MN Hospitality Advocate

Minneapolis City Council Deals with Fire Inspection Issues

Posted in City Council, Restaurant Issues, Uncategorized by hospitalityminnesota on May 24, 2010

I just returned from a meeting at Minneapolis City Hall in which the city’s Fire Department was grilled about inspection procedures and in which a new system sharing the inspection duty with the Department of Regulatory Services is the recommended model. I was at the hearing because about six months ago, the City of Minneapolis Fire Department instituted a new hood cleaning permit fee. The fee, a minimum of $130 each time a hood is cleaned, is charged to the hood cleaning company, which then passes along the fee to the restaurant operator.

The issue, as raised by the Fire Department, is that some of the cleaning companies aren’t doing an adequate job. The inspection fee was established to require the cleaning companies to take digital pictures of each cleaning job and provide those in order for the permit to be validated. We understand the issue. Our problem is that restaurants are now facing a minimum $130 cleaning permit fee in Minneapolis each time they have a hood cleaned. This amounts to a disincentive to hood cleaning.

Our approach would suggest a different strategy – have the fire department conduct periodic inspections of work done by the cleaning companies (they license them and know who they are, after all). Eliminate the $130 per cleaning fee and instead, charge a penalty of the cleaning company if the work completed is inadequate.

We have been working behind the scenes with various Minneapolis City Council members to try and achieve these changes, or at least, gain a reconsideration of the current ordinance. But in the midst of this effort, Heidi’s Restaurant in Minneapolis went up in flames due to what is reported as a hood fire, and in another tragic incident, members of a family were killed when the apartment in which they were staying went up in flames, also destroying a bar below. These two incidents have cast huge attention on the work of the Fire Department and getting changes to our hood cleaning permit fees, which are a projected $200,000 or more revenue generator for the department, is proving difficult.

Nonetheless, we continue to work the system. It appears there will be a more comprehensive review of the city’s fire codes in 2011. That might provide an opportunity for change. But we can’t wait that long. The hood cleaning permit fee is slated for review after one year of implementation, and we’ll be on hand seeking to eliminate (or at a minimum reduce) the fees.

We express our appreciation with the Minneapolis Area Chamber of Commerce for working with us on this important issue. If you have a relationship with any Minneapolis council members, now is the time to talk to them about this onerous fee and its impact on your business.

David Siegel, CAE, IOM
Minnesota Restaurant, Lodging and Resort & Campground Associations and Hospitality Minnesota

Advertisements

Association Designs Allergen Poster

Posted in City Council, General Advocacy, Health Care Reform, Restaurant Issues by hospitalityminnesota on December 20, 2009

After months of negotiations, the St. Paul City Council passed a food allergy ordinance requiring every foodservice establishment in the city to display a poster regarding allergens. The Minnesota Restaurant Association and the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce spearheaded a coalition that negotiated throughout the process on behalf of the industry. After pushing back an Allergen Information Handbook and an Allergen Action Plan, we agreed on a poster as long as we could have substantial say as to its content. The ordinance as passed called for the poster to be determined by the St. Paul Department of Safety and Inspections.

WE DESIGNED THE POSTER
Because of our extensive involvement in the process, we ultimately designed the poster in cooperation with the Association of Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Minnesota and the St. Paul Area Chamber. Through these efforts, the poster enhances awareness of the most common allergens and cross-contact, but does not increase restaurant liability.

While we modeled the poster on one developed by the national organization Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) and a flier created by the Anaphylaxis and Food Allergy Association of Minnesota (AFAA), we worked with AFAA to remove imperative language that we felt would increase restaurant liability. The poster now includes pictures of the eight major U.S. allergens and common items (cutting boards, utensils, etc.) that can cause cross-contact with allergens.  It is available for free download here.

GREAT PARTNERSHIP DEVELOPED
Once we gained the support of the council to create the poster, the process was swift and was absent of contention, since all parties agreed to the poster’s content. This was in contrast to earlier stages of the political process when we had concerns about poster language that could be construed to increase liability for restaurants.

“Thanks to the work of AFAA, we were able to show how seemingly at-odds organizations can work together on a solution that meets everyone’s needs,” said Molly Grove of the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce.  “Everyone came to the table ready to solve the problem, making this a very good experience for us all.”

VOLUNTARY ORDINANCE ALSO PASSED
The second ordinance, which passed 5-1 provides a 7% license fee discount for restaurants that view a training video provided by the City, and develop in-house procedures when an allergic customer orders food. Although we did not oppose this ordinance, we indicated that few restaurants would engage and wanted to go on record with concerns that the voluntary program could some day become mandatory.

INDUSTRY EFFORT UNDER WAY
We agreed during the process that allergens are a serious issue in the industry (the new FDA model food code just released in early November has a great deal more about allergens and more inclusion in the Certified Food Manager curriculum is anticipated). We also suggested that we would most support a voluntary effort to educate the industry on the issue. While we did eventually agree to this limited poster mandate, we also remain committed to voluntary efforts to raise the level of awareness in the industry.

Our plan now is to make this poster available to restaurants across the state through our publications and communications and the many entities we work with, such as Convention and Visitors Bureaus, Health Departments, Chambers of Commerce, AFAA and foodservice distributors. In addition, we will be talking to food safety instructors about incorporating the poster and information in their Certified Food Manager training and re-certification training.

David Siegel, CAE, IOM
Minnesota Restaurant, Lodging and Resort & Campground Associations

Business Day at City Hall a Major Success

Posted in City Council, General Advocacy, Restaurant Issues, Uncategorized by hospitalityminnesota on October 13, 2009

Last March, Travis Bunch, Government Affairs Director of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce attended our Hospitality Day at the Capitol. Travis was impressed with the event, and it occurred to him that he could port the overall concept to a Business Day at City Hall.

He brought together a wide coalition of business associations as an advisory group and we set about planning the day. The Minnesota Restaurant, Lodging and Resort & Campground Associations were among those asked to serve on the planning team. The work of that planning task force culminated in a very successful Business Day at Minneapolis City Hall on September 25. Some 200 Minneapolis business folks were on hand for a general session with the Minneapolis City Council followed by breakout sessions organized by topics.

Minnesota Restaurant, Lodging and Resort & Campground Associations’ Executive Vice President led the breakout session with Council President Barb Johnson discussing regulatory affairs. Several members of the Minnesota Restaurant Association were on hand to discuss the impact of regulations on their business. Other members attended the breakout session on health issues, which included a robust discussion of the menu labeling concept and allergen awareness.

We now hope to make Business Day at City Hall an annual event. And as far as Travis can tell, no other city’s Chamber of Commerce hosts a similar event. It is noteworthy that the Greater St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce attended, and is giving consideration to a similar event on its side of the river.

David Siegel, CAE, IOM
Minnesota Restaurant, Lodging and Resort & Campground Associations

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

Industry Prepares to Fight Allergen Ordinance

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

Early this past summer, St. Paul City Council member Melvin Carter had a very unfortunate experience with a clerk at a retail establishment in St. Paul while trying to find out whether the popcorn sold there was popped in peanut oil. Council Member Carter has a daughter who suffers from a severe allergy to peanuts.

Ultimately, he found that the product was produced with peanut oil, and thus did not purchase it for his daughter. But this frustrating experience led him to the conclusion that “there ought to be a law.”

Approximately 2% of the adult population and up to 8% of the youth population suffer from food allergies. There are eight common allergens as well as other food products that can affect customers.

Councilmember Carter Drafts an Ordinance
As a result of his experience, Council member Carter drafted an ordinance and then brought together a task force of affected groups and individuals including the Minnesota Restaurant Association, suppliers, parents of kids with allergies, the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, health inspectors and the FDA. The Restaurant Association and Chamber then brought together a broad coalition of related industry groups to work with the Council member and seek a solution.

We talked at length during meetings about the complexities of the restaurant industry supply chain. We talked further about the fast pace in an industry kitchen and the difficulty of insuring that a product is not cross contaminated in any way residue from an allergen. We talked about the importance of parent and personal responsibility. And we talked at length about the litigious society in which we live and the increased liability risk that occurs with mandates in this area. We talked a great deal about creating a false sense of security for customers and agreed that the most important conversation is that which can occur between the owner or chef and the consumer. Finally, we suggested that St. Paul does not want to make itself an island and that any initiatives in this area should be statewide.

Industry Proposes Extensive Voluntary Effort
Instead of industry mandates, we proposed an extensive industry awareness campaign, not only in St. Paul, but statewide. We agreed to bring together a powerful and committed coalition of industry players and to engage energetically in the effort. We felt that this, combined with education provided to consumers, would be the most effective and appropriate way to address the issues that this portion of the population faces.

The initial efforts toward an industry awareness campaign are included in this packet. These reflect just a beginning, as we are willing to do even more on a voluntary basis. We believe that awareness and education are the keys to addressing this issue. We further believe that industry should be provided the opportunity to do so on a voluntary basis before mandates are issued.

We Cannot Reach Agreement
The task force and industry meetings occurred with Councilmember Carter some seven or eight times. We thank Councilmember Carter for listening to our industry, and regret that he remains convinced a city mandate is necessary. It is not every day that in industry as large as ours (third largest employer behind government and health care) comes to the table willingly, engages productively in the conversation and commits to a voluntary effort of the magnitude we have proposed.

It certainly seems appropriate to give the industry a chance to show what it can do prior to mandates being issued. This is a basic tenet of our philosophy – that government regulation ought to be applied sparingly, when necessary and when a broad swath of the public is affected. In this time of severe economic challenge, to add mandates, which add costs and increase liability risks, and to do so in one community thereby making it less attractive for one of the major job creators in the state, does not seem prudent.

While Council member Carter morphed his original proposal into several iterations, the key issues remain. Chief among these is a liability risk that our legal counsel firmly believes increases once a city mandate is issued.  This is echoed by one of the major insurance companies that writes nearly 20% of its business in the restaurant market nationwide, including Minnesota.

In the end, we have agreed to disagree. We stand by our pledge to initiate an energetic and sincere industry effort voluntarily. But we do not believe it is in the best interests of the City of St. Paul, patrons with allergies or St. Paul’s restaurants to pass mandates in this arena.

Restaurants Are Already Addressing this Issue
It should also be noted that restaurant operators respond to requests from customers on a daily basis regarding allergens and a wide range of dietary needs. The industry is already moving toward greater awareness here. Some restaurants have recognized those with allergens as a powerful market and are catering specifically to it. Examples include Davanni’s, Pizza Luce and Heartland Cafe.

We are contacting St. Paul city councilors to share our position on this issue and hope we can convince them of our sincerity with regard to a voluntary program, and the challenges and damage a city ordinance will cause.

David Siegel, CAE, IOM
Minnesota Restaurant, Lodging and Resort & Campground Associations