Strange Utah liquor law says no drinks before food

utah restaurantIf you like to have a cocktail while perusing the menu at your favorite restaurant, don’t try it in Utah. It’s against the law.

According to a report by the Salt Lake Tribune, compliance offices and the state’s liquor control agency are cracking down on owners whose employees violate the Utah law that requires diners to request food before serving alcohol.  While the law has been rarely enforced in the past, undercover stings have netted several violations.

The violation can result in a liquor license suspension of five to 30 days or fines from $500 to $3,000.

The timing of the latest enforcement couldn’t be worse, according to the report:

The stricter enforcement comes just before the opening of the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 17. Undercover officers will be patrolling restaurants that serve many of the tens of thousands of people from Utah and worldwide who attend the 11-day event, which brings in nearly $70 million to the state’s economy. Now, when restaurants are crowded, diners waiting for tables will have to forgo an alcoholic beverage, including people who have made reservations, and customers who are seated may not have a beverage until they place an order for food.

“This will hurt tourism,” said Joe Fraser, co-owner of seven ‘Bout Time Pub & Grub restaurants and bars in the state. “Utah already has a stigma that it’s difficult to get a drink, and now there’s one more hurdle people will have to face.”

A spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control says the enforcement effort is because of lax restaurant procedures, but those in the business say there’s a shift toward a “stricter interpretation of the law”.

“There’s absolutely been a change in policy — a huge change,” said attorney Rick Golden, who worked at the DABC from 1977 to 1988 and has since represented clients before the board that oversees the agency’s operations.

Formerly, evidence that diners intended to order food could include a query such as “Are you intending to dine with us tonight?” This would allow a patron to order alcohol while studying the menu.

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