Proposed new Utah liquor license may attract national chains

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 13 2012 3:42 p.m. MST

Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, has drafted a bill that would create a "master" license that a company could obtain to cover all of its locations rather than having to get a permit for each one. The change would not only make more licenses available for single-site restaurants, but would encourage more national chains to open in the state. Difficulties in acquiring permits in the past has discouraged them from coming to Utah.

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SALT LAKE CITY — National restaurant chains might be more inclined to locate in Utah if lawmakers approve a proposed change to the state's liquor laws.

Restaurant chains with alcohol on the menu that are looking to expand could do so with one liquor license under a bill drafted by Sen. John Valentine. The Orem Republican's proposal would create a "master" license that a company could obtain to cover all of its locations rather than having to get permits for each one.

The change would not only make more licenses available for single-site restaurants, but would encourage more big chains to open in the state. Difficulties in acquiring permits in the past has discouraged them from coming to Utah.

The Legislature's Business and Labor Interim Committee is scheduled to discuss the proposal Wednesday.

"The advantage for it is that it gives predictability for people that want to expand in Utah," Valentine said. "They don't have to worry that they may not be able to expand because they may not get the quotas. It also takes pressure off the existing quotas (for liquor licenses) because we have those additional licenses going back into the pool for reallocation."

The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control issues a limited number of liquor permits to restaurants based on population. Once the quota is reached, none are available until an establishment relinquishes or loses its license.

Not knowing whether permits would be available has been an impediment to national chains expanding to Utah, Valentine said.

As of Tuesday, there were 32 full-service and 45 limited-service restaurant licenses available, according to the DABC.

Valentine, who often carries alcohol-related bills in the Utah Legislature, said he knows some anti-alcohol groups might be opposed to making more licenses available. But he said he thinks it can be done in way that gives the state good control over companies who buy a master license. Those companies will be watching their stores carefully to make sure they comply with the law, Valentine said.

"They don't want the risk of the having the whole chain come apart," he said.

The Utah chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which generally opposes making more liquor licenses available, wasn't ready Tuesday to weigh in on Valentine's proposal.

Chapter president Art Brown said he hasn't had a chance to review the bill or talk to the senator about it.

The Utah Restaurant Association supports the proposal.

"I think it's a good thing overall," said Melva Sine, association president. "I think it sends a message that Utah wants to, with our rules and regulations, make it so that we are welcoming to businesses of all sectors of the economy."

In addition to making the state more attractive to new restaurants, Sine said the master license would help establishments understand from the top down what they need to do to comply with the state's liquor laws.

Sine also said it would make state alcohol regulators more efficient in ensuring compliance.

"It should make the job of the DABC a less complex issue," she said.

Under Valentine's bill, a master full-service restaurant license would cost $1,500 plus a separate $2,200 fee for each location. Under state law, a full-service restaurant may offer liquor, wine and beer.

A master limited-service license would cost $750 plus a separate $825 fee for each location. Limited-service restaurants may only offer wine and beer.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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