TABC complaint record, a citizen called the agency to allege that Cheddar's was doing business in an unconventional or unethical manner.
Such complaints are summarized on the records simply as "Place or Manner, Misc." This means we can't quite be sure what happened at the time--only that a citizen supposedly witnessed an action they felt was outside of normal business practice. TABC investigators looked into the complaint but closed it after only five days on 1/12/2011. Such a quick closure without action suggests one of two possibilities: that investigators found evidence that exonerated the restaurant, or that they determined the complaint was unfounded in the first place.
Beaumont - 3815 Interstate Hwy 10 South
12/04/2017: A member of the Beaumont community contacted the TABC to allege that this restaurant served alcohol to a minor.
This is a serious offense, though it is also one that's hard to prove conclusively. Circumstances would also play a serious role; if the reporting citizen happened to look over right when Junior was allowed a sip of wine, that could be misconstrued as a wrongly-served minor. Without something more concrete, it's basically the complainant's word against that of the restaurant.
TABC investigators looked into the allegations but didn't find enough evidence to warrant further action. The ticket was closed fairly quickly, without disposition, on 12/27/2017.
Dallas - 39640 LBJ Freeway
4/03/2014: After a few years of generally-clean operations (last known complaint was in 2007), a citizen complained that the Dallas location of Cheddar's served alcohol to a minor.
The TABC investigated the complaint for a month and apparently confirmed that someone under the age of 21 was sold or given alcohol on the premises. The ticket was closed on 5/03/2014 and the TABC issued Cheddar's a "civil penalty," meaning the location was required to pay a fine for their unlawful action. Further transgressions (which don't appear to have happened) would potentially have gotten the restaurant's liquor license suspended.
El Paso - 11895 W Gateway Blvd
6/10/2010: A citizen notified the TABC about a three-fold incident at this Cheddar's location: 1) The restaurant allegedly over-served an intoxicated person; 2) A "breach of the peace" incident occurred during the course of business; 3) The restaurant failed to report the breach of the peace as required by law.
While the content of the complaint doesn't spell out what happened, there's a good chance all three matters were related. Mentally I picture a drunk person (or several) getting rowdy and a subsequent bar fight, but that's only speculation on my part. A breach of the peace charge doesn't have to include physical violence; it just often does.
The TABC investigation lasted roughly 3 months and concluded that Cheddar's had in fact failed to notify the agency after the breach of peace occurred. According to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, establishments are required to report breaches within five days of the incident (or sooner if serious injuries are sustained). The agency issued the restaurant a written warning and closed the ticket.
6/11/2010: Just one day after the previous incident (perhaps they were related), another community member alerted the TABC that this location served or distributed alcohol to an intoxicated person.
Anyone who has glanced around the site a bit or read our blog knows Grossman Law has some very strong convictions about dram shop law. Over-serving a person who is already intoxicated multiplies the risks that person will pose to himself or others. In order to sell alcohol in Texas a bar or restaurant has to agree with that assessment and agree not to continue service to someone who clearly doesn't need any more drinks.
A citizen complaint of this nature is hard to verify during an investigation. Someone's private belief that another person is drunk may not meet the evidentiary standard necessary to hold the bar accountable for over-service. That appears to be the situation here, as the TABC did not find sufficient evidence of over-service to take any further action despite conducting a six-month investigation. The case was closed without disposition on 1/07/2011.
Irving - 700 LBJ Freeway
5/21/2014: A citizen alerted the TABC that this location may have served alcohol to a minor.
The agency dutifully investigated the allegations but couldn't find enough evidence of wrongdoing to pursue the matter further. The ticket was closed without disposition on 6/28/2014.
Conventional TABC investigations with only the most basic information to get them started usually last between one and two months. Sometimes there are shorter investigations that generally suggest clear evidence was quickly located that either proved or negated the original complaint. It's rare that a citizen "calls the fuzz" maliciously, but mistakes do happen and it sometimes turns out a "minor" was actually just an adult blessed with time-resistant genes.
2/02/2015: The TABC was notified by a citizen that this Cheddar's location allegedly served alcohol to an intoxicated party in violation of Texas dram shop law.
Investigators were assigned to the complaint but didn't find enough evidence of wrongdoing. The case was closed without disposition on 3/10/2015.
3/27/2012: After examining law enforcement records it came to the TABC's attention that this Cheddar's location had failed to report a breach of the peace incident over a month prior.
Be it a brawl in the parking lot or a simple public urination charge, it's still an establishment's responsibility to notify the TABC if alcohol was the reason that emergency response personnel (law enforcement, fire, ambulance) had to be called to the premises. As noted before, they're permitted up to five days (depending on the situation) to tell the TABC about the breach.
Whatever its motivation, Cheddar's failed to contact the agency when it was supposed to. The agency issues two separate administrative citations against the location--one for the breach of the peace itself, and the other for failing to report it as required. In both cases it appears the location was issued a fine. The ticket was closed 7/05/2012.
3/19/2015: The TABC received information from a law enforcement agency that this Cheddar's located sold or served alcohol to an intoxicated party. In response to the allegations, the TABC opened what is called a source investigation.
The agency sometimes receives intel about possible dram violations by monitoring law enforcement blotters and releases to learn of alcohol-related crashes, injuries, or deaths in their districts. According to the TABC website, "A source investigation attempts to identify the source of the alcoholic beverages consumed by parties who are involved in a serious accident or a DWI violation." Sometimes when they learn of these incidents, TABC agents try to find out what establishment served them past their limit. If they successfully prove a bar or restaurant violated the law, the TABC then prepares criminal and/or administrative punishments for their wrongful act.
Of course, finding out all the needed information to justify punitive action isn't always easy. For instance, the investigation into Cheddar's lasted approximately 3 months but does not appear to have found enough evidence to take further action. The ticket was closed without disposition on 6/08/2015.
3/12/2018 : This Cheddar's was reported by a citizen for allegedly serving alcohol to an intoxicated person.
Investigators checked out the allegations, but failed to find anything to merit administrative or criminal penalties. The ticket was closed without disposition on 4/17/2018.
Lubbock - 4009 Loop 289 South
9/05/2013: A "Licensee/Permittee" (meaning an employee, likely a manager) informed the TABC that a breach of the peace had occurred on the premises.
As always the report doesn't include incident details, but a breach of the peace often involves damage to people or property. If someone flips a table or two, hurls a beer bottle at another patron, or waves a gun around, that definitely qualifies as a breach. Not every incident involves calling the cops, though a fair number of them definitely do.
The establishment honored its obligation to report the breach. Aside from a brief investigation to determine the nature of the breach and whether Cheddar's reported it correctly, the TABC appears to have been satisfied. The ticket was closed on 9/23/2013 without any dispositive action.
Lufkin - 3901 South Medford
2/07/2011: A citizen complained to the TABC that this location allegedly served or sold alcohol to a minor.
Agents investigated the claim for about a month and a half, but apparently were unable to find enough evidence of sale to a minor to take any punitive action against Cheddar's. They closed the ticket on 3/31/2011 with no disposition.
5/09/2011: Gathering information from law enforcement sources, the TABC opened an investigation of Cheddar's for a breach of the peace incident that the restaurant allegedly failed to report as required by law.
Whatever the nature of the breach was, it was a big enough deal to get the cops called. It was likely through their incident report that the TABC learned it happened in the first place, since Cheddar's apparently didn't "call it in" they way they're meant to.
The agency looked into the event and determined the restaurant should have provided notice. The ticket was closed on 6/06/2011 after the TABC issued a written warning to Cheddar's.
3/22/2014: Information from a law enforcement agency (likely the Lufkin PD) led TABC agents to investigate this Cheddar's location for a breach of the peace.
The agents conducted a breach investigation, meaning they tried to determine 1) what exactly happened and 2) whether Cheddar's properly handled its obligation to report the incident.
Agents closed the complaint without action on 5/05/2014, suggesting they may have found Cheddar's was not related to or responsible for the incident.
12/10/2015: During early Christmas season a source described as "Other" on the ticket notified the TABC that Cheddar's allegedly poured a few too many for an intoxicated person.
Christmas is a tough season for a lot of lonely people. Some of them seek comfort in a bottle, and that makes the holiday season pretty dangerous on the roads--even for states like Texas that seldom get snow or ice. Places that serve alcohol see the flip side of that coin, though; seasonal depression means more people looking to drink, which means more sales.
Whatever brings them through the door in the first place, patrons that can pay are often served too much alcohol without a thought given to cutting them off. It's that mentality that makes dram shop laws and TABC oversight so necessary. In this case, though, agents were unable to find sufficient evidence to hold Cheddar's accountable for the alleged over-service. The ticket was closed without disposition on 1/27/2016.
McAllen - 3020 Highway 83 West
2/24/2010: A source marked as "Other" on the record contacted the TABC alleging that this location sold alcohol to an already-intoxicated individual.
Agents conducted a source investigation, the special nature of which I covered under the Longview entry. It appears from the ticket that they didn't find enough evidence to take corrective action, and the ticket was closed without disposition on 3/04/2010.
Mesquite - 1320 N Peachtree Rd
2/24/2014: A member of the Mesquite community contacted TABC officials alleging that Cheddar's served alcohol to someone under the age of 21.
Investigators seem to have found sufficient evidence to confirm those allegations and Cheddar's was issued a written warning on 4/01/2014.
Be it over-serving an intoxicated person or serving alcohol to a minor, it's hard to preserve any evidence that confirms the act took place. If the investigation concluded successfully within two months, it's likely the infraction was easily trackable through fairly simple detection methods. Investigators check credit card receipts to find the alleged minor that was served, check his date of birth through public records, find out he was 19 and they poured him a beer anyway, bing bang boom--citation city. Of course that's not necessarily the real explanation, but I'd bet it's something similar.
Pasadena - 3365 E Sam Houston Pkwy South
5/05/2014: Per a citizen's complaint, this location was alleged to have served alcohol to a minor. Texas has a few odd twists on when alcohol can be served or purchased, but it obeys the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. That means anyone buying hooch still has to be over 21.
After failing to find enough evidence to support the citizen's complaint, the TABC closed down their investigation on 6/07/2014.
Port Arthur - 8005 Memorial Blvd
3/31/2017: The Port Arthur Cheddar's was accused by a local citizen of serving alcohol to a minor.
TABC investigators completed their probe on 5/09/2017, but were unable to find enough evidence that the supposed sale had occurred. No dispositive action was taken against Cheddar's.
6/02/2017: A source marked "Other" on the TABC report notified the agency of an alleged breach of the peace at this location.
Agents started a breach investigation to confirm the breach occurred, gauge its severity, and determine whether the restaurant was obligated by the Alcoholic Beverage Code to notify the agency it happened. It appears they got what they needed pretty quickly, as the ticket was closed on 6/08/2017. The agency took dispositive action against Cheddar's for its failure to report the breach (the nature and severity of the incident aren't spelled out in the report) in the form of a civil penalty, meaning the restaurant probably got slapped with a fine.
6/14/2017: Less than two weeks after the previous incident, agents returned to Cheddar's in response to another alleged breach of the peace.
Once again, the TABC's primary concern was to determine if it should have been contacted per the law. Serious breaches of the peace that escalate beyond shouting or shoving matches--things that can't be settled by servers, managers, or bouncers (not so much the latter at Cheddar's)--must be reported to the TABC for further examination. Cheddar's apparently didn't do so and within two days of opening the ticket it was closed, with another civil penalty issued to the restaurant.
San Angelo - 1309 Knickerbocker Rd
4/20/2010: The TABC learned from law enforcement agents that this Cheddar's location sold or served alcohol to a person who was already intoxicated.
The agency's two-month investigation was closed on 6/22/2010 without further action, suggesting agents weren't able to find sufficient evidence of over-service.
10/22/2012: A law enforcement agency informed the TABC that a breach of the peace had occurred on October 4 at this location, and Cheddar's did not report it as required by law.
The TABC conducted a breach investigation, confirmed the incident occurred, and hit Cheddar's with a civil penalty--probably a fine--for its failure to report the event within five days. The file was closed 12/19/2012.
We're not quite finished documenting these statewide infractions, but the more I write the more I realize: Cheddar's seems to play host to a lot of possible fights. Many of these incidents (and more than a few from before 2010) involve alleged breaches of the peace. While they're not confirmed to be all-out brawls in every case, it's hard to believe that none of them involve duking it out on-site.
San Antonio - 7403 Loop 410 NW
6/10/2011: It appears as if a community member witnessed some very strange proceedings before submitting this complaint to the TABC. According to its allegations, Cheddar's not only served alcohol to a minor but also allowed that minor to leave the premises with the alcohol.
Obviously it's already a no-no to distribute booze to anyone under the age of 21, but honest mistakes sometimes get made and ID's don't get checked as carefully as they should be. I don't have any specific reason to believe this was one such mistake, but I can allow that it's at least possible. Doubling down on that bad behavior by allowing the minor to leave with the served alcohol, though...that's a lot less forgivable.
TABC investigators looked into the allegations and by 6/28/2011 had arrived at a few conclusions that needed disposition. According to their findings a minor was indeed allowed to leave the premises with alcohol in hand, for which the restaurant was issued a written warning. The TABC didn't cite Cheddar's for the initial service of alcohol to a minor, suggesting they couldn't find proof that the drink was poured specifically for the underage person in question.
In the process of investigating, TABC agents also found reason to cite this Cheddar's location for failing to prominently display its liquor license as required by law. The restaurant received another written warning for that, and a third for possessing bottles of distilled spirits that did not have tax ID stamps.
San Antonio - 15607 IH 10 W
9/27/2011: A San Antonio citizen reached out the TABC to complain that this Cheddar's served alcohol to a minor.
Investigating agents found sufficient evidence to confirm the allegation. On 11/10/2011, the agency took administrative action against the restaurant in the form of a civil penalty, most likely a fine.
Dispensing alcohol to a minor is a Class A misdemeanor in the state of Texas. It is punishable by up to a year in jail and/or up to a $4,000 fine. While the civil penalty mostly concerns the latter, the TABC also took the rare extra step of issuing a criminal citation for the underage service. It's unclear from the agency's report what the repercussions of that citation might have been, but it's possible someone went to jail.
Sherman - 3300 HWY 75 N
5/15/2013: This Cheddar's location was alleged by a Sherman resident to have served alcohol to a person under the legal drinking age.
On 7/13/2013, after two months of investigation, agents were unable to locate sufficient evidence of wrongdoing to warrant issuing any citations. The complaint was closed without disposition.
Spring - 21001 IH 45
3/05/2014: A member of the Spring community alerted the TABC to an alleged over-service, where Cheddar's had served or sold alcohol to an intoxicated person. Less than a month later, the agency closed the ticket without dispositive action.
The turnaround from open to close was a little quicker than a standard TABC investigation, suggesting that evidence might have been found that exculpated Cheddar's. That's guesswork on my part, though; the report only shows no criminal or administrative action was taken against the restaurant.
Sugar Land - 803 Bonaventure Way
9/13/2011: A citizen complained to the TABC that a patron at Cheddar's was under the age of 21 but allegedly was still served alcohol.
Agents investigated the claim but were unable to turn up evidence confirming the allegations. After three months' work, the ticket was closed without disposition on 12/15/2011.
06/23/2014: Another citizen (perhaps the same one, I suppose I can't know for sure) contacted the TABC with two allegations: service of alcohol to a minor, and service of alcohol to an intoxicated person. It's not a stretch to think that the two allegations might be related, but if they are that means the restaurant didn't just serve a minor alcohol--they over-served it.
Agents investigated both allegations but were unable to find sufficient evidence to prove either. The file was closed on 8/22/2014 with no disposition.
9/01/2015: The TABC was told by a patron at the Sugar Land location (are those residents Sugarlandians? Sugarlanders? Sugarinos? I digress.) that the restaurant allegedly served alcohol to a minor.
Agents investigated the alleged event, but inside of a month they closed the file without any dispositive action taken toward Cheddar's. Again, the speed of the investigation coupled with the absence of charges leads me to think evidence was found that cleared Cheddar's of wrongdoing, but I can't be certain of that since the TABC report is pretty vague.
Tyler - 6701 S Broadway Ave
12/22/2015: A concerned citizen reached out to the TABC to report that this Cheddar's sold or served alcohol to a minor.
Representatives from the agency checked into the allegations, but were unable to find conclusive evidence of any wrongdoing. The case was closed on 1/31/2016 with no dispositive action.
Waco - 4208 Franklin Ave
7/30/2012: A Waco citizen sent a complaint to the TABC that this establishment served alcohol to a patron who was under the age of 21.
After roughly two months' investigation, the agency closed the complaint on 9/24/2012 without taking any dispositive action against the restaurant.
6/22/2015: A law enforcement agency informed TABC investigators that this Cheddar's location allegedly served alcohol to a minor.
On 7/29/2015, investigators closed the case without any punitive action. Presumably they were unable to find adequate evidence to confirm the law enforcement agency's original information.
Webster - 21001 Gulf Freeway
4/10/2014: A patron at the Webster Cheddar's complained to the TABC after allegedly witnessing the restaurant serving or selling alcohol to a minor.
Investigators followed up on the complaint but were unable to find enough evidence to confirm the unlawful service. The TABC closed the complaint without disposition on 6/11/2014.
Wichita Falls - 4240 Kell Blvd
2/24/2011: A citizen reported this location to the TABC with two allegations: Selling or serving alcohol to a minor, and hiring a person under the age of 18 to handle alcohol on the premises.
In Texas a server in an establishment that serves alcohol may be as young as 18 and still handle the alcohol. Said 18-year-old must be certified by the TABC, but once that's accomplished they can tend bar or take booze from the bar to a table.
Considering this was just a citizen's allegation, it's possible the server just looked young but was actually of legal age to handle the alcohol service. On the other hand, maybe the patron asked the server outright how old he or she was. We weren't there and the TABC doesn't disclose the circumstances of the complaint, so we don't know for sure.
Whatever the situation was with the initial complaints, TABC investigators did not find evidence of either allegation. The complaint was closed without disposition on 3/25/2011.
Texas Law Allows Victims of Over-service to Sue Bad Bars
If you're interested in learning more about Texas Dram Shop/liquor liability law, we encourage you to take a look at our comprehensive guide to the subject.