Food Policy

Overbearing Regulations Are Slowly Killing Restaurants

Running a restaurant is hard enough without government micromanagers trying to stir the pot.


Last month, Eater's New York vertical published an excellent and damning investigation into the city's awful food-safety inspection regime. The article details some of the ways restaurants of all types are forced to game the system in order to pass muster with the city's notoriously overzealous health department. Many of these examples are farcical, including one centered on a covert, all-hands message that "Beyoncé is here," one unnamed restaurant's code language that warns employees of the arrival of a health inspector.

"These businesses aren't necessarily in gross violation of the health code—they're simply reacting to a system that feels broken," writes Saxon Baird.

Overbearing, broken restaurant regulations aren't just a thing in New York City. They're hurting restaurants across America. And while a few cities and states are chipping away at bad rules they now have on the books, many others are busy adopting bad new ones.

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.

That fact doesn't stop lawmakers around the country from piling on restaurateurs nevertheless. Chicago lawmakers, for example, are considering a new ordinance that would limit flexibility in scheduling workers' hours. In a great editorial last week, the Chicago Tribune urged the city to back off, noting the rules don't make sense and would hit restaurants and restaurant workers particularly hard.

The 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 Tribune notes, "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."

Chicago and New York City are as blue as blue gets. Certainly, red-state lawmakers would never interfere with businesses, right?

Well, sure. Unless, say, you're a restaurateur in Mississippi who wants to allow your customers to let their dog chill next to them on your patio while they eat.

After the Clarion-Ledger published an article last week directing diners in and around Jackson to a list of dozens of dog-friendly restaurants, the state's health department turned scold.

"After the story came out, [the state health department] contacted the Clarion-Ledger and said any restaurant that allows pets on the patio is violating the Mississippi Food Code," the Clarion-Ledger reported in a follow-up piece.

State health officials say the ban has been on the books since at least the mid-2000s. They claim they'll only enforce the rule if complaints arise. The health department's overbearing communiqué to the Clarion-Ledger virtually assures that will happen.

Whom should decide if, say, dogs may sit with their owners outside a restaurant? Shouldn't it be the restaurant owner herself?

Thankfully, not every new restaurant law or regulation stinks. New rules designed to allow restaurants to limit waste—one in California, the other in North Carolina—highlight the possibilities of deregulation. The new North Carolina law allows restaurants to reuse cleaned oyster shells—as, say, a serving dish for ceviche. The California law, meanwhile, allows diners to bring to-go containers to restaurants and allows festivals and food stalls to provide reusable cutlery.

These are but a few examples of good and bad restaurant rules currently making the news. Others include legislation around restaurant worker pay in Connecticut, proposed alcohol deregulation in North Carolina that would benefit restaurants, a court ruling in a case that centered on whether a California law requires an employer to buy some employees' shoes, a new law that allows Illinois residents to use SNAP (food stamp) benefits to buy fast food, and a proposed law in Michigan "that would ban the ban of plastic bags ban," which has the support of the state restaurant association.

Restaurants get by on the slimmest of profit margins and are constantly at risk of failing. Instead of jumping on the regulatory bandwagon, lawmakers around the country should resist that urge and instead reduce the spiraling barrage of regulations that restaurateurs around the country face. Restaurateurs—and voters who like to dine out—will thank them.

NEXT: Criminal Justice Reform Is Having a (Long Overdue) Moment

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  1. I mostly stay away from restaurants because I know how fucking nasty people are. They’ll cut unwashed lemons on a dirty counter and put them in an at best water washed container. They’ll serve you old lettuce. They don’t wash there hands the way I would. There is no fucking way I can’t do it. I want those fuckers wearing body cams.

    1. One way to get past that, are you familiar with the hygiene hypothesis?

      In short, there’s been an explosion in the incidence of hyperactive autoimmune diseases in the western world over recent decades. Food allergies, Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, asthma, certain types of autoimmune related diabetes, etc. These diseases have exploded in the developed world. In the Third World, they’re no more of a problem than they’ve ever been. It’s also interesting that even in places like the U.S., people who grow up on dairy farms suffer these diseases at rates that are more like people in the developing world.

      The hygiene hypothesis has been developed to explain this, and it’s survived an awful lot of scrutiny. It holds that although we’ve been able to get rid of all sorts of disease through hygiene, regular exposure to bacteria, etc. through outhouses, animal waste on farms, drinking unpasteurized milk, etc. is necessary to calibrate our immune systems and maybe even keep them calibrated.

      No one’s about to get healthier because he caught hepatitis from a worker who failed to wash her hands. That being said, you probably don’t need to have your food prepared in a perfectly sterile environment. About a billion people eat food prepared in open markets (I did so regularly in Central America) every day, where the environment is not sterile–and don’t suffer because of it. When you read about cholera outbreaks, etc., that’s mostly about not having a sewage system, a clean water system, or in the wake of a natural disaster when that infrastructure is destroyed or the power to their water pumps goes out. It’s not because their food wasn’t prepared in a perfectly sterile environment.

      1. You just asked OG if he knew something. The answer is no. You can tell by his post he doesnt understand basic science or biology. He probably thinks all bacteria is bad as well.

        1. +100

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        2. If bacteria was good, don’t you think it would be bigger so we could see it? WHAT IS IT HIDING??

      2. Ken, not quite the same, but still a proven demonstration of how environmental exposure (or lack of it) impacts human health is the first world increase in peanut allergies. People paranoid about their children keep them away from peanuts, miss a critical adaptation time for maturing immune systems, and end up with kids who do indeed have sensitivities to peanuts. At least one long term study has shown a 6 times increase in allergies from avoiding peanuts.

      3. Ken S.

        There was a study published where they showed that if you have a furry pet like a dog or cat in the house when you bring home a newborn the child has much lower chance of having asthma and pet allergies later. The effect of bringing in the dog or cat wears off later so doesn’t work on a 5 year old not previously exposed. It is an IgE mediated response.

        What happens with diseases like hepatitis A or pathogens in food or water is a different mechanism but similar idea. Because the virus in HepA does not change much, once you have it you are immune for life. It is a T-cell mediated response which is a type of lymphocyte. There is something called a memory T-cell. They are like an early warning system quickly calling up the reserves to defeat the pathogen.

        Most people with HepA survive or just have a mild disease so people in endemic areas can just keep getting exposed without a problem.

        Influenza or the common cold are something else because the bastards keep shifting their genome faster than we can keep up with.

        Mother Nature is very smart. There are many thousands of things out there. Babies do what? They crawl around on the floor, slobber, and stick their hands and anything they can get ahold of into their mouths. Bless their hearts.

        Oh and millennials or whatever. Make babies. You need lessons?

    2. You sound like a weak emotional soul.

    3. And yet how many times have you heard of a restaurant closing because a whole lot of people got sick?

    4. OG
      July.27.2019 at 9:53 am
      “…I want those fuckers wearing body cams.”

      Restaurants are quite pleased that infantile assholes like you stay away. Please continue to do so.

      1. Can you imagine what a boor of a customer he would be?

        He is why this happens…….

    5. Apart from seasoning the lobster bisque, I’ve farted on the meringue, sneezed on braised endive, and as for the cream of mushroom soup, well …

    6. Totally agree. Whenever I’m at a restaurant with friends I never order lemon with my water and friends are like why? Because its effin nasty and crawling with bacteria.

  2. I’m trying to picture how this would work in the Beach Cities or Venice beach, places where people are dog crazy enough to support competing dog bakeries alongside other restaurants. You wake up in the morning, take the dog for a walk down along the beach, and get breakfast along the way. There are breakfast places that front the Strand–they all have patio areas that front the beach. So, if this kind of regulation were in place, you could still tie your dog up outside the restaurant–so long as you didn’t sit down at a table next to your dog outside the restaurant? I guess those cities shouldn’t let people have dogs near picnic tables in city parks, too?

    P.S. I’ve heard that when you store food, like restaurants need to do, in a place like New York City, the rats are coming up through the pipes, they’re coming in through the walls, they’re coming out of the woodwork–whole blocks of New York City have been infested with rats for 150 years. They’re in the sewer. They’re in the storm drains. You’re not about to get rid of them. You just keep them under control.

    Traps are apparently ineffective. Spraying toxic chemicals in the kitchen can be effective, but then you’re spraying toxic chemicals around food and if the rats die from poison in a pipe or in a wall, now you’re preparing food in an area near decaying dead rats.

    I’ve heard–and this is all hearsay–that one of the most effective means for rat control in an urban restaurant setting like that is something people have been using since Mesopotamia. Cats are highly effective, but it’s against the health code to keep a cat in a restaurant–so they have to go with toxic chemicals.

    Given a choice between toxic chemicals, rats, or cats, I’ll take the cat. Given a choice between dogs and cats, I’ll take the dog. Given a choice between dogs and progressives, I’ll take the dog. Given a choice between rats and progressives, I’ll take the rats. Progressives are America’s most horrible people.

    1. Cat’s control only mice not rats. Rats are almost as large as cats unless it something like tigers and mountain lions. You use terriers and ferrets for controlling rats.

      1. Rats are not a primary prey of feral cats but they are certainly on the menu if an opportunity presents itself.

      2. I disagree.

        Rats can easily be a foot long or so, but they aren’t as big as a cat.

        I’ve had a cat that killed rats–and brought them home to show us.

        Cats don’t need to kill rats–they can deter rats just by their smell.

        I suspect feral cats may find plenty of garbage to feast on, which is probably easier to catch because it doesn’t run around. Also, feral cats in a closed space like a restaurant might behave differently.

        Also, I read stories like this–about a no-kill cat shelter that establishes neutered cat colonies in areas with rat control problems and is highly effective.

        “Hundreds of rats set up shop under decks in our backyard,” Nickerson said. “I couldn’t even bring my garbage out after sundown, because the rats would just run over your feet.”
        Nickerson called Tree House, which agreed to give him a colony. His cats have kept his yard rat-free for years.

        . . . .

        A three-cat placement costs about $600, but can be negotiable, depending on what people can afford. To Thomas, cats Patch, Fluffy, and Skinnerina are worth every penny.

        “I instantly saw the rat holes just, they were vanishing,” Thomas said. “I have not seen a rat cross our yard” since the cats have arrived.

        . . . .

        Before the brewery got its colony, the rats bit holes into their grain bags. Staff had to toss 200 pounds worth of malt over the year. They haven’t lost a grain since the cats came.

        Read the whole article and get back to me.

        1. Of course, hanging out with cats can also lead to toxoplasmosis. And that can lead to crazy cat lady syndrome, and also maybe compliant male syndrome.

          1. That’s the weirdest parasite ever.

          2. Only with indoor kitty litter

      3. Because rats are born full sized?

        Even if the cats might prefer not to engage a full sized adult New York Rat if they have other options, there’s no reason a young rat wouldn’t be a tasty tender snack. Those that become snack food never become adults so that should reduce the future adult population somewhat.

        1. I have no idea how Reason’s comment board decides where to place my responses — perhaps it’s random?

          My response above was meant to respond to BlueStarDragon.

          (I think the misplaced replies may have something to do with starting a response and abandoning it and then hitting reply on another comment.)

    2. where is the like button?

      1. On facebook.

    3. whole blocks of New York City have been infested with rats for 150 years

      And don’t even get me started on city hall…

      1. But dont dare mention Baltimore or you’re a racist.

      2. Or Albany.

    4. But then you have an urban restaurant kitchen that smells like cat pee. Not easy to hide.

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    US President Donald Trump said he did not understand the hype around the situation with the launch of DPRK missiles, reports TASS.

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  4. Excellent article. Very interesting to read. I really love to read such a nice article. Thanks! keep rocking

    1. Keep on rocking in the free world!

      I think that was a song lyric at one point. Now go away, bot!

  5. Corporate restaurants are much more willing to comply with the massive regulatory state and not fight the burdensome rules. Plus, I would say rule enforcement for government is much easier.

    Small family restaurants seem to use family members as employees and fight all these regulations as they really impact their slim profit margins.

    1. Big corporations always love regulation when they have to compete with small ones, because they have the resources to comply with the regs and their competition doesn’t, so it solidifies a bigger monopoly

      Government loves it too, because its easier to control one big company than a thousand small ones

  6. Silly Reason. Restaurants, like any other “private” enterprise in the progressive era, have only these purposes:

    1. Provide high-paying jobs with great benefits to staff who may not have necessary skills, and without disrupting their personal lives.

    2. Promote all kinds of woke signaling about food sources, dietary health, and ethnic cuisine (without appropriation, of course).

    3. At least some times, feed people who don’t have the means or inclination to actually pay for it.

    4. Whenever possible, make paying customers feel simultaneously superior and guilty about such dining privileges.

    1. And why not? After all, you didn’t build that.

  7. The editors, lamenting the fact that “employers find Chicago an increasingly hostile place to do business,”

    Are these editors new to Chicago??!?

    1. And not just business.

  8. The biggest issue in California are the state’s employment laws.

    Every employee who is fired can file a lawsuit and, if they had 2 brain cells, extort the owner for 10 grand. All they need to do is allege they didn’t get their meal breaks, even if they did, or rest breaks, or lie and say they worked off the clock. I think Starbucks to sued for underpaying employees because they signed out before they turned out the lights and that 1 minute segment was ‘stolen’ from the employees.

    Then there is the PAGA statute, that allows an employee who supposedly suffered an instance of a violation of one law, to sue on behalf of all employees for all possible violations, with attorneys’ fees, and very little due process (i.e., the normal class action restrictions don’t apply). You can’t release your right to file a PAGA claim in an arbitration agreement because it is “on behalf of that state” because 75% of PAGA returns go to the state. However, scumbag employment plaintiff lawyers just use it to make a voluntary, stipulated class action more cost effective. The actual regulations we face are trivial compared to these statutes.

    The most galling thing about PAGA is that the scummy unions who control the state got all union employers exempted. That so obviously violates Equal Protection.

    I’ll never open another retail business that hires a lot of low skilled people in California. I don’t know why anyone would. It will be all robots before long. When I sell out of this particular business, I’ll be happier.

    1. And employees wonder why their boss acts like a Nazi about time clock punches for lunch, and breaks.

  9. And don’t you dare give your customers something to drink their beverages with, unless it’s capable of impaling them, or gets soggy in water.

  10. ‘The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the society.’ Tacitus.

    That is all.

    Simpson, Homer J.

  11. title of this article is about as stupid those market crash headlines from Eric B when it is down 150 points

  12. Politicians rarely understand the consequences of their regulations, or how an economy actually works.

  13. “Whom should decide”


  14. “The California law, meanwhile, allows diners to bring to-go containers to restaurants and allows festivals and food stalls to provide reusable cutlery.”

    The problem with a law like that is that allowing it to exist reenforces the “that which is not permitted is prohibited” mindset.

  15. There are two types of people in this world. The type who wants to be left alone and the type who won’t leave people alone.
    “It [government] covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.” ~ Alexis de Tocqueville

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