Bean brouhaha: Drunk or mistreated?

How I wish I could have been dining at the Baja Bean on the evening of December 28– or, even better, walking around with a video camera. So far I've heard two disparate versions of what happened that night; if you were present, please join the fray. Until then, we'll have to listen to both sides and draw our own conclusions.

This will be one of those rare occasions when I decline to name the consumer 1) because I want the freedom to discuss a potentially litigious situation openly, and 2) because the complainer was not a key player in the incident. Let's call her Karen Harris. (The restaurant, however, had no reservations about being named.)

Harris's emailed account of the event began with a description of the group that had gone to Baja Bean: Six adults, "mid-thirties to late forties," and two kids, ages 11 and 1-1/2.

The main players are two brothers we'll call Roger and Fred. Roger noticed that "several people had ordered margaritas" and went over to the bar to order a pitcher. "He had already been up several times walking the baby around," Harris claimed, explaining that otherwise the baby would cry.

"Apparently, this was a heinous crime. When [Roger] came back, the waiter came over and told the table that [he] was cut off, no more alcohol allowed. Now, first of all, he wasn't drunk, and secondly, he wasn't going to become obnoxious if he did get drunk, being a thoroughly nice guy."

Brother Fred then became "incensed," and "the manager came over and was completely rude." Fred "shook his finger at him, at which point the manager gets up in [his] face so that the finger touches him, and says, 'Now you've pushed me, and I get to call the cops.'"

The group followed Fred outside, "trying to be conciliatory," after which the manager appeared and tried "to make us see that he was being reasonable (which we didn't agree with) and basically claimed this is what they do all the time."

End of Version One; cue Version Two.

According to manager Brandon Collins, Roger joined the group late and was "acting pretty strange" because "he must have been drinking" already. As Collins remembers it, Roger did indeed walk the baby around– once– but mostly "stood around in the wait station" and would "just stare and giggle." At that point, Collins says, he told Roger that the restaurant would not serve him more alcohol; Roger returned to the table, where he seemed "calm" but "weird."

Shortly after that, Collins claims, he saw Roger sipping Fred's margarita and said, "If that's your margarita, you can't let him drink [it]." Fred– who, according to Collins, was "visibly drunk"– got up and did a "two-finger-point-push" on Collins. At that point, the bartender called the police.

When the police arrived, however, Collins "discouraged" the officer from entering the restaurant and downplayed the situation as manageable. When the officer left, the group came outside, and Collins says he tried to explain that the restaurant "has a reputation for being extremely strict" when it comes to enforcing ABC guidelines. After that, things got "nasty," at which point, according to Collins, the group agreed to pay their bill and leave.

Which they did– except they only paid $55 on a $125 bill. Collins followed one man to his car (apparently this was the brother-in-law, who hadn't been an actor in the dispute), but the man said he'd paid his part and wasn't going to pay any more. Collins returned to the restaurant and called the police again, but claims that the officer said there was nothing further the restaurant could do. Collins says that the brothers' allegedly drunken behavior was upsetting not only to the children in the party, but to other diners.

Being a former waitress, my heart went out to the waiter: Instead of the 17% ($21.25) tip he would have added to the bill (because it was a party of six or more), he got stiffed. When I spoke with Harris, she was steadfast in her belief that the group shouldn't have to pay for food that hadn't been eaten (because the dust-up intervened). She did, however, agree to pay the tip. I was the courier and delivered her $30which meant a 24% tip– a few days later to the restaurant.

Any witnesses to this debacle? If so, I'm all ears.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second St. NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.