State liquor commission struggles with new restaurant service rules

Published: Tuesday, July 30 2013 5:14 p.m. MDT

The state liquor commission is wrestling with how to carry out a new state law calling for restaurants to confirm that customers intend to order food and not just alcoholic drinks.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Restaurants aren't sure how to deal with a new state law requiring them to confirm customers intend to order food along with any alcoholic drinks they might want.

"We're just looking for clarity," Tanner Lenart, an attorney for Buffalo Wild Wings, told the state liquor commission Tuesday. "We just want to comply with what the state Legislature has handed down."

Lenart said the restaurant has had issues with the so-called intent-to-dine law since it took effect July 1. Some patrons have paid for drinks and left without buying food.

"That's very scary for us," said Loreli Pavelka, general manager for Buffalo Wild Wings in West Valley City.

Under Utah law, restaurants may not serve alcohol to customers who don't order food. Lawmakers earlier this year amended that statute to say a restaurant cannot serve alcohol until it confirms the patron intends to order food.

The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is now charged with adopting rules to carry out the law.

The change is intended to be a "safe harbor" — meaning establishments would not be cited with a violation if they serve drinks to customers who confirm they plan to order food but leave without eating.

But state alcohol commissioners struggled Tuesday with various proposed rules clarifying how restaurants get the confirmation and how many drinks a server could provide before a customer orders food.

Does intent to dine need to be verified verbally? Does a reservation or holding a table with a credit card suffice? In a party of six, does each person need to acknowledge plans to eat?

Commissioners were told that handing a customer a menu or posting a sign on the door stating that a food order is required would not be enough.

"I don't see any way to solve this with certainty," said Commissioner Constance B. White. "I just seems like common sense."

The point of the law, officials said, is to maintain a distinction between restaurants and bars.

Commissioner Jeff Wright suggested the law would be self-policing due to the state law requiring that restaurants sell 70 percent food to 30 percent alcohol.

"If they fall below that, they will be in trouble," he said.

The commission determined it can't write a rule for every scenario that might come up.

"We can't baby-sit every little instance. We can't. It's not our purpose," said Commissioner Olivia Vela Agraz.

Commissioners plan to discuss the proposed rules again in August.

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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