Alot more has changed in New York City than the mayor's name. It's a good time to be a restaurateur, to be sure, but some new challenges for the foodservice industry are emerging.
For the first time ever, restaurant employees will now earn sick days. Not every employee, however, only those working at a food service establishment with five or more employees. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg originally set the bar at 15, but NYC's new mayor, Bill DeBlasio, wants to push the law further. The ruling will not go into effect until April, but establishments with five or more employees will now have to award five paid sick days a year to all fulltime employees.
Is it good for the employees? Of course. But it may put smaller foodservice operations – such as small takeout establishments – out of business, with the potential to affect food trucks, small hospitality employers and the like in the future.
The way to get around it is to have no employees working more than 30 hours per week. As long as you keep four or fewer employees working less than 30 hours, the law will not affect you.
Another issue that will cause restaurants an additional expense is the American Disabilities Act (ADA). DeBlasio believes very strongly in enforcing this legislation and restaurateurs have to conform. Make sure if you're building a new restaurant, or modifying an older one, you have handicapped access, to bathrooms as well as entrances and exits. Otherwise, you're potentially going to face city penalties.
Bars and clubs face similar requirements, but in addition, it appears the state liquor authority is cracking down on violations, as well. Don't allow under-age drinking, overcrowding, reckless operation, you name it. Any of these infractions could result in stiff fines. The authority these days is administering troubling and expensive fines, in my opinion. It's very hard for small businesses to pay $2500 for one violation, or $10-15k for a couple, believe me.
Understand and follow the laws because it can be very debilitating if you get caught. Good training up front, experienced bartenders who know the rules, the proper security and identification – these are all critical to stay on the right side of the law.
Another thing DeBlasio is stepping up is health inspections, like what Bloomberg has done. But he's taking it one step further. Under Bloomberg, sometimes the letter grades were subjectively applied so DeBlasio is looking to have more standards applied, more consistency, so no one gets a “D” just because they didn't smile enough at the inspector.
Some may choose to pay the fine. Look, you may get fined $100 but if you can’t go to court and need an attorney, it may cost more to pay the attorney than the fine. I don't know what DeBlasio's going to do about that.
Finally, there's some really good news about easing restrictions on immigrants. DeBlasio is all for that – he wants ID cards from the state so immigrants can get licenses, as well as establish more identification for employers so they can potentially get more jobs. He's also behind changing the number of non-severe crimes immigrants can be arrested for before facing deportation. The restaurant world relies on immigration and now small violations will not put them at risk of deportation as much as they did in the past.
So, what's ahead for restaurateurs under the DeBlasio administration? While Bloomberg was certainly pro-business, and DeBIasio seems somewhat more concerned about “the little man,” I still see mostly positives. It doesn't mean you can play fast and loose with the rules, but if you abide by what we've outlined here, this should be a very good year for operators, employees and the eating public alike.