Lighten Utah’s Liquor Laws and Save Utah Bars From COVID-19 Collapse

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#SaveUtahBars (Courtesy Change.org)

By Kate Button, Arts Writer, Copy Editor

 

As the world has shifted to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the bar and restaurant industries have taken some of the hardest hits. In a recent report from Yelp, 60% of restaurants that temporarily closed because of the pandemic have now permanently closed. The same report noted that 44% of bars and nightlife businesses have permanently closed since March.

Going to a bar or dining inside a restaurant are deemed as high risk and moderate-high risk activities, respectively, during this pandemic. While these activities that used to be ordinary and mundane now carry risks, many people have turned to takeout and ordering food and drinks online to continue to support local businesses and get their fix from their favorite restaurant dishes.

The takeout industry has been booming — food delivery orders increased by 67% in March — and takeout remains a relatively safe activity with a low risk of transmitting COVID-19.

Even though the takeout facet of the food industry has been continuing to support local businesses, patrons in Utah are unable to support their favorite bars or order cocktails or alcoholic beverages from restaurants. Utah’s current laws surrounding the sale of alcohol do not permit sealed cocktails or bottles of wine to be a part of takeout orders. Utah restaurants are only permitted to have “on-premises” alcohol licenses, which means that alcohol can only be sold “within the confines of the establishment.”

Utah bars can sell beer — as long as its 5% or less alcohol by volume — along with takeout food, but the order has to be picked up inside. Other states, however, have passed temporary mandates to allow to-go sales of wines, spirits, cocktails and other alcoholic beverages.

For more lenient liquor laws and to support local businesses, the #SaveUtahBars petition requests that Gov. Gary Herbert create an executive order to allow the sale of sealed containers of to-go cocktails, wholesale pricing for licensed bars and restaurants, the permission of “happy hours,” a return to previous — pre-Zion Curtain — population quotas for the number of bar licenses to people and capping service fees on 3rd party delivery services.

If the demands of this petition were to be fulfilled, customers in Utah would be able to support their favorite bars and restaurants while continuing to fuel the local economy. A mandate changing some of Utah’s laws regarding alcohol, even as just a temporary measure, could potentially protect some businesses from permanent closures.

Utah stands out amongst other states in its uniquely strict laws regarding alcohol sale and consumption. These laws have historically been tied to Utah’s Latter-day Saint founders, and the majority of the state’s population are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who typically abstain from consuming alcohol. It is nearly impossible to discuss the state of Utah’s laws regarding alcohol without recognizing the connection between the locally predominant religion and the legislative system. While it may seem impossible to fully sever Utah’s church and state tie, a small measure to loosen some alcohol restrictions could demonstrate an awareness of the challenges COVID-19 has presented and help protect local economies, businesses and livelihoods.

To date, the #SaveUtahBars petition has received over 8,400 signatures — with a goal of 10,000 signatures. This petition has called attention to the importance of recognizing the effects of Utah’s alcohol laws on the future of Utah bars. If any of the petition’s requests are met, Utah citizens would have more freedom in their options for drinks to accompany takeout orders, and Utah bars and restaurants would have a more secure future for life during and after the pandemic. The bar and restaurant industries in Utah are key aspects of the local arts scene, and without them, the Utah culture and economy would suffer. 

 

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@kateannebutton