Utah State Senator John Valentine (R) (Orem) has introduced a bill (S.B. 261) that may significantly affect alcohol operations if adopted.  S.B. 261 would require that all restaurant patrons must be “seated” to be served or consume a drink. Current law allows a patron to be served and consume a drink while standing at a counter, for instance, while waiting for a table or when proposing a toast. The change would require many restaurants to remodel waiting areas to add seats and frustrate patrons who are denied service if they cannot obtain a seat.

The seating requirement, along with other proposed changes in the bill, also would prevent restaurants from hosting private functions where guests remain standing while drinking, such as during a cocktail party, wedding reception or holiday party. Utah restaurants likely would experience a significant loss of sales as a result. Businesses and individuals who look to restaurants for private functions services also would be negatively affected by the loss of such services.

Additionally, S.B. 261 limits the DABC’s powers to waive or vary the requirements imposed under the statute. Unless expressly authorized under the statute, the DABC no longer would be able to grant variances based on long-standing interpretations of various provisions. For example, the bill would prohibit the change the DABC recently adopted to reverse its position on whether a restaurant patron must place an order for food prior to being served a drink as discussed here. If DABC were required to enforce the express provisions of the statute – a “licensee may not sell, offer for sale, or furnish an alcoholic product except in connection with an order for food” – it would not have been able to reverse course to read this provision as requiring that a patron may be served if an “intent to dine” is demonstrated.

S.B.261 also might eliminate other DABC practices that are not expressly articulated in the statute. For example, DABC currently allows a management agreement between a former owner and a new owner to bridge the gap between a change of ownership and the DABC’s review of the new owner’s license application. Such practice prevents a business from going dry for a short period of time while the new owner’s application is pending. If S.B. 261 passes, it is unclear whether the DABC could continue this practice.

Additional changes proposed by S.B. 261 include prohibiting the issuance of a restaurant license if the licensed premises include more than one building on a parcel; limiting the issuance of more than one type of retail license for the same building unless each licensed premises is a separate room; requiring individuals who rent out restaurants for private events to agree in writing to comply with the statute’s requirements; and increasing the mandatory minimum penalties for serving minors.