SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Restaurant owners may no longer have to post signs declaring they aren’t bars, but bar owners will still have to tell customers they are bars, if a revision to regulations enacted last year gets lawmaker approval.
Welcome to Utah, known for its strict liquor laws and an elaborate set of rules that often leaves visitors puzzled.
Rep. Brad Wilson proposed Thursday to lift a requirement that restaurants post 8.5-by-11 inch signs declaring they are establishments that serve food. But the Kaysville Republican’s legislation leaves in place a requirement for bars to post signs although they will no longer have to say they aren’t restaurants.
He explains: “A restaurant is a restaurant and it’s clear what you can and can’t do in there.”
For bars, though: “We want to make sure that people understand that in Utah, minors cannot go into a bar.”
The proposal, which includes other changes to liquor laws, has yet to be debated by lawmakers.
Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association, said restaurant owners are quite happy about the prospect of being able to take down signs that befuddled tourists and newcomers.
“It’s like me wearing a sign saying, ‘I’m a human,'” she said. “Most people know when they’re going into to a restaurant. It didn’t serve any purpose.”
Wilson acknowledged that he understands the industry’s complaints.
“I don’t think the restaurant sign was terribly effective and we had complaints,” he said. “And so, if it’s not working and people don’t like it, we’ll look at ways to change it.”
David Morris, president of the Utah Hospitality Association, which represents 56 bars in the state, said the current signs for bars creates confusion for customers because some bars serve food. Morris said he’s always had signs at the four bars he owns that explain the bars are only open to people 21 and older. He said his bars also serve food, which brings in about 40 percent of his revenue.
“Let me advertise what I am, not what I’m not,” Morris said. “Just tell people what we are and let’s rely on their intelligence to get them the rest of the way.”
Michele Corigliano, executive director of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association, said residents have had fun mocking the signs. But she said it wasn’t funny for perplexed visitors left with the impression they couldn’t get a beer or glass of wine at a restaurant.
“It’s another thing that makes us stick out like a sore thumb,” said Corigliano about the signs.
Utah’s strict liquor laws are driven by the state’s dominant religion, the Mormon church, which says the state’s laws are reasonable and effectively curtail binge and underage drinking and DUIs while still allowing people to drink responsibly. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are taught not to drink alcohol.
Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said the religion doesn’t oppose the bill as written.
This story has been corrected to show that the bill would require bars to post a sign saying they’re a bar. It will not require bars to declare they’re not a restaurant.
Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.