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National Restaurant Association - Bike-thru? Proposed city ordinance would force QSRs to serve non-drivers

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Bike-thru? Proposed city ordinance would force QSRs to serve non-drivers

The Salt Lake City Council is considering a proposal that would force quickservice restaurants and other businesses with drive-thru windows to serve customers who arrive on foot or by bicycle at all times when the restaurant is open, even late at night when the drive-thru may be open but the lobby is closed.

In addition, the ordinance would mandate that new drive-thru businesses implement certain design elements to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists.

The Utah Restaurant Association and Salt Lake City’s restaurant owners have stepped up to let the city council know that their opposition to the proposal isn’t just a matter of cost. Salt Lake’s restaurant operators have serious concerns about the prospect of mandated after-hours openings or walkers mixing with cars in the city’s drive-thru lanes.

“We cannot mix bikes and pedestrians with vehicles in our service lanes,” said Utah Restaurant Association CEO Melva Sine. “What if someone slips or gets run over? The city doesn’t get sued, the restaurant gets sued. Restaurant owners need the flexibility to manage their own risk, just like the city manages its own risk.”

Besides the safety risks and additional cost of staffing and design, there isn’t a significant demand for walk-up service at drive-thru windows, Sine said. If there were a true demand, restaurants would adapt to meet the demand. Locations that see a need to service foot traffic during later hours already keep their lobbies open during those times, she said.

The fact that no supporters turned out to speak at the first hearing on the issue, held in April, on the issue is evidence of the lack of consumer interest, Sine said. Several restaurant owners were present to explain why the ordinance won’t work. The hearing was extended to a second session in July, she said, and two supporters showed up to speak. Restaurant owners were again present to voice their opposition.

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Sine said isn’t sure when or if the council will vote on the proposed ordinance. By her count, a majority of council members oppose the proposal. The URA and restaurant operators are continuing to meet with council members to educate them about the safety risks and negative economic impact the proposal would have on the city’s restaurants.

“The restaurants feel this is a management issue and the city shouldn’t be micromanaging to determine hours of operation or risk management decisions,” Sine said. “We feel like restaurants are already meeting the demand.”

This isn’t the first time QSRs and other drive-thru businesses have been affected by a Salt Lake City ordinance. Two years ago, a law was enacted that limits vehicle idling to two minutes. Restaurants and other drive-thru businesses where vehicle idling might occur are exempted if they post a city-approved sign on their property asking drivers not to allow their vehicles to idle.

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