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When may Utah diners order a drink? It depends under proposed rules

Published July 31, 2013 9:18 am

Liquor • In a nutshell: What must diners do to show "intent" to buy food? DABC weighs changes.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Here's a brain teaser.

May a Utah diner order a drink while studying the menu? Or must the waiter ask if the diner intends to eat food before the restaurant may legally serve an alcoholic beverage?

And what about diners waiting say, an hour for a table. Is one drink OK? Or is it legal to order a second beverage during the wait?

On Tuesday, liquor commissioners discussed these scenarios and others as they attempted to put together rules to comply with a newly enacted state law that makes it illegal for people to imbibe alcoholic beverages in restaurants without first ordering food.

Commissioners with the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control pared five proposed rules to three, and then put off coming up with a finalized version until their next meeting Aug. 27.

Commissioner Olivia Agraz said no rule can cover every circumstance at restaurants, so whatever is decided must be fairly broad.

"We can't babysit every little instance," she told colleagues.

But commissioner Dennis Nordfelt, a former West Valley City police chief and Utah Highway Patrol superintendent, said the rule must be precise — and written for the small number of people who will try to circumvent the system.

The issue comes down to what diners must do to show their "intent" to buy food.

One draft rule says servers must verbally establish that the diner will be ordering food — as long as there is no "subterfuge" on the part of the waiter to serve only drinks. Another rule removes trickery by the wait staff and establishes intent to order food as having a patron's name on a wait list or someone waiting for the rest of the group to arrive or a diner studying a menu. And still another possible rule would have patrons giving some kind of verbal confirmation that they will order food — but not food items prepared for takeout.

Commissioner Connie White wondered if simply going into a restaurant was enough of an intent to dine. She pointed out that state law also requires 70 percent of all receipts at restaurants to come from food, so it's unlikely eateries are becoming like bars that have no similar requirements.

While commissioners come up with rules, undercover liquor cops are busting restaurants for not serving food with drinks.

These types of violations — once rare — have jumped to 33 cases adjudicated since December, compared with none in the prior year. Fines for the violation, deemed "serious," start at $500 for the first offense and can go up to $3,000.

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Rule governing when Utah diners may order a drink

The law • HB240, which went into effect in May, clarifies that restaurant patrons may order an alcoholic drink as long as they show an "intent" to buy food.

Liquor board » The Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission must establish rules defining what "intent" means. For instance, does reserving a table show that diners intend to order food? And what must servers do to ensure that each individual in a large group orders food along with drinks?

Rules » The DABC discussed possible rules on Tuesday and will again discuss the issue at its Aug. 27 meeting.

Public comment » The proposed rule may be filed by Sept. 3 for publication in the Sept. 15 Utah State Bulletin and available online at http://abc.utah.gov/. Public comment to the DABC would end Oct. 15 with Oct. 22 as a tentative effective date.