DABC: Promise to order food, or no drink

Posted at 6:51 PM, Jul 30, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-31 10:36:44-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission is considering a new rule that would require customers to state an "intent to dine" before getting a drink at a restaurant.

The proposed rule, discussed at the DABC Commission meeting on Tuesday, would have servers ask if someone intended to order food before they were served alcohol at any restaurant. It came out of liquor laws passed during the last legislative session.

Under Utah law, one cannot order an alcoholic drink at a restaurant without ordering food. Lawmakers recently allowed for people to get a drink while they peruse the menu -- but they still must order something to eat. For a restaurant to have a license, 70 percent of their revenue must come from food sales.

DABC Commission Chairman David Gladwell said they have seen a 98-percent increase in customers ordering drinks -- but not buying food. Commissioners are seeking to create a "safe harbor" to protect restaurants and servers from punishment if a diner orders a drink but not food.

Debate on Tuesday centered around how the rule could be applied. The law passed by the legislature requires "confirmation of intent to dine." Commissioners wondered if that meant looking at the menu, nodding yes, or a verbal answer.

"The only way to actually ascertain that is to ask them, 'Do you intend to dine with us?' Or something to that effect," Gladwell told FOX 13. "Just merely having a menu present or walking into a restaurant with two or three people is not sufficient to establish that."

Tanner Strickland Lenart, an attorney representing Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants in Utah, noted that servers do immediately ask customers what they want to eat as they take drink orders -- but there  are also unique circumstances.

"A big concern for us is a large group of people," she said. "If there's eight people sitting around... the server, in the rule, there's nothing that says she doesn't have to get confirmation from each person. There's that concern of the intent of the rule. But the rule is supposed to tell us how to interpret that statute."

DABC commissioners delayed a vote on adopting the proposed rule until their next meeting, where they will seek public comment and input from restauranteurs.

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