Bye-bye BYOB: Maybe the Arizona Legislature has a little too much time on its hands. Why else pass a bill, like the one that went into effect last month, forbidding customers from bringing their own wine or beer to restaurants? Our elected guardians are apparently more frightened by the prospect of someone toting a bottle of Chteau Lafitte or a can of Budweiser into a restaurant than they are of a busboy clearing the dishes with a loaded Saturday-night special strapped to his waist. Yes, that's legal.
Why the new legislation? Penelope Miedaner, executive director of the Arizona Restaurant Association, believes it's more of a "clarification" than a new direction in law. She says the Attorney General's Office had recently advised the state liquor authority that, under the old law, BYOB was not technically illegal. This "clarification" simply restores the intent of the previous legislation. The question is: Why do we need such a law? Miedaner says some establishments complained that in order to attract customers, they had gone through the time and effort to get licensed. Why, they argue, should nonlicensed places derive the same benefits? She also said that some restaurant owners worry about the liability problems that might result from an alcohol-related BYOB incident.
These explanations might make a little sense if the law bans BYOB completely. But it doesn't.
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The principal exception relates to size. Restaurants with 40 seats or fewer are exempt. So are catering establishments and associations with a maximum occupancy of 300. If you want to bring your own bottle to the corner taco stand or the American Legion hall, the police won't stop you. However, these places are bound by some restrictions. There's no drinking allowed before noon or after 10 p.m. Consumption is limited to 24 ounces of beer or six ounces of wine per person. And "unlawful gambling," "drinking contests" and the "showing of film" depicting "acts or simulated acts of sexual intercourse, masturbation, sodomy, bestiality, oral copulation, flagellation or any sexual acts which are prohibited by law" are also not permitted.
What do we have here? I really don't know. Is it okay to show pornographic films at a licensed restaurant with more than 40 seats? If two people bring a 750-milliliter bottle of wine to a BYOB place, will the proprietor make sure it remains half full so that the 12-ounce-per-couple limit won't be breached? If I pour two six-ounce glasses for my wife and me, can I make a citizen's arrest if I catch her sipping mine after she's polished off hers? ("Put down that glass, or I'll have the busboy shoot.")
Let's hope the attorney general quickly delivers advisory rulings on these pressing questions.
In the meantime, let's hope that when the Legislature comes back into session next year, it will spend a little more time on health, welfare, education, crime, tax and budget issues, and a little less time making confusing BYOB legislation even more confusing.