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Utah liquor board approves 'booze with food' guidelines

Published October 30, 2013 9:20 am

Alcohol • Suggestions that end months of debate and speculation aim to help the eateries comply with the law.
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Diners at Utah restaurants who want to enjoy beer, wine or a cocktail with their meal will have to answer "yes" to the question: "Will you be dining with us today?"

According to new guidelines unanimously approved Tuesday by state liquor commissioners, restaurants "must make some effort to determine the patron's intent to order food." The simplest way to do that is to ask.

Posting signs that say food is required or having a menu available "is not sufficient to obtain safe harbor under the statute," according to the one-page instructions that soon will be sent to all restaurants holding a state liquor license.

By adopting the guidelines,the commission ends months of controversy and debate about the state's "intent to order food" law.

"I'm happy we've come to this point," said chairman David Gladwell, after the meeting. "Licensees now have some guidance" on how to stay within a new law, HB240, which took effect in May.

The legislation clarified a long-standing law that Utah diners must order food with alcohol at restaurants. The law does not apply to establishments with bar or club licenses.

Commissioners with the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control typically establish rules after new legislation is enacted.

However, after numerous discussions, the liquor commission decided there were too many questions and dining scenarios to create a concise set of rules for all restaurants to follow: Did simply walking into a restaurant establish an intent to eat? What about studying a menu? Did reservations count?

Instead of causing more confusion, the department decided to develop general guidelines and will let restaurants police themselves.

Self-policing shouldn't be a problem, since overall the industry has complied with the longtime state law, Gladwell said. "They're the experts in the hospitality industry and we trust them."

The Utah Restaurant Association has given its approval to the guidelines.

Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association, had said previously that the state law requiring receipts at restaurants be at least 70 percent in food sales ensures that eateries are not acting like bars where no food is required to order a drink.

Besides telling restaurants what to do to establish intent, the guidelines also state what to do when patrons say they aren't hungry and just want a drink.

"The server needs to promptly explain the food requirement for alcohol service in restaurants," the guidelines state. "If the patron persists, the server should not serve the alcohol and notify other employees and supervisors of the situation."

The State Bureau of Investigation, whose agency conducts undercover stings, has said that officers will not be citing restaurants if they serve diners a drink before ordering food, so long as customers eventually order something to eat. The violations carry fines of $500 to $3,000 and license suspensions from five to 30 days.