Dining club license removal proves to be buzzkill for Park City restaurants (w/video)
Tali Bruce was forced to make a difficult decision regarding her business last year. In her mind, there was only one way to go forward, and she knew she was about to lose numerous guests.
Bruce is the owner of six franchise locations of the Bout Time Pub & Grub sports bar, including one in Kimball Junction. Because of a state law that went into effect in July eliminating dining club licenses, Bruce had to decide whether to classify her establishments as restaurants or 21-and-older bars. She felt she had no option but to give families the boot.
She was one of several business owners forced to choose between what they believe were two imperfect options. The fallout cost many Park City restaurants hundreds of customers or thousands of dollars in renovation costs.
Dining clubs, a designation several Park City restaurants held, were permitted to ride the fine line between a restaurant and a bar. Youths were welcome in the establishments as long as they were with adults, but certain restrictions regarding alcohol were lifted. Guests could order a second alcoholic drink without first ordering food and they could stand or walk while consuming alcohol, for example.
In the wake of the new law, Bout Time was one of the Park City businesses that opted for a bar license. Bruce said no other option seemed feasible, mostly because of the state’s 70/30 rule for businesses with restaurant liquor licenses. The rule requires restaurants to maintain a ratio of food to alcohol gross sales of at least 70 percent to 30 percent. Bruce said she would have had to tell her seasoned guests to order food with their drinks if Bout Time became a licensed restaurant.
Instead, she has to tell other guests to leave their kids at home.
“It’s been painful,” she said. “We turn away a lot of guests and they are disappointed. They express their frustrations.”
She said the change damages the reputation of Park City as a whole, and impacts the tourism business throughout the state.
Ben Hoerst, general manager of Butcher’s Chop House on Main Street, also worries the changes might deter visitors in the future. Already, he said his guests complain about the new look and schedule of the restaurant. Butcher’s Chop House is no longer able to serve families after 10 p.m., a service that was frequently utilized by families arriving in Park City late after flying or driving to the destination.
“It will have a lasting impact on us because it just changed the entire appearance of our restaurant,” he said.
After the dining club designation was removed, Butcher’s Chop House was able to secure both a restaurant and bar license, but to become compliant with the law, the business had to install an 8-foot wall and clunky doors to separate the bar from the kids-friendly restaurant area.
Hoerst said the fix was expensive and a hassle. The restaurant had to close for a few days in order to construct the wall. The changes were finalized in September.
He said the restaurant, which is part of a larger restaurant group, was luckily able to shoulder the costs of the project.
“I can’t imagine being a small business owner and having to go through these changes constantly and being in constant fear of what the state is going to change,” he said. “The state pulls the rug out from under them every two years or so.”
Two years ago, the state decided to do away with the “Zion Curtain” law, which forced restaurants to put up partitions so patrons could not watch bartenders make alcoholic drinks. Many restaurants removed those barriers when the law changed. But now, if business owners want to hold both restaurant and bar licenses, they have to put up another wall that is at least eight feet high between the two areas.
Max Doilney, owner of Corner Store Pub & Grill, said he had to secure loans to afford the $150,000 needed to renovate his restaurant.
“That’s not something you make up in one day,” he said.
He already had two separate rooms he could utilize as two distinct areas, but he moved the bar table from one room to another in order to have more space in the newly designated restaurant side. Then, he had to reorganize the kitchen to accommodate the swap.
“This particular transition (was) the hardest thing I’ve ever done professionally, hands down,” he said. “And I pray to God I never have to do this much again. We hope we’ve set it up so that regardless of what law changes, we’ll be able to shake and jive and work with it.”
He reopened the establishment in October.
Doilney said he is frustrated by the changing laws. He worries the money and time he put into the renovations could be in vain if the law changes during a future legislative session.
Kim Hardle, general manager of Red Rock Junction in Kimball Junction, shares Doilney’s frustration with the shifting laws. She said the restaurant had to make changes because of the former Zion Curtain law, and then again when the law changed. Now, because of a different regulation preventing minors from sitting within 10 feet of a bar — a so-called “Zion Moat” — that was put into effect in 2017, Hardle said she has limited seating for families and minors.
Red Rock Junction was able to maintain both its restaurant and bar licenses without doing too many structural changes, though. The main area is now designated as a restaurant and the rear banquet room, which was previously used for large parties and events, is a bar. Prior to the change, minors were often included in events held in the back room.
Hardle said the change has affected the restaurant’s sales.
“We have seen a dramatic decrease in business in our back room because we cannot accommodate minors,” she said.
Most guests stick to the main room now because the bar area is secluded and accessible via a narrow hallway. Hardle now finds herself patrolling guests to make sure they aren’t standing or walking with a drink in hand.
“My least favorite part is having to treat my adult guests like children when I have explain to them that they must order a side of fries to get a second drink, that they cannot stand up and give a birthday toast because it is illegal and (I have to) carry their beers three feet to the next table for them because of an inane law,” she said. “I find treating guests this way painfully inhospitable.”
She is not happy with the change and, like many restaurant owners, she wonders why the dining club license was taken away. Several Park City businesses, including Doilney and Bruce, lobbied against the legislation and invited lawmakers to visit their establishments. Doilney was sure the bill would not go through, but then the majority of the legislators he thought he persuaded voted yes.
He said it has been an adjustment over the last few months as he, his employees and his guests get used to the shift.
“Everybody had to change. We all had to spend money,” he said. “They took away a license that actually held value to us.”
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