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Don't Let the Food Police Portray You Badly

The food police have surfaced again, this time in New York City where a proposed ban would require all 20,000 restaurants there to remove most artificial trans fats from menu items. This recent announcement follows a decision earlier this year in Chicago that bans restaurants from serving foie gras. Add to that the spinach E. coli scare in September, and you'd have to wonder what your customers are thinking about you and your restaurant.

While the National Restaurant Association has worked hard in recent years to position this industry as the cornerstone of the American economy, one might conclude wrongly from the headlines that you wear a black hat, not a white one. Are your customers being led to believe that you peddle death on a plate and that you're cruel to geese and ducks?

These recent wide-sweeping political moves to influence how restaurants do business suggest that this industry acts without regard for what the public wants. That couldn't be any further from the truth. Restaurants live and die by serving the needs of customers.

It wasn't too long ago that just about every restaurant began offering low-carb items because that's what the public thought it wanted. But you hear very little today about low carbs. And you can't blame the public. It's deluged daily with so-called scientific information about what is good and bad for them. It's all so confusing. Butter is bad for you, eat margarine. No, wait, the science was wrong. Margarine is much worse for you, better switch back to butter. Don't drink coffee, caffeine is bad for you. No, wait, the scientists now say coffee is actually good for you.

Part of the problem is that you have people in high positions trying to exert their authority based on scientific thought that may be erroneous or, at the least, can't be applied with wide-sweeping measures. Are trans fats bad for you? Probably. Are you going to die if you eat an order of fries, or two, or 10,000? No, not necessarily. My 95-pound, sausageloving grandmother died at age 100, and it wasn't from heart disease.

Restaurants are in the business of giving customers what they want, and customers should decide for themselves what they want. Give customers as much good information as you can, and let them decide. Twenty thousand New York City restaurants don't need a big brother, and neither do their customers.

A better plan has been proposed in Boston, where the mayor is urging the city's restaurants to offer at least one healthy menu option. Never mind that most restaurants already have several. Nevertheless, if a restaurant feels it needs help to meet the city's criteria for healthful menu items, the city will supply a nutritionist to assist. Everybody wins.

Make no mistake. We here at RESTAURANT HOSPITALITY believe this growing consumer health movement is here to stay. It's why we periodically hold one-day seminars around the country called Healthy Customers, Healthy Profits. We believe restaurants should offer a mix of healthful and indulgent menu items. Then it's up to customers to decide what they want to eat. We learned a long time ago in this country that prohibition is a bad idea.

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