LAKELAND, Fla. - Niko is your average, hyper, two-year-old. So his mother, Jill Van Heest, didn't suspect anything was wrong with him when he started acting up during dinner at Olive Garden along U.S. Highway 98 in Lakeland a couple weeks ago.
"I kinda started to tell him, "Well you're going to get time out. You can't be loud, we're at a restaurant," and trying to tell him how a good two-year-old should act," said Van Heest.
Van Heest said Niko only grew more restless, began climbing on the furniture, and getting louder. "I couldn't discipline him because he wasn't acting out, he was drunk," said Van Heest.
Jill said she realized why her son was behaving the way he was after her waiter and the restaurant manager came to the table and dropped a bombshell. She said they told her instead of orange juice, they poured tropical sangria, which contains white wine, into Niko's cup.
The anxious mother rushed Niko to Lakeland Regional Medical Center, where the toddler was examined. Van Heest said her son was traumatized from being poked and prodded. She said, "It took them a while to get a blood draw from him and it took them a while to get an IV in his tiny hand."
To add insult to injury, the pregnant mom said she was horrified, because she had to explain how her toddler ingested alcohol.
Van Heest and her husband own a Turkish restaurant in downtown Lakeland, and she said they work hard to get things right in their restaurant and there is just no excuse for what happened at Olive Garden on March 31.
"How disorganized can your bar be that you serve something with alcohol to a child in a cup -- with a lid nonetheless -- and not recognize it for half an hour?" she asked.
In a statement to the press, Olive Garden took responsibility for the accident. They said they take the business of serving alcohol very seriously and are relieved the child was not hurt. They also said: "This was an extremely regrettable accident caused by the failure of an employee to follow our strict operating procedures. We have absolutely no tolerance for failure to follow our operating procedures and we took swift, appropriate action to deal with this situation.
Jill Van Heest has hired an attorney, and plans to sue.
Entire statement from Rich Jeffers, spokesperson for Olive Garden:
We take the responsibility that comes with serving alcohol seriously. This was an extremely regrettable accident caused by the failure of an employee to follow our strict operating procedures. We take this situation very seriously, and we are especially grateful that the child involved was not seriously harmed. We have absolutely no tolerance for failure to follow our operating procedures and we took swift, appropriate action to deal with this situation. We are also taking immediate steps to reinforce our standards.
We offer our sincerest apologies to the family of the child, and to all of our guests, whose trust we work so hard to earn. We recognize that trust has been jeopardized by this isolated event, and we are focused on ensuring our guests experience the high standards of service that they’ve come to expect from us.
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