Sweeping changes for Utah’s liquor laws

On its second-to-last day of the session, Utah’s legislature voted in sweeping new liquor laws. Industry members wanted to mitigate Utah’s reputation as a tough place to get drinks and still prevent any underage drinking or overconsumption, while other interest groups wanted to preserve the status quo.

It’s not clear if anyone is completely pleased with the results, which include more options for liquor visibility, staff training and more education on alcohol for students, but it is certain that these new laws will affect every restaurant and bar in the state—some more than others.

Zion Curtain

Previously, all liquor dispensing in restaurants (with the exception of bottle service) had to take place behind a “Zion Curtain” blocking the view. Now, you can take down the barrier with some caveats:

  • You must not seat minors (under 21) within 10 feet of the dispensing area or you may build a 42-inch high “barrier” five feet away from the dispensing area, and then minors may sit anywhere outside of that.
  • However, if you have a “grandfathered bar” (built prior to 2009; if you have one, you know who you are), you can sit minors within 10 feet of the dispensing area only if it’s the only available place for them to sit, and so long as they’re with an adult.
  • Minors may temporarily pass through the 10-foot dispensing area (e.g., on the way to the toilet or exit).

Other changes

The new laws will affect restaurants in other ways, for good or bad:

  • Patrons must be seated to order drinks. You can have a drink while waiting for your table, but you do have to be seated.
  • Restaurants must display “in a conspicuous space” an 8.5×11 sign stating the location is a restaurant and not a bar.
  • Hours of service have changed: you can begin alcohol sales at 10:30 on weekends and holidays. Happy brunching.
  • You can now serve beer until 12:59 a.m. on weekends and holidays. You still have to stop service of wine and liquor at 11:59 every night, no matter what the day.
  • If you have a “dining club” license, you will have to decide by next year whether you want to be a bar or a restaurant. This is a huge issue, which could affect leases that don’t allow bars, forcing entities to become restaurants—with the more rigid 70/30 food-to-alcohol sales ratio.
  • All managers must undergo additional training, to be drafted by the DABC. It may be online or in person.
  • Liquor prices will rise 2 percent.

This is merely a general overview. Most of these will not go into effect for a year or more, although you may see Zion Curtains being torn down as soon as Gov. Gary Herbert signs the bill into law.

Presented as information only and not intended to form a legal relationship.

tanner lenartTanner Lenart is an attorney at Christensen & Jensen, P.C., specializing in liquor laws and insurance defense. She is a board member of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association and a private pilot, willing to fly across the state in pursuit of a good meal. Follow her on twitter: @UTliquorlawyer

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