In testimony delivered on Wednesday January 7th, 2008 before the Utah State Legislature's Administrative Rules Committee, the Utah Restaurant Association claimed that retrofitting restaurants to hide the preparation and storage of alcohol could cost each affected restaurant as much as $100,000. Full story from the Salt Lake Tribune.
District 6 State Senator Mike Waddoups (R-Taylorsville) is the point man behind the legislative effort. As discussed in this previous post, he objects in principle to kids in restaurants being able to watch alcoholic drinks being mixed. Driving his objection in particular is the display at Chili's Restaurant at 668 East 400 South in downtown Salt Lake. Right behind the hostess stand, dozens of liquor bottles are stacked in an alcove where a bartender mixes drinks, in full view of diners. But what really jacks Waddoups' jaws is the possibility that a minor could approach the counter, and if no one else is watching, reach over an 18-inch wooden barrier and snatch an alcoholic beverage placed there for servers picking up drinks for diners.
So Senator Waddoups summoned state liquor control officials to appear before the Administrative Rules Review Committee to find out why restaurants are allowed to mix alcoholic drinks in a bar setting and to brainstorm prospective solutions. During the hearings, Waddoups directed liquor-control officials to determine if rules can be tightened, including retrofitting restaurants to separate diners from areas where alcohol is prepared or stored. He also said he would consider restricting minors from bar areas at restaurants.
But the idea of retrofitting restaurants to hide the preparation and storage of alcohol was immediately panned by Utah Restaurant Association CEO Melva Sine, who estimated that such regulations would require new plumbing, electrical, flooring and other remodeling, costing an estimated $100,000 per restaurant. Sine also dismissed Waddoups' concerns about kids, stating, "The notion that young people may be tempted to drink alcohol simply because they have been exposed to a bottle of wine or liquor in a restaurant is ludicrous. In most instances, patrons who feel their child should not be looking at liquor can ask to be seated away from the bar area."
Utah restaurants must have barriers to separate alcoholic drink preparation from food preparation. While most have glass partitions, only a few have wooden partitions. To illustrate just how cumbersome Utah's liquor laws are, consider this: Under current regulations, bartenders may not hand drinks directly to diners. Servers walk around the counter, pick up the drink and deliver the alcoholic beverage to customers seated at the counter. Diners in turn, must show an intent to order a meal with their alcoholic beverage. One tourist's confusion was captured by KUTV Channel 2. “It’s ridiculous,” said Jon Schisler, a visitor from Newport Beach, CA, while dining at a downtown Japanese restaurant. “The liquor laws here, as an outsider, you don’t really know what to do, how to order, what applies, what doesn’t apply”.
This is why Governor Jon Hunstman Jr. wants to liberalize the state's liquor laws. Although Utah's tourist industry is healthy, Huntsman wants to attract more tourists, which will help the state cope more effectively with anticipated budgetary problems.
Problems towards which Senator Waddoups and his colleagues would be better advised to re-direct their focus. The potential problem of minors accessing a serving tray at Chili's would be easily solved by not placing the serving tray within customer reach, or by supervising the area. No costly retrofit is required to solve this problem.
I've previously speculated about the possibility that Senator Waddoup's obsession with this issue is driven by excessive personal involvement engendered by his wife's injuries at the hands of a drunk driver years ago. This remains a distinct possibility. But some people believe it's also because Senator Waddoups is a Mormon. I think this is only a marginal concern, though; an estimated 80 percent of the state lawmakers are LDS, and they are not all jumping on Waddoups' bandwagon. In fact, many members of the public who identify as active LDS are publicly opposing Waddoups' idea. Here is a sample comment from the Tribune story (along with a humorous comment from someone else):
PenDragon 1/8/2009 3:16:00 AM: As a active, church going mormon that works as a server I think that this is the most asinine proposal I have ever heard! I can believe he actually suggested that they remodel in order to hide the liqueur. The laws as they are right now are so frustrating. Why not just put up a big sign that says "Hey all you restaurants- SCREW YOU!" I understand trying to control underage drinking. This has nothing to do with underage drinking. This is being intolerant and wanting to punish those who believe and act differently that you do. Don't give me this "Protect the children!" crap! I was hoping to see the day when we could do away with private clubs. It seemed to actually have some steam there for awhile. Then I read something like this. The intolerance leaves me speechless.
Sid Vic 1/8/2009 3:29:00 AM: Next he'll want Hooters servers in burkhas, ya never know when a teenager will want a squeeze.
There are higher priorities for Senator Waddoups and his colleagues to tend to. What can they do for Utah communities which have already used up nearly all their snow removal funds for the year, just eight days into it? What can they do for schools like Utah State University, faced with the prospect of cutting 660 jobs because of budget cuts? What can they do to cope with increasing demands on Utah's urban transportation grid? Oh, and how did Mike Waddoups miss funding Amber Alerts? These are bread-and-butter issues affecting more of the population.