Editorial: Try as it might, Legislature still can’t get Utah liquor laws right
April 21, 2018
The Utah Legislature took two steps forward when it took action to eliminate the so-called Zion Curtain in the 2017 legislative session.
The only problem is that it was accompanied by a large step back. The law that allowed restaurants to take down their Zion Curtains — the partitions previously required to hide the preparation of alcoholic beverages from patrons — also included a number of burdensome changes.
And after lawmakers neglected to remedy the problems this year, despite vigorous lobbying from a number of establishments in Park City and elsewhere, the issues are quickly coming to a head. The situation demonstrates once again that the best interests of the restaurant and tourism industries are not the top priority of lawmakers when they craft alcohol laws.
One of the major problems that will affect many Park City establishments centers on the looming elimination of the dining club license, which permitted them to simultaneously allow minors to dine and serve alcohol to adults without requiring them to order food. Now, those dining clubs must decide by the end of next month to classify themselves as either a restaurant or a bar, and both choices come with significant drawbacks.
Establishments that become bars, for instance, can no longer allow underage patrons. That's a problem for Park City dining clubs because families on vacation make up a significant portion of their business. Meanwhile, those that choose to become restaurants must comply with cumbersome conditions like a requirement that 70 percent or more of their revenue comes from food sales while only 30 percent can come from liquor sales.
Another option is applying for both restaurant and bar liquor licenses, but for most, it's hardly a practical solution. Apart from the fact the number of available licenses is limited, establishments that go that route must ensure their adult-only bar area and family-friendly restaurant space are in different rooms, separated by a wall at least 8 feet high and configured in such a way that patrons don't have to walk through the bar to get to the restaurant. For some, that would require a major layout redesign.
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If that all seems confusing and unnecessary, that's because it is. The situation is a mess. And with the 2018 legislative session behind us, the time for lawmakers to remedy it after the encouraging move to nix the Zion Curtain requirement has come and gone. Now, Park City's dining clubs — numbering around two dozen — will be forced to dramatically alter their businesses to comply with the new regulations.
Hopefully they will be able to adapt without too much of a hit to the bottom line. A more preferable scenario, of course, would have been the Legislature fixing the problems with the Zion Curtain law this year so the establishments didn't have to make the changes in the first place.
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