Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: Restaurants and barkeeps are being driven crazy by a Utah DABC bureaucracy snafu. But the DABC says everything is awesome. (BTW, SNAFU is an archaic term, but I’ve brought it back because it so perfectly evokes Utah’s liquor situation—Google it.)
On July 5, the DABC fired up new inventory tracking software system. (Try to stay awake, it gets better).
Brand-spankin’-new DABC spokesman Terry Wood confirmed that things, as they say in the computer world, went south. The problem he says was that the code in the program could not list all the digits in the product ID (SKU) for the products.
The bottom line, in non-wonk language, is that shipments of liquor, wine and beer could not be delivered or picked up by restaurants and bars because digital paperwork could not be generated.
Here’s what a half-dozen bar and restaurant managers told me: (Note: They did not want their names or businesses attached to their information because the DABC is notoriously vindictive when criticized—kinda like Donald Trump.)
“What happens in that kind of situation is that our ability to serve our guests is hindered,” says one beverage director. Because menus had to be changed and guests were disappointed when some regularly served wines weren’t available—not to mention the wasted time of managers futilely trying to pick up orders, “We lost revenue.”
“I could see my order at the club store,” he says. “But the computer couldn’t generate an order, so I couldn’t pick it up.”
If you recall, Gov. Gary Herbert is committed to running DABC on a business basis—a monopoly business.
But Wood, remember he’s just a DABC spokesman, says DABC managers told him the bar owners were “exaggerating” the problem. “[The new software] did have some problems,” Wood says. “The public would never have noticed. There may be special-order restaurants that had a problem—one or two, but nothing that stuck out.”
Because of Utah’s byzantine liquor laws, “special orders” aren’t what you think. Because the state’s inventory no longer has the variety and depth it had under former DABC premium-wine chief Brent Clifford, many liquor buyers have had to establish regular, on-going “special orders” to meet customer demand.
A DABC retail manager says the software reports, for instance, that a store has 16 bottles of a product, when in reality it has none. Employees find it as frustrating as liquor license holders and DABC HQ is not sympathetic, the manager says.
“IT people have been putting a lot of overtime in due to the problems,” says a DABC employee. “The system is not very user friendly. It should have been tested more before implemented. In fact I wonder why they decided on this system.”
When a bar owner was informed that no problems “ stuck out” with the system, he replied, “Really? Oh, really—no problem?” then laughed ruefully.
The software launch was preceded by test runs and a help line was provided,” Wood says. But restaurant and bar buyers say they were told that the system had not been tested. And, they wonder why—if the system had been tested—why was the failure a surprise that took more than a month to fix.
Current status, Wood says, is that the system is “90-plus percent” fixed. “It’s basically working now.”
But liquor and wine buyers say that’s news to them. The beverage manager says, “No one can tell me where my wine is! I need real-world information. This is a haze that hurts business.”