Members of a legislative task force heard the merits and evils of "brown-bagging" from Utah liquor handlers Thursday night during the first of four public hearings.
The Alcoholic Beverage Control Review Task Force met to seek public comment on brown-bagging - the practice of carrying personal liquor, wine or beer into business establishments for consumption. Members of the task force say the practice has come under scrutiny because of the possibility of over-consumption of alcohol by patrons who brown-bag."Restaurant patronage would decline if people are not allowed to bring wines that they've purchased and aged to enjoy with their meal in a restaurant," Ashby Decker told the task force.
Decker and other wine lovers argued that Utah restaurants do not have adequate stocks of wine and would not be able to expand their lists much because of regulations restricting wine profits.
Neil Kraft, owner of a local beer bar, said the elimination of brown-bagging would "send a lot of our business to somebody else." He said between 10 and 15 percent of his total gross revenue is earned by set-ups or mixers that brown-baggers purchase with their alcohol.
But some restaurant owners argued that they can have much more control when customers buy the liquor from their establishment than when they bring alcohol from home.
"I don't think the majority of the public would object to a law that says no brown-bagging," said John Zaccheo. "We can control drinking habits much better when we're selling our own liquor."
Others argued that tourists already are confused by Utah's liquor laws and said it is confusing for them have to understand they must brown-bag. "Tourists are here to be catered to and not to be told they must do their own leg work by bringing their own bottle," said Tom Magelby, food and beverage director at a local hotel.
Restaurant owner Jonathan Lambert said he believes brown-bagging should be limited to allow patrons to bring only premium wines. He said his restaurant has such a policy and said it works very well.
Rick Davis of the Salt Lake Visitors and Convention Bureau said some hotel and motel managers who don't have liquor licenses are concerned about how the possible elimination of brown bagging would affect parties and conventions. Could skiers return from the slopes and have a wine-and-cheese party in the hotel is one question.
The task force members said many issues that accompany brown-bagging will need to be addressed. "On the surface it sounds simple - brown-bagging or no brown-bagging - but it's much more complex than that," said Ken Lynn. "There's too many areas that it touches."
Should brown-bagging be eliminated or limited, the task force said other changes in the law might have to be required. They discussed expanding the hours in which alcoholic products can be sold in restaurants, a new wine-and-beer-only license, new forms of licenses for certain establishments such as convention centers and resort facilities and the elimination of a quota on the number of state liquor licenses issued.
Although task force members said they hope to tackle the issue of brown-bagging quickly, they said it is unlikely the Legislature will look at the proposal until 1990. They urged citizens and business owners to send written comment regarding the issue.