New alcohol 'intent to dine' service law left to restaurants to define
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah restaurant owners can decide for themselves how to comply with a state law requiring them to confirm that customers intend to eat food and not just drink alcohol.
After struggling to make a rule about how restaurants should go about confirming an intent to dine, the state liquor commission Tuesday decided no rule was best. It considered various proposals, including requiring servers or hosts to get verbal acknowledgement from patrons.
"The more we looked at this, the more muddy it got," said Commissioner David Gladwell, chairman of the Utah Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.
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. Lawmakers said the aim is to maintain a clear distinction between restaurants and bars.
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 say they plan to order food but leave without eating.
Commissioners said it's less confusing for the restaurant industry to let the law stand without an administrative rule attempting to clarify or interpret it.
Commissioner John T. Nielsen said restaurant owners understand what they need to do.
"I think the industry does a really good job of self-policing here," he said.
DABC regulators issued 48 citations to restaurants for serving alcohol without food last year, accounting for 10 percent of all violations statewide.
Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association, said the commission made the right decision.
"It leaves it to the discretion of the operation, which is how it should be," she said.
Sine said the association has viewed the intent-to-dine law as unnecessary.
"When a person goes into a restaurant, we believe they're intending to dine. They usually ask for table or asked to be seated. That's pretty much intent to dine," she said.
While the commission didn't adopt a rule, DABC might issue some informal guidelines to help restaurants comply with the law.
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