Starting Monday, restaurant patrons will be able to order wine or minibottles from their tables instead of heading to a separate in-house liquor store to make their purchases.
The changes in the state's liquor law have been hailed as a reform that will make the state more hospitable to tourists, while at the same time give restaurants more control over alcohol consumption.Lost in the discussion, however, were a number of other changes made to the liquor law. Some of those changes have confounded both the regulators and the regulated.
For example, take the word "table." A phrase added to the law, "Any alcoholic beverage may only be consumed at the patron's or guest's table," sent Alcoholic Beverage Control Department administrators scrambling for a definition.
Did lawmakers mean the table where restaurant patrons would eat dinner? Did they mean a table in an area set aside for patrons waiting to be seated for dinner? Did that mean anyone who chose to stand in such an area was violating the law?
The department's interpretation of the word "table" as used by lawmakers is spelled out in a four-page set of regulations released Friday that must be circulated for public comment before taking effect.
In two paragraphs, the regulations state that a patron's table "may be located in waiting, patio, garden and dining areas" but may not be at a bar or anywhere alcohol is dispensed.
Drinks must be consumed "within a reasonable proximity to a customer's table" so the waiter or waitress can keep an eye on how much the customer is drinking.
Most restaurateurs got their first hint of some of the complexities of the changes in the law when they attended meetings held over the past two weeks by the department in Salt Lake City, Park City and Ogden.
It was only then that some of them realized they may have to do more than just tell their waiters and waitresses that alcohol can be served directly to customers.
Department officials helped ease their concerns by telling them that many sections of the law would not be strictly enforced until the regulations take effect.
Meanwhile, they could stay out of trouble with state enforcement officials by following the clear-cut prohibitions against mentioning alcohol before a customer asks about it and serving a customer more than one mini-bottle at a time, and by keeping track of how much customers drink.
Other questions, the restaurateurs were told, could likely be answered by using common sense and considering the intent of the bill. And as for questions that are still not answered by the time the regulations take effect, department officials suggest that the restaurateurs consult the next session of the Legislature.
Reaction to the new law among restaurant owners is mixed. Joe Lambert, owner and manager of Shenanigans in downtown Salt Lake City, has said it will force him to make changes to $3,000 worth of new menus fresh from the printers.
Those menus violate the law by listing the beers sold by the restaurant. The only mention of alcoholic beverages allowed under the law is a statement telling customers that a separate alcoholic beverage menu is available upon request.
Lambert said he hopes to have a little fun with the law with the new alcoholic beverage menu by printing the text of the liquor laws so customers can better understand some of the confusion he expects to result.
That text, along with a complete listing of every food item available, will comply with another new requirement: That at least half of the alcoholic beverage menu list food and other non-alcoholic items.
Tom Guinney, a partner in Gastronomy Inc., which operates several popular area restaurants, including the Market Street Grill, is much more pragmatic about the changes.
Guinney said the separate alcoholic beverage menu requirement, for example, will likely boost the sales of desserts, since he plans to feature them prominently on his menus.