The More You Know

National Restaurant Association

Restaurant regulations that should be getting your full attention. Now.

In April nearly 500 restaurateurs from 44 states gathered in Washington, D.C., for the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) 25th Annual Public Affairs Conference. For many, the three-day adventure, complete with visits to Capitol Hill and interactions with Congressional members, was a sobering reminder of just how much the government has thrust itself into restaurants’ 21st century affairs and just how sniping certain regulatory issues could prove for an industry already at odds with a sluggish economy.

While restaurants once held little regulatory concern aside from their local health departments, today’s operators face a barrage of oversight. Regulations impact everything from daily operations and hiring to the infusion of new blood into the restaurant industry’s ranks.

“So much of this regulation is coming in areas operators didn’t have to deal with before, such as nutrition and health care, and so many, including state and local agencies, want to touch the industry, that it’s exposing the restaurant industry to regulation many times over,” says Scott DeFife, the NRA’s executive vice president of policy and government affairs.

Steven DiMillo runs DiMillo’s on the Water in Portland, Maine, an upscale-dining eatery DiMillo’s father started in 1954. He says he spends twice as much time today tending to regulatory work today than he did just one decade ago.

“These regulations have crept up on us,” says DiMillo, who also serves as chairman of the Maine Restaurant Association. “It used to be we could put out a sign saying ‘Good food and drink. Come on in.” Those days have passed. We’re dotting so many i’s and crossing so many t’s just to appease the state and the feds, all of which takes us away from our mission of serving good food in a quality environment.”

Owners and executives in all segments are feeling the pressure. “After health care, we see mandates for menu labeling, paid sick leave, and immigration tracking systems adding to our costs. At the state level, we see beverage taxes and more as [states] try to balance their budgets,” Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen CEO Cheryl Bachelder says.

As a result of government intervention, Bachelder says Popeyes’ franchisees have endured a negative impact to their bottom line. She says the rush of poorly considered regulations, many concocted by elected officials with limited understanding of the small business environment, and the economy’s turmoil, has sparked many restaurateurs to question the industry’s viability.

“In a labor-intensive and low-margin industry such as ours, it is very difficult to absorb these costs,” Bachelder says.

Yet, amid the confusion, frustration, and annoyance emanating from the restaurant industry ranks, DeFife urges perspective.


Add new comment