Commentary: A restaurateur’s take on the ‘uphill battle’ the state of Utah makes his industry fight

Unlike other states, Utah restaurants can’t buy their wine or spirits wholesale.

(courtesy photo) Matt Caputo, CEO of Caputo's Market & Deli.

Making money for a store or restaurant is pretty straightforward. You must buy in quantity and then sell to your customers for more than you paid. What most people don’t know is that there is no wholesale on wine or spirits in Utah.

For example, if a restaurant wants to buy several cases of a particular wine, or even a full truck load of it, the state of Utah will not give them so much as a penny off. No matter how much they buy, restaurants, bars and resorts are forced to pay the same price as any private citizen buying a single bottle at a time.

In many states, restaurateurs can treat the food menu as a loss leader to entice customers to participate in the real profit center: alcohol sales. Tourism is now the biggest industry in Utah, yet food and beverage establishments are forced to fight for tourism dollars (and profits) with one hand tied behind their backs.

Despite the free market and anti-regulation rhetoric, the Utah Legislature continues to deprive the industry of deserving wholesale business. Making this one change to our liquor laws would propel Utah’s competitive edge in tourism to another level.

I understand there are many Utah citizens who do not wish to see this type of growth in tourism. In that case, I hope they never complain about the price of a glass of wine or cocktail, or even the cost of their entree, which is helping to offset the excessiveness of our “small” government. Utah restaurant businesses deserve to turn a profit like any other industry. We have enough uphill battles to fight, and lacking wholesale on alcohol should not be one of them.

Matt Caputo is the CEO of Caputo’s Market & Deli. This commentary was first published in the Utah Eats newsletter on Feb. 15.