Here we go again — Utah liquor store customers want shorter lines, cold beer and better selection

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cynthia Garcia working at the liquor store in Sandy on Tuesday Nov. 20, 2018. Liquor sales on the days leading up to Thanksgiving are expected to hit another record this year.

Warm beer, poor selection and long checkout lines. A new survey shows that customers at Utah’s state-run liquor stores seem to have the same old gripes.

While it’s tough to hear — again — officials with the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control say they welcome the comments that are coming through a new customer feedback survey.

“We want to resolve concerns if we can,” said DABC Deputy Director Cade Meier, “and provide better service overall.”

Two months ago, the DABC launched a new online survey tool on its website. It allows customers to comment on service, product selection, availability and their overall liquor-shopping experience. Patrons also can take the survey by using a cellphone to scan in the QR code at the bottom of their receipt.

So far, 2,355 customers have submitted feedback, said Meier, who presented the initial results to the state liquor commission Tuesday during its monthly meeting.

Overall, customers give the liquor stores an average score of 3 — out of a possible 5. The department hopes to boost that grade over time, said Meier. “Our ultimate goal is to give customers a great shopping experience.”

In recent years, the department has received money from the Legislature to better train employees and add more stores, he said. “But we definitely work within budget constraints.”

Blame that on state law. Between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018, the DABC brought in a record $453.7 million, a 6 percent jump from the previous year. The agency keeps a portion of the revenues to cover operating costs but, under state law, it must send the rest to the state. Most of the liquor profits go into the general fund, while smaller portions are used for the school lunch program, liquor-law enforcement, and education programs that work to prevent underage drinking.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The sales figures do not include beer that contains less than 4 percent alcohol by volume, which can be bought at grocery and convenience stores.

While some survey comments were positive, most take the stores, the DABC and the Legislature to task. One commenter said the DABC should be striving for an experience similar to the “Apple Store, not post-WWII Eastern Europe.”

Meier said customer service and selection are the themes of most customer complaints. "Most of the people are being real, which is fine with us,” he said. “We just have to put on our thick skin.”

Here is a sampling of the comments the DABC received:

• “Parking is bad, store is too small, products are not refrigerated, there aren’t enough locations.”

• “Beer should be stored cold or it loses quality. … Honestly research it."

• “Lack of refrigeration for beer. Deal killer for excellent beer.”

• “The lines are too long and the employees, while nice, are too slow.”

• “No cold beer, IPAs should not be stored and sold warm! The beer selection is way too small. The hours open need to be extended beyond 7 p.m.”

• “Poor product selection. High prices. Not enough workers. Some workers had great knowledge … others, not so much."

• “I cannot always find what I’m looking for and, when I do, you don’t keep it in stock every time I go in. Your stock changes too often for me to consistently get what I want each time.”

• “Random selection, no mixers, feel like I’m being policed.”

• “Had a difficult time finding what I was looking for and the employees would not assist at all.”

• “Standing in line for 10 minutes to make a purchase. Two registers open and 10 customers in one line and 12 customers in the other the weekend before a holiday.”

• “There is extremely limited parking available and it’s difficult to get in and out of spots. There are also a lot of homeless people begging for money and alcohol, which makes me feel unsafe as a patron. The lines are also usually extremely long, even during non-peak hours.”

The feedback survey is a permanent fixture on the website, said Meier, and the DABC plans to track the responses and use the data to better focus the department’s limited resources.