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Intent to eat

Published August 1, 2013 5:13 pm

Don't play 'Gotcha!' with liquor laws
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

This guy walks into a bar.

Except it isn't a bar. It's a restaurant. A restaurant that includes a bar, or at least offers alcoholic beverages for sale alongside its comestibles. You know, a normal, average, everyday sit-down restaurant like those found across all of the civilized world.

Except the restaurant is in Utah. In order for it to be a restaurant, and not a bar, it has to make at least 70 percent of its take from food. That's fair enough, and not unique to Utah. The hope that people will consume a limited amount of alcohol, as most people who drink at all do, and do so while also eating enough food to soften the impact that alcohol has on the mind and body, is not unreasonable.

Except the restaurant also has to limit the sale of alcohol to, in the words of the state statute, adult customers who show an "intent" to buy food. That's a little more problematic.

Or seems to be, given that the members of the Utah Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission the other day had one of those how-many-angels-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin arguments about just what counts as a customer's intent.

To the average rational adult, the mere act of walking into a restaurant would signal an intent to buy food. If they weren't hungry, they'd have gone somewhere else. Like, maybe, a bar.

But because the state liquor enforcers seem more interested in their ongoing game of "Gotcha!" than they are in crafting reasonable rules for the sale and consumption of liquor, commonsense interpretations of the law need not apply.

The fear, apparently, is that a flood of customers is eager to play their own tricks, walking into restaurants, sitting at tables, even inspecting menus and then, just to be ornery about it, downing a beer or a cocktail — or two or three — and heading toward the door.

Not only is that about the most expensive way imaginable to get drunk, it also should be a dead giveaway that the person engaged in such activity is most likely to be a state liquor cop engaged in a sting operation. There have been many such operations ongoing in Utah recently, with 33 cases filed since December, compared to zero the year before.

Restaurateurs and, particularly, overworked and underpaid wait staff, do need to know what the rules are and be able to obey them — and explain them to customers — without an encyclopedic knowledge of state codes. But the rules need to be based on a commonsense understanding of how people function in the real world.

When a guy walks into a restaurant, he's looking for a meal.




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