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Tuesday, Oct 24, 2017
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Toddler mistakenly served sangria at Lakeland Olive Garden

The company that owns the Olive Garden restaurant chain has apologized and changed its policy on the way some drinks are served after a 2-year-old Lakeland boy was accidentally served sangria. Nikolai VanHeest had nearly finished the drink in the green plastic Olive Garden cup, said his mother, when a waiter came over with a panicked look on his face. She had ordered orange juice for her son, but the waiter told her the cup contained tropical sangria, said the boy's mother, Jill VanHeest. Sangria contains wine and fruit juices. Moments later, a manager came over and apologized. VanHeest said no one offered to call an ambulance so she and her mother rushed the boy to Lakeland Regional Medical Center, where she says he was treated for alcohol poisoning.
The incident occurred March 31. When she hadn't heard from managers at The Olive Garden restaurant on North Florida Avenue in Lakeland, she contacted an attorney, who reached out to the media. On Wednesday, nearly two weeks later, Darden Restaurants, the Orlando-based company that owns Olive Garden, apologized for the incident and changed its policy on the way drinks are served. "This was an extremely regrettable accident caused by the failure of an employee to follow our strict operating procedures," the company said in a statement. "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. Further, to prevent this situation from happening again, we will no longer prepare containers of Sangria in advance. It will be prepared from scratch when ordered, as is the case with all other alcoholic beverages." VanHeest says Olive Garden's efforts to change their procedures are positive, but it doesn't change the frustrating event that happened to her. This was the second recent incident of a restaurant chain serving a child alcohol. An Applebee's Restaurant in Michigan also accidently served a child a drink containing alcohol. In an interview Tuesday afternoon, VanHeest said she had not decided what action, if any, to take. After watching her child "drunk" in the hospital - "he took one of the plastic chairs at the hospital and started riding it around like a horse," -- and seeing him suffer while nurses attempted to insert IVs, VanHeest said she doesn't want to see any other parent go through the same thing. "How disorganized does a bar need to be to serve children alcohol?" VanHeest asked. haltman@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7629
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