New Utah restaurants hoping to offer patrons a full selection of beer, wine and spirits will soon be lining up for that privilege as only a single license of that type remains available.
The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission issued seven full-service liquor licenses Thursday and will likely have to start a waiting list at its next scheduled meeting in September. Commission spokeswoman Sharon Mackay said while businesses committed to the full-service license may have to wait, there is a fallback plan when the count goes to zero.
"We'll be asking applicants to opt for a limited-service license in the event no full-service licenses are available," Mackay said. "We have 11 of those … when they're out, they can still get a beer license."
Commission Chairman Sam Granato said after the meeting that the dearth of licenses would likely impact Utah's standing in the eyes of the restaurant community.
"I think if I knew I wanted to open in Salt Lake City or anywhere in Utah and there was no license to give, and I couldn't open my restaurant with my business plan in place … I'd probably look elsewhere," he said.
Granato, who has been a vocal advocate for changing the state's population-based quota system, reiterated that stance and noted the license issue could start to impact business interest in downtown's new City Creek development.
"It is time to redo the system," Granato said. "We have a major building project in downtown Salt Lake City, a multibillion-dollar project, and it's going to entice restaurants to come. … I would think that some of those restaurants will want to get a liquor license."
The Utah Hospitality Association is also concerned that the quota system is undermining the state's attractiveness to new and expanding businesses on top of being an unwieldy process.
"It's supposed to be a simple system, but the numbers change every time we look at it, and nobody can explain why," association spokeswoman Lisa Marcy said. "It's time to do an overhaul."
Granato said the problem is not about the state controlling liquor, but how the number of licenses is determined. He cited Idaho as an example of a state that controls liquor sales but has eliminated the quota system. He also noted the economic benefits that come with the state running liquor sales.
"We generate $270,000 a day in profit to the general fund," Granato said.
Money was also Stephanie Armenta's mind. The co-owner of Mi Ranchito restaurant in Orem received one of the last remaining full-service licenses.
"We were losing customers to other nearby restaurants who were serving drinks," Armenta said. "If somebody comes in and asks for a margerita with their dinner, I want to serve them one, rather than lose that customer."
Following Thursday's approvals, there are 12 club, 11 limited-service and one full-service liquor license available statewide.