A consumer-friendly service currently banned in Utah — online beer and liquor ordering— could become legal, under a bill released recently in the Legislature.
HB371, a catchall alcohol measure sponsored by Reps. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville, and Steve Waldrip, R-Eden, addresses the 21st-century convenience that consumers have been clamoring, especially during the pandemic.
If approved, online ordering of beer at grocery stores would be allowed as long as the retailer does not process payment before it verifies that the customer — who still must go into the store — “is the patron who placed the order” and that she or he is 21 or older.
“The only difference is that you can now order online and give your credit card online,” said Waldrip. “You still have to go into the store” to present your ID.
Under current state law, consumers cannot place a beer order online. Grocery store employees can bring everything from milk and carrots to soap and toilet paper to a car for curbside pickup. But if shoppers want beer, they have to go inside to buy it. The restriction has been in place to prevent underage buyers from purchasing alcohol.
The curbside sales ban came to light several years ago, when Utah grocery stores started offering the “click and collect” online service for busy consumers. But the issue has become more pronounced over the past 11 months as Utahns have been encouraged to order online for pickup and delivery, hoping to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
Along those same lines, the newly unveiled bill also would allow customers to place an online order at a licensed distillery, brewery or winery.
The manufacturer would not be allowed to process the payment, the measure says, until the customer goes into the business and an employee determines that it is “the patron who placed the order” and that person is of legal age to buy alcohol.
The online ordering would not apply to Utah’s state-run liquor stores or smaller “package agencies” operated on a contract basis in rural areas.
The bill has not yet been assigned to a committee for debate.
It also does not address the issue of home delivery of alcohol. That convenience likely will remain illegal in the Beehive State for the foreseeable future.
Amid the coronavirus, several states have relaxed laws on alcohol purchases temporarily and are allowing curbside pickup and/or delivery of beer, wine and spirits, according to the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association.
In Utah, grocery stores can sell beer up to 5% alcohol by volume. Stronger beer is sold in state-run liquor stores.
Another item HB371 does not tackle is Utah’s shortage of bar licenses.
The state currently has seven businesses waiting for bar licenses, but the next permit won’t become available until April. Business owners as well as members of the state liquor commission say the delay could be remedied if the Legislature lowered the population ratio now in state code. Currently, Utah can have one bar for every 10,200 residents.
HB371 — which is 83 pages long — makes several other tweaks to state alcohol code, such as:
• Allowing hotels built within “a community reinvestment project area” to qualify for state liquor licenses — even if they are located close to a school, church and other community location. This provision is specifically designed to help the 26-story convention center hotel being built in downtown Salt Lake City. It doesn’t meet the current distance requirement under the law. The hotel would qualify as long as the bars, restaurants and other liquor sales areas are on the upper floors and not accessible from street level.
• Changing the definition of a “small brewer” and creating a tiered markup for independent producers — such as Uinta Brewing Co. — that make between 40,000 and 60,000 barrels of beer each year.
Correction • Feb. 22, 9:45 a.m.: This bill would allow consumers to order beer online for pick up inside stores. An earlier version misstated the pickup process.