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How many rules are too many?

3 min read


It’s no secret that, while many of us believe we would be happier without taxes and regulations, we recognize the need for at least some of them to keep our communities running and our patrons from getting sick.

Still, some restaurateurs worry that too much of a necessary evil may be just plain, well, evil. Portland, Ore., restaurant owner Ken Gordon spelled out his concerns in a recent Oregonian guest column that began with a question — Why does the city seem bent on derailing its thriving food scene?

Gordon understands the intent behind new rules requiring paid sick days for servers, but points out that restaurants will bear the brunt of the cost at a time when the city is also preparing to raise eateries’ water bills 37% and double fees for sidewalk cafes, he writes.

“Incentives to companies like Nike — enabling them to stay in the area and thrive — are all well and good, the rationale being that a large employer contributes much to the local economy. But taken as a group, the thousands of local restaurants are also sizable as a force in the local economy. And when this group is hit with cost increases, they’re usually unable to counter by expanding sales and production or by moving the labor force overseas.”

Gordon’s concerns center on new rule changes. Meanwhile, in Cranston, R.I., entrepreneur Carolyn Rafaelian is working to find a way around business-limiting rules with their roots in the Prohibition, The Providence Journal reported. Rafaelian found success with her Alex and Ani jewelry line, bought a vineyard and then launched a string of cafes called Teas and Javas near her jewelry stores to provide customers with a place for a post-shopping noshing and chatting. The hitch came when she tried to serve wine from her vineyards at her cafes, and found that the laws put in place when the Prohibition was repealed prevent her as a wine manufacturer from also being an alcohol distributor or retailer.

Rafaelian put her cafes under a family member’s name. Now she wants to get them back, she says, even if that means buying her own wine from a distributor instead of selling it directly to her shops.

Some other rules in the news recently seem to make a bit more sense, including the Florida Legislature’s passage of a bill that would switch the state’s restaurant inspection system to a risk-based plan that would include plenty of surprise inspections for the small percentage of eateries with high numbers of violations while cutting many of the state’s model operations back from two annual inspections to one, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

In Washington, D.C., there’s a new crop of regulations that restaurant operators are actually hoping to see pass — a 75-page roster of rules governing food trucks that were the subject of a recent nine-hour hearing, writes Reason editor Katherine Mangu-Ward in a recent piece for Bloomberg.

While D.C.’s brick-and-mortar eateries worry about the rise of the food truck, a growing number of cities are finding ways to keep fast-food restaurants from entering or expanding in town, Nation’s Restaurant News reports, including Eastchester, N.Y., which changed its zoning laws this year to outlaw eateries with 15 or more locations, a stand-up counter or menus on the wall.

Are there rules and regulations making it tougher to run your restaurant? Tell us in the comments.