The innovative Spot the Mystery Shopper program helps alcohol beverage license holders improve staff performance in preventing under 21 sales in Montgomery County.

February 11, 2020
Media Contact: Dr. Brad Krevor: (781) 647-0858;

Waltham, Massachusetts—Montgomery County Alcohol Beverage Services (MC ABS) has again partnered with the Responsible Retailing Forum (RRForum) supported by a national award. The innovative Spot the Mystery Shopper program was developed to assist alcohol beverage license holders improve staff performance in preventing under 21 sales.

Last Fall, 97 Montgomery County alcohol beverage retailers and serving establishments that had been cited for a sales-to-minors violation in the prior year were advised that they would soon be inspected by young mystery shoppers. These mystery shoppers, all of whom are legal age to purchase alcohol but young enough to trigger an ID check, would hand a green card complimenting the clerk or server who correctly checked an ID, or a red card (handed to the manager) if staff failed to verify age.

  • 80 of the establishments that previously failed to verify age correctly requested an ID from the mystery shopper– a rate of 82.5%

Fake IDs have become very sophisticated. To encourage staff to inspect IDs carefully, RRForum provided the names of the Mystery Shoppers (e.g., “James S., age 22”) on reminder cards for the cash register; and every clerk or server who recognized the mystery shopper when inspecting the ID received a $50 Amazon gift card as a thank you.

  • 9 staff correctly spotted the mystery shopper and received the $50 thank you

The Spot the Mystery Shopper campaign was first developed by Montgomery County Alcohol Beverage Services and RRForum in 2015.The campaign is innovative in two ways: (1) It provides licensees with a way of measuring, and reinforcing, ID-checking by staff; and (2) It creates a positive incentive for staff to check IDs. Usually, ID-checking is a requirement, with potential punishments for staff who fail. In the Spot the Mystery Shopper campaign, each ID check is a chance to earn a reward for correctly doing one’s job. “Our goal is 100% percent alcohol compliance by all who sell and serve alcohol in the county. MC ABS plans to continue the mystery shop incentive program in order move the needle in the right direction. We will also continue to educate sellers/servers responsible policies to refuse under 21 alcohol sales and increase compliance.” said Kathie Durbin, Chief of Licensure, Regulation and Education.

The Responsible Retailing Forum’s mission is to develop, evaluate, and promote best practices to prevent underage sales of alcohol, tobacco, and other age-restricted products and to reduce alcohol overservice at on-premises alcohol outlets. A key point of focus is helping retailers develop and implement management systems for supervising, incentivizing, and monitoring staff performance. RRForum is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation based in Waltham, Massachusetts. To learn more about RRForum, please contact RRForum’s President, Dr. Brad S. Krevor at The ‘Report on the Respect 21™ Responsible Retailing Program’ is under ‘Reports and Articles’ on the RRForum webpage: