Utah Liquor laws are often perceived as backward by outsiders, and few would contend that the laws are specifically designed to discourage the consumption of alcohol use in general. But, as Utah attempts to reconcile the wishes of the dominant faith, the LDS Church, with the ever growing desires of tourists and locals alike, friction has begun to build.
Some items in particular that stick in the sides of those who wish to consume a drink include Utah’s “intent to dine” law – which requires restaurant wait staff to specifically ask if a person plans to eat before serving a drink, and the infamous “Zion Curtain;” a physical structure designed to separate people from viewing the creation of mixed drinks.
It is Representative Craig Powell’s (Republican – Heber) intent to remove the intent to dine rules and tear down the Zion Curtain with HB 285 – Alcoholic Beverage Service Amendments.
Intent to dine has not only been the source of frustration for those who wish to consume a drink at a restaurant, but has also caused many problems for the business owners and employees.
The logic behind intent to dine is that patrons who wish to drink at a restaurant should consume food to help reduce the total alcohol that enters a person’s system, thereby reducing the hazard that this individual poses to themselves or others. The reality, however, is that the law has been seen as intrusive and counter productive, as those who specifically visit a restaurant to drink simply move their consumption to bars or pubs. Adding to their woes, owners and staff have been hit with large fines by the Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control (DABC).
While running sting operations, restaurant staff and owners complained that DABC enforcement officers would badger, harass, and ultimately entrap wait staff until they relented and served agents a drink without agents specifically stating that they intended to eat. Servers would, in turn, be hit with a personal fine of $500 for every violation – a fine that can easily be larger than a week’s pay.
The Zion Curtain, too, has been a sore spot for many in the state. This policy is designed to make it impossible for children to view the creation of mixed drinks or the pouring of beer or wine, the logic being that it does not make the process attractive to youth and that they, in turn, will not have as great of a desire to drink later in life.
The Zion Curtain itself is not particularly business friendly in this pro-business state. Business owners may easily be forced to pay an additional $50,000 for the creation and construction of Zion Curtains in new restaurants. This added expense can be prohibitively high for potential small businesses. Even large chains who do not franchise out to small, independent, owners, have expressed in the past that a specific redesign of a template restaurant floor layout factors into a decision to locate or expand in Utah.
Adding to the Zion Curtains woe, there is no proof that the Zion Curtain is an effective way to prevent future alcohol consumption by children.
Despite what some conservative groups have claimed, there is no proof that the Zion Curtain works. Groups, such as the Sutherland Institute, have falsely extrapolated from studies that suggests that exposure to alcohol in general, particularly in the home, leads to an increased chance of alcohol consumption by the child. Though these studies are correct, the assumption that erecting a physical barrier at restaurants would prevent consumption is, at best, unproven.
As noted by Connor Boyack of the Libertas Institute, if this policy were to be carried out to its logical end, the state would have to ban consumption of alcohol outright in the home in order to reduce childhood exposure – a step few are willing to take.
To contact Representative Powell, Click Here or call 435-654-5986
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker