Voting for the Love of Food
No matter your political view – Democrat, Republican, Independent, or none of the above – we all have at least one thing in common – everyone has to eat. Whether you’re eating to fulfill an act of human nature (also known as survival) or eating just because you can, we tend to drop our political discriminations in the name of food. Let’s explore how the restaurant industry played a particular role in last week’s 2014 midterm elections.
During weeks of early voting and on Election Day, millions of Americans exercised their right to vote. Numerous ballots across the country asked voters to consider increasing their state or city’s minimum wage mandates. The state of Massachusetts and the city of Oakland asked voters to require restaurant owners to offer paid sick leave to employees. Voters in the state of Minnesota were requested to vote for or against the 70/30 food/alcohol law in Minneapolis, while residents of California were asked to implement a possible “sugar tax.”
According to Restaurant Business Online, five state-level wage proposals passed: Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska, South Dakota, California (San Francisco and Oakland specifically), and non-binding increase in Illinois. Not all states increased the minimum wage amount equally; for instance, Eater.com stated that Alaska’s minimum wage will increase by $1 on Jan. 1st, 2015, while the city of San Francisco will increase steadily over the next three years by $4.26 making it the second city in the US (after Seattle) with the highest minimum wage mandate. Continuing on a positive note, the state of Arkansas abandoned its lower-than-federally-mandated counterparts Wyoming and Georgia, and increased the current $6.25 minimum wage to $8.50 by 2017.
While paid sick leave sounds like a reasonable request, the execution of sick leave gets a little queasy. I believe that the 60% of voters who favored the sick leave initiative may not have quite understood what “sick leave” for a restaurant business really entails. Restaurant Business Online explained that workers would acquire “one hour of paid time off for every 30 hours worked, to a maximum of 40 hours per week.” The main concern for Massachusetts’s restaurateurs is that an employee could then take “sick leave” in one- and two-hour increments. Sound a little odd? It is. This means that any restaurant employee – host, cook, server, busser, dishwasher, bartender, etc. – could legally take a one-hour paid sick leave whenever they wanted. Yes, right in the middle of your supper. On top of that, are we sure they are well enough to handle our food after coming back from sick leave?
On the other hand, the Prohibition era-like 70/30 food/alcohol law was overturned and restaurants in Minneapolis can now serve food and alcohol freely, without limitations. For those who don’t know about the 70/30 law, it was established in 1983 (amended in 1997) to limit the amount of alcohol sold versus the amount of food sold in a restaurant located within 500 feet of a residential area. Restaurant Hospitality stated that restaurants could lose their beer/wine licenses if the restaurant exceeded its 30% cap in overall sales revenue. Even worse, restaurants who served a customer an alcoholic drink without the purchase of food could potentially lose its beer/wine license. There was no grabbing a beer or cocktail while you waited two hours for a table, but now you can.
For those living in San Francisco, you’ll need to remember to grab extra change the next time you visit the office vending machine when your three o’clock sweet craving arrives. You’ll now be paying a two-cent-per-ounce tax on each sugary item. For distributors in Berkeley, CA, you’ll also be experiencing a one-cent-per-ounce “sugar tax” for all sugar-sweetened drinks.
Any shift in the political realm by the Republicans or Democrats would’ve impacted the restaurant industry some way, shape, or form. While many may not see eye-to-eye politically, most people will agree that we strongly care about anything having to do with our food’s well-being (i.e. who handles it, cooks it, and serves it).
On that note, I urge all politicians to be more restaurant-friendly and for the voters of America to always ‘Vote Yes’ for the love of food.