Utah law forbids restaurants to serve alcohol “except in connection with an order for food prepared, sold, and furnished” on site. Until December, that meant diners could order a drink before selecting a meal. Now it doesn’t.

From The Salt Lake Tribune:

Compliance officers and the state’s liquor-control agency say they are warning owners that their employees are in violation of Utah law if they serve alcohol before diners actually request food. To back up the effort, authorities in undercover stings have issued citations to eateries for this type of violation, which in the past was rarely enforced.

In December alone, nine restaurants paid fines, compared with five who were cited during the 11 previous months and with only one the year before. None of the restaurants had a history of previous violations.

The stricter enforcement comes just before the opening of the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 17. Undercover officers will be patrolling restaurants that serve many of the tens of thousands of people from Utah and worldwide who attend the 11-day event….

A spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control says the enforcement effort is a reaction to restaurants becoming lax in their procedures, but those associated with dining establishments in the state contend there’s been shift toward a stricter interpretation of the law, evidenced by recent DABC warnings to all restaurant owners.

"There’s absolutely been a change in policy—a huge change," said attorney Rick Golden, who worked at the DABC from 1977 to 1988 and has since represented clients before the board that oversees the agency’s operations.

…While having a drink, patrons also were allowed to study the menu before deciding what to order, he contends.

New DABC compliance director Nina McDermott [wrote a] memo to trainers who instruct servers on alcohol laws: "I have heard from quite a few licensees (restaurants) that a patron may order one drink while reviewing the menu but no second drink will be served without an order of food. The law does not allow for a one drink exception."

…Lt. Troy Marx of the State Bureau of Investigation, whose agency conducts the undercover stings, said … that the majority of recent violations occurred after officers told servers they wanted only an alcoholic beverage—without any food.

Reason recently covered efforts to liberalize liquor laws in Kansas and the District of Columbia. Reason contributor Eric Boehm has encouraging news on that front from Pennsylvania