This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.
Last year, a scholarly paper was presented at the Alcohol Policy 16 Conference explaining how restaurants can transform in all practical aspects into bars through liberalized liquor laws – to the point at which restaurants are becoming more of the source of disorder and crime than bars. The paper did not describe circumstances in heavy control states such as Utah or Arkansas or Kentucky. The paper studied progressive, enlightened, liquor-loving California.
The problem is that restaurants are not regulated as strictly as bars. When restaurants morph into bars, the ill effects are equally present but the lack of regulations do not adequately compensate for the growth in disorder and crime. These morphing restaurants over-serve and under-enforce, leading to disproportionate numbers of police calls for drunkenness, violence and sexual assault.
Local government officials encourage morphing in the name of economic development precisely because restaurants face fewer controls and there can be ambiguity between state liquor laws, local zoning ordinances and discretion in use permits. Even as state liquor laws struggle to keep up with morphing, local governments and businesses lack incentive to mitigate it. Shared authority becomes a hindrance to effective liquor control policies.
Measuring, or quantifying, the effects of restaurants becoming bars is a double-edged sword. The ability to measure the effects of morphing exists but the measurements require experiences where morphing already has occurred. In other words, you only can measure what already has occurred – hardly a prudent way to learn the lessons of alcohol abuse and the destructive influences of liberalized laws.
In all of this sits Utah’s “Zion Curtain” law. For cynics who demand evidence that the “Zion Curtain” reduces liquor consumption and mitigates under-age drinking, there is one sure way to find out: get rid of it and expand access to liquor in restaurants.