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July 29 2019

When City Hall Runs Taco Bell

by Charlotte Hays

The public wants restaurants to be inspected for health concerns and general cleanliness. That’s a given and most of us would not feel comfortable eating someplace the local health department hasn’t visited regularly.

But, apparently, government inspections of restaurants in New York have become so overzealous and onerous that the city’s restaurant business overall is suffering.

An article in Reason shows what is happening in New York. The article is by food scholar Baylen Linnekin, and it starts with a story that appeared in Eater’s, a New York publication. Eater’s reported:

These businesses aren’t necessarily in gross violation of the health code — they’re simply reacting to a system that feels broken.

Most businesses, they say, find the code difficult to follow exactly due to inconsistency from inspector to inspector; one might dock points for something that another would ignore. The warnings help keep violations to a minimum in an effort to earn the much-coveted “A” letter grade, they say. Many think it’s the only way to survive.

”If you went to a chef at a well-regarded restaurant … they would be confident and proud and could tell you a lot of things they do to ensure food safety,” says Moira Bedell, who has worked in various front-of-house capacities at high-end New York City restaurants for the past eight years. “But when you tell them a DOH inspector is in the restaurant, the color will drain from their face, and they are terrified.”

Reason reports that restaurateurs in other cities have similar problems and that, as in New York, capricious regulations make the restaurant business precarious:

With low profit margins and high failure rates, running a restaurant is already a risky endeavor. That's why restaurant owners find it so onerous when additional regulations eat into those profit margins and raise the risk of failure.

Yet lawmakers keep piling on:

The [Chicago] Tribune reports the new rules would impose restrictions on flexible schedules for hourly workers (and even, in an apparent nod to the snowballing Bernie Sanders' campaign labor scandal, many salaried workers). Many of these workers, the Tribunenotes, "prefer getting called on short notice to work [and] actually like a more fluid schedule—and extra hours." The editors, lamenting the fact that "employers find Chicago an increasingly hostile place to do business," close with this argument: "City Hall should not be interfering in shift changes at…Taco Bell."

This officiousness is not limited to blue states, where politicians and people are known for their love of regulations, but also in red states. When a Mississippi newspaper published a list of restaurants with dog-friendly patios, the local health department pounced.

 

 





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