SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's liquor board has postponed voting on a rule that could require restaurants to get verbal confirmation from customers that they're not just there to drink.
Members of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission on Tuesday said they want more input on proposed language for the rule before taking action.
The rule would tell restaurants how they should abide by one of Utah's more restrictive liquor laws, which bars restaurants from serving alcohol without food.
Utah's Legislature tried to clarify the law earlier this year, saying alcoholic beverages can be served as long as customers indicate they intend to dine as well.
Critics say the concept is silly and creates awkward situations for servers and customers. Utah's famously strict liquor laws are rooted in fears that easing the restrictions could lead to more underage drinking and drunken driving.
The majority of Utah legislators and residents belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches its members to abstain from alcohol.
The state also forbids restaurants from pouring alcohol in front of customers, which led to barriers known as "Zion Curtains," a reference to Utah's legacy as home to the Mormon church.
That ban was nearly lifted in this year's legislative session, but lawmakers raised concerns that removing the barriers would promote a "culture of alcohol" in the state.
That ban, the "intent to dine" law and Utah's other regulations are designed to keep restaurants distinct from bars, lawmakers and state liquor board officials have said.
Commissioners on Tuesday discussed five proposed drafts of the rule, which say a customer can be served one drink once it's established they'll be ordering food.
A food order would not include takeout orders or complimentary food such as a bread basket.
One version doesn't specify that the confirmation be verbal, allowing for a patron to nod their head. Another proposal says if a restaurant guest is reviewing a menu, that would serve as "sufficient confirmation of intent to order food."
Another proposal states an intent to order food is established if a server gets verbal confirmation that a patron is waiting for a table or reviewing the food menu, "so long as it is not subterfuge by the server" to skirt the law.
David Gladwell, the commission's chairman, said the "subterfuge" language could be problematic because it would be difficult for prove during a citation.
"It seems like it's going to be difficult to enforce anyway because you don't have a written contract," said Constance White, another commission member.
Whether the commission defines the rule as a verbal or visual confirmation, "it all just comes down to somebody's word for it," she said.
Utah restaurants are required to make 70 percent of their profits from food sales, a quota that White said she thought "would to some extent make this self-policing."
Loreli Pavelka, the general manager at Buffalo Wild Wings in West Valley City, said her restaurant has had issues when determining whether customers intend to dine, particularly if a large party of six or eight people comes in.
"It's a little bit harder to get that verbal confirmation from everyone," she told commissioners.
Pavelka said her severs try to encourage guests to order appetizers or will try to take food and drink orders at the same time.
Still, her restaurant is close to the airport, and sometimes out-of-state visitors become upset and leave when they find out they have to order food, Pavelka said.
Those customers were upset with the law itself, not the practice of asking whether they intended to order food, Commissioner Sheila Page said.
Commissioners on Tuesday decided they needed more input from restaurants and others before whittling down the proposals.
The board may take up the issue again at its next meeting in August.