Warning: They Know What You're Eating And Drinking

If The Keg Steakhouse and Bar in the University District could disclose the precise number and type of drinks it served Sonic All-Star Shawn Kemp on the eve of a recent Sonics-Chicago Bulls game, what might restaurateurs and bartenders know about you and your drinking habits?

Never mind that you're not a celebrity. Because many restaurants and bars have computerized the order-taking process, they may be able to report more about your eating and drinking habits than you realize.

At least half of the eating/drinking establishments in the industry now track orders by computer, says Gene Vosberg, executive vice president of the Washington Restaurant Association.

And while a customer's bill may show the date and total charges for food and beverages, the restaurant's computer likely also will show the "opening" and "closing" times of service, the kind of drinks, the meal ordered and a few other details.

Just to illustrate what restaurant records reveal, here's what Shawn Kemp ordered during his three-hour, 15-minute visit at The Keg:

Prime rib, Caesar salad, sourdough bread; four single shots (1 ounce each) of Crown Royal whiskey and three Corona beers.

That's mighty specific.

The tracking system was designed as an inventory-control device, said Michael Graydon, executive vice president for Keg Restaurants Ltd. Obviously, a restaurant wants to know what mix of products sells well in order to restock.

But the information tracked by computer could be used in other ways, such as disclosing how much one had to drink on a specific occasion. And that could become an issue if an individual were in an accident and there were injuries or deaths possibly because of impaired driving due to intoxication.

I didn't ask whether Kemp used a credit card for his meal and drinks at The Keg. But if he's like most patrons, he probably paid with plastic or a personal check.

About 25 percent to 30 percent of customers charge meals and drinks; another 25 percent to 30 percent pay with personal checks, according to Mara Jacobs, regional operations manager for The Keg in Washington.

But even if you're a cash-paying customer, the restaurant would have records in some form of what you ate and drank.

And restaurant workers specialize in remembering people and their preferences, even when they aren't celebrities, said Vosberg of the trade association. They want to please customers.

There's another issue here, too: privacy.

In the wake of disclosures The Keg made about Shawn Kemp, Graydon said the restaurant chain is formulating a confidentiality policy. Graydon said he disclosed specifics about Kemp for clarification because inaccuracies had appeared in reports about the number of drinks ordered and the time period.

Both Kemp and the Sonics will receive apologies on the disclosure issue, Graydon said.

For the record, Kemp's visit to The Keg was "quite normal," Graydon said. "He showed no signs of intoxication. He was with a quiet group of friends socializing."

At the same time, with the discussion on drinking habits, the brouhaha is a reminder that restaurant folks who serve alcohol are required by the state to have special training and hold a "bar" card or an alcohol server's permit.

The theory is that it's not unreasonable to ask restaurant employees to have training and a permit to serve alcohol, when a food-handler's permit is required to serve a hamburger, said Gigi Zenk, spokeswoman for the Washington Liquor Control Board.

Zenk estimates that about 79,000 of the 100,000 workers in Washington who serve alcohol have been trained.

So what have servers been told concerning when to stop serving alcohol to a customer?

Some restaurants, like The Keg, use a program created by the Washington Restaurant Association.

Servers are trained to watch for telltale signs of too much drinking, with the acronym PUBS as a memory jogger.

-- (P) means watch for physical changes, including a lack of coordination, such as when a patron can't light a cigarette or drops things.

-- (U) tells servers you are in control and can stop serving alcohol.

-- (B) means watch for behavior changes, such as a patron who becomes aggressive, loud or abusive.

-- (S) means watch for slurred speech.

By the time a patron reaches the "S" level, employees of The Keg are instructed to try to take away the customer's car keys and to call a cab, Jacobs said. Keg managers have been designated to tell a patron when no more alcohol will be served.

The state liquor control board recently revamped its blood-alcohol concentration guide, separating the data for men and women, because alcohol affects the two sexes differently. (See accompanying chart.)

Because men tend to have a higher water content and less body fat than women, they generally are not affected by alcohol as quickly as women.

But age, weight, rate of consumption, food consumed prior to drinking, stress, anxiety, toleration level, drugs and medication are other factors that determine when one becomes intoxicated.

So be careful out there.

And remember that the experts say the only safe-driving limit where alcohol is concerned is zilch, zip, zero alcoholic drinks.

Shelby Gilje's Troubleshooter column appears Wednesday and Sunday in the Scene section of The Times. Do you have a consumer problem? Write to Times Troubleshooter, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. Include copies, not originals, of appropriate documents. Phone, 464-2262, fax 382-8873, or e-mail address, sgil-new@seatimes.com