Want to sip a cocktail or a glass of wine before dinner?

Too bad. You can't in Utah restaurants.

Utah's DABC announced last week–on the eve of Sundance Film Festival and Outdoor Retailers trade show which bring thousands of visitors to the state–that it will begin strictly enforcing the no-food-no-drink policy law literally. (Read the details in Dawn House's article in the Salt Lake Tribune. )

That is, until you actually order food–and complementary olives or chips served by the restaurant doesn't count–you cannot order a drink.

In the past, many restaurants served drinks to guests who intended to order food. Which most of them do, because, after all they are in a restaurant, not a tavern or bar.

What purpose this newly rigorous enforcement is supposed to serve is anyone's guess. A possible rationale would be to encourage eating while drinking, so people wouldn't feel the effect of alcohol so fast. But it can't be as public-minded as that, since complementary food "doesn't count."

It looks like plain old harassment aimed mostly at small independent restaurants, dreamed up by people with no experience of the hospitality industry.

To out-of-state guests, being required to order food with a pre-dinner drink looks like a gross up-sell. A ripoff technique. It's already suspect that your drink has to be poured out of sight, leading some to wonder whether a cheaper liquor is being served than the one they ordered.

The Utah food scene has come so far in the last ten years, but every step forward–which is a step towards building a stronger tourist, hospitality, convention business climate–is accompanied by a couple of stupid steps backwards.

The same week Viet Pham brings the national spotlight to Utah fine dining by winning Iron Chef America on TV, the DABC reinforces the old idea that "you can't get a drink in Utah."

It's time for restaurants to get organized and speak up. Go to the DABC meetings. Go the Capitol and introduce yourself to some legislators. 

But I know most of them won't for fear of retribution by the DABC.

Yeah, it's easier to buy a hundred rounds of ammo for a Bushmaster in Utah than it is to buy a round of drinks. And we're flirting with the idea of hosting the Olympics again?

What a joke.