PANEL SAYS CUSTOMERS SHOULD IMBIBE ONLY AFTER BEING SEATED AT DINNER TABLE

ALLOWING CONSUMPTION IN RESTAURANT WAITING AREAS VIOLATES INTENT OF THE LAWRestaurant customers should be able to drink only at the same table where they'll be served dinner, says a member of the citizen panel that drafted Utah's liquor reform law.

Gayle Judd of the Citizens Council on Alcoholic Beverage Control said state regulations allowing drinks to be consumed in restaurant waiting areas violate the intent of the law.Judd raised her objections at a meeting of the council Wednesday and said afterward that she intends to bring them up at a state Alcoholic Beverage Control Department hearing on the regulations on May 17.

The regulations detail how restaurants should implement the changes in the state liquor laws, which went into effect on April 25. The most publicized change allows minibottles and wine to be served at a customer's table.

But other changes were also made to help servers keep an eye on how much customers drink. Among those other changes was a new requirement that alcoholic beverages could only be consumed at a customer's table.

Restaurateurs complained that the definition of the word "table" was unclear and questioned whether customers could continue drinking in waiting areas until a table for them to eat at became available.

The regulations now allow drinks to be consumed "within a reasonable proximity to a customer's table." Department officials have told restaurateurs that drinking in waiting areas can continue as long as there are tables there.

Judd, who said she asked for the requirement that drinks be consumed only at a customer's table to be included in the law drafted by the committee, called that interpretation wrong.

"We were talking about the dinner table," she said. "This committee spent a considerable amount of time talking about restaurants becoming bars in the state of Utah."

Judd said the waiting areas in many restaurants are no different than bars, since customers can drink without eating. She said the purpose of eliminating drinking in the waiting areas was to make sure customers eat while they consume alcohol.

The regulations state that all alcoholic beverages, including beer, must be sold in connection with food. But department officials have said drinks can be served to customers who have placed their names on a waiting list for a table since they have committed themselves to eating before leaving the premises.

The council did not discuss Judd's objections on Wednesday since copies of the regulations were distributed at the meeting and several council members had not yet reviewed them.

Judd said that if the department does not change the regulations to eliminate drinking in waiting areas, she will recommend that the council ask the Legislature to amend the law again.

If adopted by the Liquor Control Commission, the regulations could become effective as soon as June 15. The hearing on the regulations is scheduled for 10 a.m. May 17 at the department's administrative headquarters, 1625 S. Ninth West, and written comment will be taken until June 2.