Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Greetings from the Seventh Circle

Other patrons seem disturbed by the camouflage face paint, but it's life during wartime here on the East Coast, people. They're patiently waiting to order their fries and burgers in total oblivion to the industry's pitched struggle against disaster and ruin. But I'm outfitted accordingly. This, after all, is Week One of the unimaginable, the insufferable, the Worst Case Scenario on a Barry Bonds vitamin regimen. We're talking the post-apocalyptic era of the trans-fat ban, coupled with the Armageddon of mandated health care.

In case you didn't feel the earth tremble, both went into effect at the start of the week—the ban in New York City on July 1, the health care mandate in Massachusetts a day later. It'd be like Mothra and Godzilla dropping their differences to terrorize in tandem. Two of the industry's most-feared developments, actually becoming a reality. The bogeyman has crawled out from under the bed and taken a seat at the dinner table.

So what does Hell look like? To be honest with you, not a lot different from what it looked like before near-annihilation. Walk past the various restaurants here in New York and you hear nary a peep, from inside or out. Just a lot of people pointing to the guy in camouflage paint, wondering if it’s a new fashion.

It's such a non-event that my wife looked blankly at me when I anxiously observed that Doom had sauntered into town. "Didn't that happen a few months ago?" she asked. The philistine. And this from someone who prides herself on keeping up on current events.

Then again, D-Day seemed little noticed by restaurateurs, either, judging from recent peeks inside all kinds of places. Most seemed to have used the long lead time—more than six months, from regulation to enactment—to be ready for the switch-over. It might have been tough at first, as many operators attested as they searched out alternative frying oils that wouldn't be a financial heart-stopper. But that pain seems to have been felt long ago. Now, if anything, it looks like business as usual.

I can't say from personal observation if that's the situation in Massachusetts, but the media coverage suggests it is. If, that is, you manage to google-hit one of the few stories on the situation there. As a newsmaker, it's right up there with a cat encounter for Paris Hilton's dog, or rumors of a Wham! reunion.

Perhaps that's because much of the state, including its restaurant industry, seemed in favor of the measure. It was seen by many as the least of all evils, probably because it's actually a mandate on everyone in the state to secure health insurance, rather than a flat-out requirement that restaurants and other employers supply it. Indeed, businesses with more than 11 employees can either provide up to 33 percent of a worker's insurance premiums, or contribute $295 per staffer to a fund that defrays the cost of coverage for the uninsured. In short, the burden is spread across much of society, rather than being concentrated on businesses. And that, apparently, made all the difference.

Sometimes the industry is so braced for catastrophe that it comes off a little as crying wolf. The situations in New York City and Massachusetts shouldn't be pooh-poohed, but the industry appears to be adjusting. Its critics should give it credit for adapting without much of a yelp. And the trade itself should appreciate the ameliorating factors of a long-lead time and spreading the financial burden of a socially oriented mandate across all social stakeholders.

And it'd get a personal nod of thanks if it figured out how to remove camouflage paint.

1 comment:

  1. "Sometimes the industry is so braced for catastrophe that it comes off a little as crying wolf."

    Ya think?! And not a little, either. You and I go back far enough to know that the NRA, which leads the lemmings over the cliff time and time again, rightly bills itself as the "other NRA." Then again, we can always hope for a new Dawn.