Poll reveals mixed feelings on Utah’s ‘Zion Curtain’ law as restaurants plan new effort to tear down the walls

Gibo said she knows of several association members who want to expand or open new restaurants, but hesitate because of the restrictions and cost of building a Zion Curtain. Still others in the group consider the barrier a safety issue.

“Business owners want to be able to monitor employees, make sure they are not drinking on the job or using the meters improperly,” she said. Such controls are difficult when workers are out of sight.

On the consumer side, suspicion arises among certain customers, she said, “who want to know that they are receiving the expensive booze they just ordered and paid for.”

“It’s a liability,” she said of the law.

SLARA leaders are interviewing candidates and expect to hire a lobbyist in time for the 2017 legislative session in January.

Mixed feelings * As frustrating as the Zion Curtain is for owners of small local restaurants, it gets mixed reviews from the average Utah voter, according to a new poll conducted for The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics.

About 45 percent of Utahns favor tearing down the walls, with 26 percent “strongly favoring” their removal and 19 percent “somewhat favoring” elimination, according to the poll conducted recently by Dan Jones Associates.

Conversely, about 40 percent of voters believe the state should keep the barriers, with 25 percent “strongly opposed” to their removal and 15 percent “somewhat opposed.” The remaining 16 percent of voters are undecided.

For the poll, 823 people were interviewed via phone and online; the margin of error is plus or minus 3.42 percentage points.

Results from the poll showed a split along religious lines, with 17 percent of very active Mormons “strongly favoring” removal of the Zion Curtain and 26 percent “somewhat in favor.” Among Catholics and Protestants, 33 percent and 45 percent, respectively, strongly favor removal.

Protecting kids * The Zion Curtain came about as part of a compromise in 2009. Lawmakers agreed to get rid of private clubs, but wanted to have a way to show consumers that restaurants were different than bars and were focused on serving food. Restaurants have often struggled to meet the requirement, from small establishments lacking space for the barrier to large venues, like the new Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake City, which was required to add a “Zion Ceiling” to prevent patrons from seeing the alcohol-mixing area of its lobby restaurant from balconies above.

Several attempts have been made in recent years to repeal the barrier law. All have been unsuccessful, in part, because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a key player in Utah alcohol policy, has shown an aversion to any law that it fears might increase alcohol consumption.

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