Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Why no helping hand for restaurants?

I’m not sure what restaurants did to piss off government, but it had to be something awful to merit the treatment they’ve been getting. Anything less than keying an official car or hitting on a spouse just wouldn’t explain it.

The industry, though showing a few hopeful signs this week, has been walloped by the economy, just as the housing, auto and finance businesses have been clobbered. But those victims are being shored up with government dollars—bags and bags of it. And what’re restaurants getting? Burden after burden after burden.

Down in Alabama, eateries might soon have to rewrite their menus to indicate the source of any catfish they serve, and presumably they serve a lot of it (some locally farmed, an increasing amount purchased from Asia because it’s of cheaper and of lower quality; hence the legislation). In Washington, D.C., and New York City, the next big thing might be levying a fee on bags. New York restaurants already know for certain they’ll soon be required to erect wall posters that educate the staff about common allergies.

Restaurateurs in other areas are adjusting to bans on Styrofoam takeout containers, a requirement that’s increasingly being viewed as a green step all restaurants should take.

And, of course, municipalities, counties and states are continuing to eye menu-labeling provisions, even as the industry pushes for a single national mandate.

The industry is fighting most of the other measures with its usual pitched resistance. Actually, I think some of initiatives are true advances that at any other time should be readily accepted, like the allergy poster requirement, or even the bag fees. But right now? No way.

Lawmakers are being unfair in imposing those added responsibilities as the industry contends with dropping traffic and slipping check averages. Restaurateurs already have enough matters to address, especially as staff cutbacks forces them to assume nuts-and-bolts work. Maybe the industry can’t be helped with a few billion of the money that’s flowing to the finance business. But at least legislatures could agree to a moratorium on most new responsibilities until economic conditions improve.

Otherwise they may get their laws, but fewer businesses to which they’ll apply.

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