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Utah bars send letter urging Gov. Herbert to end 10 p.m. alcohol ban

(Gov. Gary Herbert speaking at his monthly news conference with PBS at the Utah State Capitol. Credit, Laura Seitz, Deseret News, October 22, 2020)

SALT LAKE CITY — Twenty-five bars in Utah are pleading Gov. Gary Herbert to end his 10 p.m. alcohol ban, citing concerns they are on the “verge of economic ruin.” The owners co-wrote a letter and sent it to the governor Wednesday, asking Herbert to lift the restriction. 

The ban on selling alcohol past 10 p.m. is part of the newly-enforced mandates that became effective Nov. 9. Under the mandate, all bars and restaurants must stop serving alcohol after 10 p.m. — noting it may help to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

“We do not believe, however, that the 10 p.m. alcohol service cut off is reasonably tailored to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in our businesses,” the letter reads. “Instead, the restriction is devastating the bar industry in Utah, has caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost business revenues over the past month, is harming our employees, and is effectively closing many Utah businesses.”

The mandate was set to expire Nov. 23 but Gov. Herbert extended the restrictions, along with the statewide mask mandate. 

The bar owners acknowledged the need to get control over the spike in COVID-19 cases. However, they said bars and restaurants already implement public safety guidelines that work toward this goal. 

“The 10p .m. alcohol service cutoff also does not appear to be related to any legitimate government interest in stopping the transmission of Covid-19,” the owners said in their letter. “Bars and restaurants are actively working to stop the transmission of the virus and have instituted all of the required restrictions including employee face mask requirements, 6 feet of physical distance from other patrons in a separate party, limiting capacity to maintain social distancing, requiring face masks when patrons are entering, exiting and/or not actively eating or drinking, and constantly sanitizing surfaces, among other restrictions.”

Instead, the owners argued the 10 p.m. cutoff only harms businesses — interfering with their busiest hours. Bars usually hit their peak between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m., according to the bar owners. 

In fact, some bars don’t even open until 9 p.m. because of the potential foot traffic during late hours. Those that are open during the daytime are seeing a decline in customers as well because of the lack of tourists and city employees working from home. 

Additionally, bar owners argue the 10 p.m. ban only encourages inter-household gatherings — which are discouraged amid the pandemic. 

“Bar staff and owners are also repeatedly witnessing people making plans to leave bars at 10 p.m., where strict Covid-19 and alcohol service regulations are enforced, and head to private house parties and gatherings where the State has repeatedly said the transmission of Covid-19 is the highest,” they said. “Allowing the bars to serve alcohol for three more hours per night prevents these unregulated gatherings and allows bars to control alcohol service with their trained professional staff.”