Restaurants respond to health care reform

The landmark health care legislation that President Barack Obama signed into law on Tuesday will change the way all businesses, including restaurants, operate.


The industry has known for some time that this bill will require restaurant operators to contribute to health care coverage for their employees and also outlines stipulations for nationwide menu labeling. (EARLIER: Restaurants face big changes with health care reform [3])




Still, what's contained in the massive 2,400-page bill is unclear to many, including some restaurant operators and others who follow and work for the larger hospitality industry. Some elements of the bill take effect immediately, others portions still are being worked through.




What is immediately clear, however, is that many restaurateurs are concerned about the possibility for costly change to their already struggling operations.




Nation’s Restaurant News asked readers to send their thoughts on health care reform to [email protected] Here is a selection of responses:




"This will close our business. The downturn in the economy and the escalating cost of labor, food and fuel has us using our own savings to meet restaurant expenses. We have been in our family-owned business for 23 years and have suffered many down times, but this has been the worst. People are afraid to spend money on things that aren't necessary. A trip to a restaurant, even an economical one like ours, is out of the budget." Pearl Beaupre, Fairmont Restaurant, Savannah, Ga.




"This will help our business. We will now be on a more level playing field with industries that offer real pay and benefits. There have been complaints for years about how to recruit the best and brightest. Now we can rise with the tide." — Diane Withrow, Hospitality Management, Cape Fear Community College, Wilmington, N.C




"This is horrible for business. Restaurateurs are now faced with a lot of uncertainty. This could mean that the new jobs that would have been created by opening new restaurants — the jobs that are desperately needed in this economic environment — will now not materialize. If small business is afraid to grow, how will our country recover?" — Claudia Levitas, senior vice president and general counsel, Huddle House, Atlanta




"This mandated regulation is not a reform measure but a deforming setback. The restaurant industry is suffering from the retrenchment in consumer spending and sustained levels of unemployment and underemployment. Now this bill adds a tremendous cost burden to the industry. Restaurateurs cannot easily pass on higher prices to adjust for the cost burden and surely cannot endure another cost pressure, therefore, this new bill occurs at the most inopportune time for the industry to try and cope with it." — Craig Weichmann, Brazos River Advisors LLC, Greenville, Texas




"We have no idea how this health care bill will affect us. I don’t have time to read a 2,400-page document and after reading many articles and listening to all the 'talking heads' on TV, I still have no idea what this bill means ... We are trying to do the right thing by offering insurance but we don’t know what this does to us." — Charles M. Winston Jr., The Winston Group Management Co., Raleigh, N.C.




"While I am no longer a restaurant owner I continue to pay close attention to the industry that I dearly love. During my restaurant ownership years, I employed about 20 employees and if this bill was in effect then, it would have helped my employees and me. Even back in 1990 I provided health insurance for my employees — although they paid a portion of the premiums as a payroll deduction — and the cost of a small business health insurance package was significant then and would be impossible today. Providing health insurance coverage for restaurant workers is the right thing to do and this legislation will help both owners and employees find coverage that is more affordable; but perhaps not affordable enough. I continue to believe that to achieve cost containment in this industry two other things must occur: tort reform and a government option." — Rich Turnbull, Corvallis, Ore.




"I operate three franchises in New Jersey and have a total of 140 employees ... I haven't been able to provide health care because of the cost, and now with the proposed fines, if I don't, I will need to raise my menu [prices] 25 percent to pay the fines or provide care. The past few years have been more trying than any in my past almost 40 years in the business. I don't believe the consumer will understand the reason business prices will increase, [and] customer counts will go down, layoffs will occur and the cycle will continue ... I shudder to think how many small business people will shut the doors as this will put them into the crimson rather than just in the red." — George Ebinger, board member, New Jersey Restaurant Association, Toms River, N.J.




Contact editor Sarah E. Lockyer at [email protected]