MN Hospitality Advocate

What We Told Councilmember Carter

Posted in City Council, Restaurant Issues by hospitalityminnesota on October 5, 2009

Councilmember Melvin Carter

310-A City Hall
15 Kellogg Blvd., West
Saint Paul, MN 55102

Dear Councilmember Carter

Thank you for meeting with us recently regarding your proposed food allergen awareness ordinance. We greatly appreciate the opportunity to talk with you directly about how this proposal would impact our industry.

The hospitality industry knows how serious an allergic reaction to a food item can be; some of the owners and managers of Saint Paul’s restaurants have family members who deal with these allergies. The industry also responds to requests from customers on a daily basis regarding allergens and a wide range of dietary needs.

We understand that you have decided against the allergen information handbook. We appreciate that. We firmly believe that a city mandate on food allergens can be detrimental to the business climate, make St. Paul an island into which other businesses may be reluctant to locate, and most importantly, is not the most effective approach for addressing this issue.

We believe in, and agree with, your goal of providing accurate information to customers upon request. However, a mandated approach does not get us to the goal. Instead it will provide a false sense of security, will significantly increase our exposure to lawsuits, and may cause our insurance premiums to rise. We have spoken both to legal counsel and to insurance experts who validate these fears. We do not want to create a system where the simple act of creating an ordinance has a detrimental impact on the industry, which is already suffering substantially due to the current economic environment.

We recommend instead a coordinated voluntary effort to educate and raise awareness among the city’s restaurants. While many restaurants are already serving the allergen-concerned market, broader awareness and more education are certainly good ideas. We are committed to being a leader of these efforts.

There are many things already being done to provide helpful assistance to customers with allergen concerns. For example, the current edition of ServSafe, the acknowledged leader in food safety curriculum, contains several pages of information on allergens. Minnesota law today requires that all restaurants have a Certified Food Manager who has taken a ServSafe or similar course.

Many major chains with substantial resources, such as Dairy Queen, have begun providing information to consumers on a variety of their menu items regarding allergens. Many independent operations or local chains such as Pizza Luce and Davanni’s have identified this as a market and are engaged in activities to serve the needs of these consumers. Still other St. Paul restaurants, such as Heartland Cafe, have built almost their entire business model on serving the unique needs of specific customers. These are all business models those establishments have chosen to serve this unique market. And in the process, those with allergies find increasing opportunities to enjoy what St. Paul restaurants have to offer.

The most effective solution to the food allergen issue is one that provides more education and greater awareness so that both providers and our customers can feel confident in the information they receive. This is best done through the building of relationships and the direct communication between industry operators and their customers. Through our network of partners and stakeholders, we can reach thousands of establishments across the state. Providing educational information and training will do more to help protect against allergic reactions than mandating a new system that is challenging and burdensome for the industry.

The Minnesota Restaurant Association, Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, Minnesota Retailers Association, the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and many other partners are committed to efforts to effectively educate the industry and increase awareness of the importance of staff training and knowledge about the issue. This approach will be comprehensive, reaching a broader audience than just Saint Paul.

The hospitality industry is a vibrant and important part of our state’s economy. With more than 10,000 restaurants and 1,000 hotels, we provide some 260,000 jobs. One in every 10 Minnesotans works in the hospitality industry. Our industry employs more minority managers than any other in the country, and more than half of all working adults got their first job in our industry. Further, our industry generates nearly $8 billion in annual sales in our state.

You have successfully raised awareness of this issue and elevated the receptivity of our industry to additional information. However, a mandated approach is not the best way to have a positive impact. We ask instead that you allow our industry to undertake voluntary efforts to educate and build awareness of this important issue in ways that make sense and will be effective.

We look forward to meeting with you on September 22 and sharing more detail on our thoughts on a voluntary awareness effort. We remain committed to working with you on this matter.

Sincerely,

Minnesota Restaurant Association
Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association
St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce
Minnesota Retailers Association
St. Paul Convention and Visitors Association

David Burley, Blue Plate Restaurants
Pat Mancini, Mancini’s Restaurant
John Wolfe, Dixie’s on Grand
Bev Turner, Travelers
Jason Grev, Ecolab
Bonnie Alton, Great Harvest Bakery
JJ Haywood, Pizza Luce
Ken Schelper, Davanni’s

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