Finally, Utah businesses can get liquor licenses online

After decades of a paper-only process, DABS launched a web-based system for its 4,363 license holders.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services has launched an online system for handling license and permit applications and renewals, for the 4,363 businesses in Utah that sell alcohol.

Cade Campbell said he has, on occasion, had to drive from his resort near Zion National Park to Salt Lake City to make sure the paperwork for his business’ liquor license made it to state alcohol regulators on time.

“By driving that four-hour trip, it eliminated one possible way to lose a license,” said Campbell, general manager of Flanigan’s Resort and Spa in Zion Canyon. “I have heard of businesses being devastated by losing a permit from a simple clerical error or a lost package.”

As of Thursday, the process of getting a liquor license in Utah can be done online.

“Not only have all of the files been digitized, but the processes have been digitized, essentially going from a 95% paper operation to a 95% digital operation,” Tiffany Clason, executive director of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services, said Thursday, as she announced the launch of DABS’ online licensing and permitting system.

Utah businesses that sell alcohol — 4,363 of them in Utah, Clason said — will be able to go to a DABS website and do all the paperwork required for a license online.

“I’m so proud to say that we will no longer be drowning in paper,” Clason said, standing in the lobby of DABS’ Salt Lake City offices, next to 21 file boxes filled with binders.

Clason said those boxes represent “just a small fraction of the stacks and stacks and stacks of paper applications, required documents and payment records that licensees needed to bring here — and then our staff needed to maintain and deal with.”

DABS staff, Clason said, have spent nearly a year transferring those paper documents into the new online system. Now, compliance officers will be able to take a tablet with them when they check out locations, and help businesses fill in any gaps in the licensing process on the spot.

The department has a firm deadline coming up to test the new system: Approximately 1,200 Utah restaurants must renew their liquor licenses by Sept. 30. Clason said DABS’ compliance officers will be ready.

“We’ve had the system up and running for a month … testing each of our current applications,” Clason said, adding that staff are confident that they’ve “ironed out a lot of the glitches that might come to bear.”

DABS will host two virtual demonstrations of the new online system, on Aug. 22 and 30, to walk businesses through the system. Registration is required to take part in the demonstrations, and can be made on the DABS website, abs.utah.gov/Licensee-System.

Michelle Corigliano, executive director of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association, said that under the old system, “they’d have to fill it out by hand, if they didn’t have a typewriter. They’d fill out the paperwork, they’d get a check or money order, they’d run down [to DABS’ office] — they were stressed with the time restraints and the deadlines they had. They’d turn it in, and if there was one thing that was off, that could jeopardize their license.”

The shift to an online system, Corigliano said, is one indicator of how DABS has changed over the last few years.

“The attitude before was, ‘Let’s see how we can catch state licensees,’ honestly,” Corigliano said. “Now, it’s, ‘Let’s see how we can help the licensee.’”

Campbell believes that attitude shift came with the department’s name change — from Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services — which took effect on June 1, 2022.

“In the past, it was really controlling, and they didn’t want people to get these permits,” Campbell said. “If you did jump through all these hoops, and cross all these boxes off, then they would have to give it to you, … not, ‘Great, we’ve done this together. We can help your business.’”

Clason credited the Utah Legislature for helping make that attitude change happen. “It was sitting down and just having a conversation at the right time,” Clason said. “It was making a business case that revealed the [return on investment], not only for our customers ... but the [return on investment] to the state, in terms of better efficiency from our workers.”