Apparently not content with the damage they inflicted on Utah’s hospitality industry by driving the Outdoor Retailers conventions out of town, legislators have introduced proposed changes to liquor law that could provide the coup de grace.
The lesson to bars and restaurants expecting fairness: Be careful what you wish for. House Bill B442 was supposed to roll back the so-called Zion Curtain—the absurd 7-foot barrier meant to prevent children from seeing how much fun making cocktails can be. Legislators in 2007 thought watching a bartender make a drink would turn kids into drunken roof-top snipers.
One thing it accomplished was make Utah look like the most alcohol-hating government outside of the Middle East. And that, of course, undercut the state’s attempts to lure tourists and conventions.
As of Monday, the solution to the Zion Curtain is off and running. The solution lawmakers have come up with is to replace the Zion Curtain with a DMZ. Only diners 21 or over could sit within 10 feet of the bar—which works out to about half of some fine restaurants dining rooms.
Worse, the bill contains unexpected items—the least being a substantial hike in the price of alcoholic beverages that are making restaurateurs scream, “Never mind! Love that Zion Curtain.” (The hikes would also affect consumers in the liquor stores.)
Sean Neves, president of the U.S. Bartenders Guild Utah, bar owner and a board member of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association found several “deeply troubling items” in the proposed law, including the option to the 10-foot DMZ that would require a “barrier that prevents a patron seated in the dining area or a waiting area from viewing the dispensing of alcoholic product.”
It “does not remove the barrier, it only makes it bigger to block the view of drink preparation from all diners not in the exempted area—including the waiting and lobby area,” Neves says. “This is the Zion Curtain on steroids.”
Other problematic changes to the law include:
— Increase in population quota for bar licenses. The DABC would determine the number of licenses issued by dividing the population of the state by 10,538—that would be a reduction from the current formula of one club (or bar, the terminology may change) license per 7,850 residents.
– The 400 restaurants that were grandfathered into the current law will now have to comply with the new regulations, wich could cost the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
– Convenience stores and gas stations selling 3.2 beer will now be licensed requiring them to meet rigorous display and insurance requirements.
—Bar tabs would require recording of type and amount of alcohol and the time of dispensing, something some register software can’t provide.
—The vague language in the proposed regulations could interfere with serving wine in a restaurant.
The hospitality industry had hoped for a workable compromise on the Zion Curtain, Neves says. Instead, “The folks on the “other side” of the table seem to have pounced on this opportunity to rewrite huge sections of Utah code. As written, this language is a threat to the very existence of the hospitality industry in Utah.”