Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Awarding the Goobers

Every baby boomer knows that Gomer Pyle was one of the great tuber-heads of all time, right up there with Tom Arnold, Gallagher and Dan Quayle. But he was a veritable Einstein—nay, a Woody Allen—compared with his cousin, the Mayberry fillin'-station mogul known as Goober. Only such a genetic mishap could be fittingly associated with recent developments in the restaurant field. So here, without further drawl, are the parties who deserve to be recognized as the first-ever recipients of the Goober Award.

In the Dimmest Bright Idea category: Whoever came up with New York City’s attempt to peg locals’ dining habits by swapping chain-restaurant receipts for a free ride on buses or the subway. Health officials are betting the technique will provide a snapshot of what people currently order in the places that will be mandated as of July 1 to post calorie information on their menus or menu boards. That way, they assert, regulators will be able to determine if the measure has its desired effect of leading consumers to less waist-ful choices.

It’s certainly an unconventional approach, but is it really science? For one thing, the incentive of a free $2 Metro Card, the pass used to enter New York’s transit system, won’t be much of a draw for Manhattan residents or higher-income residents who don’t take public transportation. That could skew the profile of what New Yorkers presently eat, and possibly distort the labeling regulation’s impact. The data is too limited, and the scope could be unduly narrowed. Nor would the total impact be captured. For instance, what if consumers forego chain outlets because they don’t want to know the weight load of their lunch, but get the same pizza, sandwich or burger from mom-and-pop places, which are exempt from the requirement? That effect would be devastating for locally owned franchises, yet it wouldn’t be reflected in the post-mortem. The “after” picture wouldn’t be complete or accurate.

Why don’t officials just give NPD a ring and sign up for CREST data?

For Biggest Fall-Down on the Job: Cats. If you believe the news reports, New York City's restaurants are awash with rats, as if we were in the midst of some biblical plague or the filming of "Willard II." This morning brought reports of the epidemic spreading to Washington, with the local media promising videos later today of rodents moonwalking inside the eateries of such dining-out centers as Adams-Morgan and Dupont Circle.

And where, in all of this, are the true offenders' natural enemies? I'm referring, of course, to TV critics. But cats definitely have to shoulder some of the blame. Our felines have gone soft, with too many hours spent imitating rugs or warming couch cushions. They wouldn't know how to stalk a meal unless it came with a pull-tab. Clearly their community needs a Jared Fogle to inspire the overly-plump whiskered masses. I personally plan to offer a Tender Vittle for each meal plan they submit, just to see where we're starting from.

For Best-Intentioned Blunder: The residents of San Francisco, for alienating their celebrated restaurant trade by voting in a requirement that employers provide paid sick leave. The effect, local restaurateurs lament, will be devastating. So, too, can be the fallout of unintentionally pushing food handlers to come to work when they should be staying home to recuperate from some infectious disease. If staffers don’t suck it up and come to work, they won’t get paid, so in they come, bringing germs with them. Advocates of paid sick leave have a point, but so do restaurateurs who cite the cost. It’s a complex problem that requires a well-conceived solution, not the knee-jerk of voting a requirement into law via a ballot initiative, as Bay Area residents did last November.

And now their restaurant industry has turned on them, with threats of a one-day lockout, and would-be newcomers thinking twice about opening in the city. It’s a classic example of good intentions gone amuck.

And the grand prize, the Lifetime Achievement Goober: Shared, by every New York (and, one can now presume, Washington, D.C.) restaurateur whose place was cited during a sanitation inspection for indications of rats on the premise, but did nothing. The stigma is likely to take years to live down, thanks to the media. And maybe a blogger or two.

1 comment:

  1. Point of clarification, here in SF the restaurant association does not oppose sick leave but believes there is not enough clarity on the current rules -- they want a definition of reasonable notification from employee to employer, for example, and have opinions on what this definition should be. Last I checked (a week or two ago) there has been no word from the relevant city officials. But the restaurant association has not come out against the idea of sick leave (though you could find some individual restaurant owners who would).

    The minimum wage hikes combined with lack of tip credit is the main catalyst for the shutdown proposal. Health care is another issue within that, but secondary because it is being fought out in court and implementation has not yet occurred.