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The Trials and Tribulations of Running a Restaurant

Remember all the hubbub last year over legislation to force restaurants to remove trans fats from menu items? Well, the July 1 deadline to begin enforcement of a zero-trans fat ban in New York City restaurants has arrived with barely a peep. A day hasn't passed in the last year when some restaurant or restaurant chain didn't announce it would be removing trans fats from menu items. Restaurants, particularly those in New York City, quickly fell in line and did what they had to do.

Check out advocacy website www.bantransfat. com. Here's a statement posted on its opening page: "We will no longer attempt to report on all of the restaurant chains and products going trans fat-free." The statement makes it clear that it's just too difficult to keep up with all the annoucements. Even outside New York City, where bans are not in place, restaurants and chains are making moves to eliminate trans fats. Those who do will no longer be praised, however. But those who don't will be vilified. Zero-trans fats are on the consumer radar, and your customers expect you to look out for their health. Check out senior editor Bob Krummert's report on this issue in his newsletter at

The restaurant industry is swamped with regulations, but at least this zero-trans fat legislation has turned out to be one that was relatively painless for you and good for your customers. But for every good piece of legislation, there always seems to be more that are unnecessary and/or unfair. On July 1 another New York regulation took effect. This one would require some restaurants to list calorie counts on menus and it's a real stinker.

In fact, the New York State Restaurant Association filed a suit saying the new law is unfair. It applies only to restaurants that serve standarized portions size and, get this, only if restaurants were voluntarily making calorie information available as of March 1. So, a week or so ago a law was activated to punish only those who made an effort to give the public nutritional information about menu items. What?

Hey, who said it was easy being a restaurateur? Not only do you have to please politicians, but you have to please customers, and many of them say you're not meeting their expectations, according to a recent survey. For the third year in a row, Kanbay Research Institute studied 50 restaurant chains to see if they are meeting customers' desires. Restaurants were rated for food quality, speed of service, cleanliness, friendliness and hospitality.

The good news is that Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Bonefish Grill, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Legal Sea Foods and Morton's The Steakhouse passed the test, while most others did not. If all goes as the NRA predicts, this industry will log its 16th consecutive year of growth, which suggests you're doing a lot that is right. The casual dining sector, however, is taking it on the chin. Industry experts say it's because most casual players are bland and there are few points of differentiation. That's a hard point to argue.

If you're in this segment, it's time to spice up your menu and innovate. Your customers have expectations that are not being met. Hey, that's what you do for a living . . . make customers happy.

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