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Utah’s Zion Curtain

A few years ago, I had my first experience with the Utah State Legislature, I was working on Utah’s Not a Drop law. It was an interesting learning experience on some of the illogical thoughts regarding alcohol.

Recently, I was dining at one of my favorite locally owned restaurants. The owner and I began a discussion concerning the Zion Curtain. I was vaguely familiar with this law, but had not really delved into the specifics. Once I did, I am appalled that laws such as this still exist.

Zion curtains are partitions that separate restaurant bartenders preparing alcoholic drinks from the customers of their establishment. There are a few thoughts as to why the barriers are in place. Some say the barriers are to minimize excessive drinking by keeping alcohol out of sight of restaurant patrons who choose not to consume alcohol. Others feel the purpose is to minimize the exposure of alcohol to children and thus reduce underage drinking.

There are many issues with the Zion Curtain that are debated in legislation. The topics I find are most important are the grandfather provision and the additional burden placed on new restaurants.

While the Zion Curtain is in place to “protect” Utahans from the exposure to alcohol it does not apply to every establishment. Any restaurant that was in existence in 2009 or before are not subject to the Zion Curtain law. Which just renders the law illogical. It is saying that you are more likely to indulge in over consumption or your children will be more likely to drink if they go to a new restaurant. However, these things will not happen while dining at a grandfathered establishment. If the Zion Curtain is so effective, then is should be applied to all restaurants or none.

This then begs the questions of how effective is this law? How effective is a “public safety” law if it only applies to some of the establishments? There has not been any research completed on the effectiveness of the Zion Curtain. So, we do not know.

What the law does accomplish is discouraging new restaurants from entering the market. The Zion Curtain creates an unfair barrier to new restaurant. The additional costs to plan for the Zion Curtain and then build it could ultimately be cost prohibitive to the entrepreneur.

Once the establishment is in business, the Zion Curtain creates inefficiencies in the process. The law requires the employees to perform additional steps that would not be required if the law was not in place.

The Zion Curtain creates an unfair competitive advantage to all grandfathered restaurants. They do not have to build and maintain the Zion Curtain and their employees do not have to perform additional steps to ensure the alcohol is not witnessed by unsuspecting patrons.

Salt Lake Tribune Article

The additional costs and the additional time are then passed on to us, the consumer.

In looking at the Zion Curtain, it is a misguided law that really does not accomplish anything but headaches for the restaurant owners. I assume the legislators that push for this law want to protect the public safety. However, this is not the way to do it. If a person is so intent on not having their child see alcohol, then that person should probably not take their children to a restaurant that serves alcohol. It makes zero sense that a child should not see the drink being shaken or poured and yet that same drink is going to be placed on a table and consumed by a person while the child sits nearby.

Cara Tangaro, Utah Criminal Defense Attorney

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