‘Zion Curtain’ bill, moving through Legislature, gains support | ParkRecord.com

‘Zion Curtain’ bill, moving through Legislature, gains support

Restaurant industry considers changes a fair compromise

A much-debated bill that would overhaul some of Utah's liquor laws — including the requirement that restaurants that serve alcohol use "Zion Curtains" to shield patrons from the pouring of drinks — is moving through the Utah Legislature with a measure of support from the Park City restaurant industry.

The House Business and Labor Committee on Wednesday gave H.B. 442 a favorable recommendation, passing it along to the House of Representatives. The most notable element of the bill is that it would give restaurants two alternatives to Utah's controversial Zion Curtain requirement that forces them to pour alcohol behind large partitions. To tear down its Zion Curtain, a restaurant would have to either create a 10-foot buffer zone around its dispensing area where minors cannot be seated, or construct a 42-inch wall or railing that separates the bar area from dining space.

Additionally, restaurants that did not have to construct Zion Curtains because they were grandfathered in when that legislation was passed in 2009 would no longer be exempt from the requirements. They would have to choose one of the three options.

Among the other changes, the bill would eliminate dining club liquor licenses for establishments that don't allow minors but make more than 60 percent of their money on food sales. Dining clubs, currently exempt from the Zion Curtain rules, would have to choose between becoming bars or full-service restaurants by 2018. Those that become restaurants would have until 2022 to comply with the dispensing regulations.

The restaurant industry, which has been eager to tear down the Zion Curtain — or Zion Wall — for years, has given cautious support to the bill. Hans Fuegi, one of the most respected members of Park City's restaurant industry and head of the Utah Restaurant Association's liquor task force, said the legislation represents a leap forward.

Primarily, it will make Utah's liquor laws less puzzling for diners, who are often unsure why some restaurants must have the Zion Curtain while others don't, he said. Adding to the perplexity is the fact full-service restaurants must ask patrons if they have an "intent to dine" before serving them alcohol, while dining clubs — which often look identical to restaurants — don't.

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If the bill becomes law, that confusion will go away.

"We knew there were going to be compromises," said Fuegi, who owns the Grub Steak Restaurant on Sidewinder Drive. "… It all depends on how you look at this. If you look at this on behalf of the 1,200 restaurant licensees, it seems like a fair compromise. It really levels the playing field for the restaurant industry because it will clean up the confusion. Overall, the bill goes a long way toward that, and that's the overriding view."

He added that many in the restaurant industry see the legislation as a hard-earned victory, even though it might not be perfect for every single establishment.

"It's been eight years now that we've had to put up with this nonsensical wall," he said, noting that the bill could still evolve in the final week of the legislative session. "Within reason, whatever needs to happen to eliminate that, that's what we need to do."

Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, which counts many of the restaurants in the Park City area among its membership, echoed Fuegi's sentiments and added that it's crucial that the bill would provide dining clubs that choose to become restaurants a lengthy period of time to comply with the dispensing regulations.

"I think everybody will kind of learn to live with it," he said. "The good side is restaurants will be restaurants. It won't be like, 'Wait a minute, I was in (an establishment) last night, and they let me do this, and tonight you're telling me I can't.' People don't know the difference between a restaurant and a dining club. At least there will be consistency."

Malone added that, he expects that restaurants will have to live with its provisions of the bill for the next several years if it passes because it's not often that efforts to drastically alter the liquor-dispensing laws gain steam in the Legislature. Another round of improvements may not come for six or seven years.

"It doesn't seem like we get momentum in these things," he said. "I think we end up taking advantage of the opportunities that are given to us in certain times. Sometimes we make some significant gains in terms of what I would call normalization of liquor laws, and we're kind of at that point this year."