San Fernando Valley Los Angeles Attorneys
Navigation Two
Phone Number

Entries in restaurant business (11)

Thursday
Nov162017

Restaurant Industry Gets Another Chance to Chime in on Menu Labeling

CalBar Certified Franchise & Distribution Law Specialist

by Barry Kurtz

818-907-3006

 

Franchisors in the food service industry have until January 18, 2018 to comment on the latest version of the Food & Drug Administration’s Menu Labeling Guidance. The FDA released the draft November 7th. This version includes pictorial suggestions for how consumer information might be displayed under certain circumstances.

The currently non-binding recommendations aim to clarify options for menu labeling compliance and will eventually affect any food and beverage retailer, including those selling self-service foods and buffet operators.

 

Special Orders: The ABCs of Menu Labeling

 

Caloric information is the key ingredient in menu labeling requirements. But the FDA is now taking a more cooperative approach to handling special situations:

All You Can Eat: In the current draft, signage regarding serving size and calories are not required next to every food item offered on a buffet. However, the info must be available to consumers in other forms, i.e. gel window-clings on sneeze guards or on menu boards.

Speaking of menu boards, restaurant owners need not provide one at their businesses if they do not already display a menu.

On the other hand, if a menu board is available on site, it must be updated to include nutrition information. Digital kiosks or other devices, hand-held menus, etc., may also be used to convey consumer info about nutrition.

By the Bucket or Bowl: Family style restaurants like Maggiano’s will be required to provide caloric info for the whole (multiple serving) menu item sold. However, family-style restaurants may relay additional information, such as the suggested number of individual servings and calories per serving of that item. The FDA offers this example:

Family-Style Salad: 1,200 Cal: 150 Cal/serving, 8 servings

Beer, Wine, Cocktails: If the choices are listed on a menu or menu board, nutrition should also be displayed. “Display” foods are not subject to the labeling requirements. These include beers served on tap.

Seasonal beers (pumpkin spiced ale, anyone?) on the menu are also exempt from labeling requirements provided they are not available for more than 60 days per year.

Customer Crafted Menu Items: The FDA now offers “build-your-own” restaurants like Chipotle or PizzaRev a bit of flexibility. The Administration suggests this type of restaurant group customer options, i.e. pizza crusts, sauce choices and toppings so that consumers can quickly calculate which options provide the most and least amount of calories per slice or serving. 

Chef’s Choice: Food selections based on seasonal produce or other items that change on a daily basis are not subject to the nutrition labeling guidance, UNLESS, these selections appear regularly. So a restaurant that serves clam chowder every third Friday will have to provide nutrition information.

Self Service Foods: Food and beverages in soda machines; grab and go donut cases, sandwich or salad coolers; rotisserie chicken warming carts and similar displays and dispensers all fall under the self-service or food-on-display categories.

Pre-packaged foods like sandwiches prepared on site but already wrapped for customer convenience should display an FOP, or “front of pack” label with calorie information.

Donut cases and beverage dispensers found in grocery or convenience stores contain unpackaged foods. A label can be affixed to the dispenser or display case detailing information for each choice available, or displayed on signage nearby.

 

To Lab Test, or Not To Lab Test?

 

 

The FDA will not require restaurants to submit menu items to food labs to determine nutrition information. But legitimate options for determining calorie and other data are required. The Administration recommends using one of the following:

  • Laboratory Analysis
  • USDA National Nutrient Database
  • Trade Association or Industry Databases
  • Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau Methods for Analysis
  • Cookbook Listings
  • Other reasonable means

If opting for other reasonable means, records must be maintained at corporate headquarters or the restaurant’s main office in case the FDA requests the data and method used to substantiate the information.

 

Chain Stores and Co-Ops

 

Independent franchises, cooperatives, grocery chains and similar businesses not selling substantially similar foods from location to location are not considered “covered establishments” as far as the FDA Menu Labeling Guidance is concerned. “Covered Establishments” include businesses that:

  • Have 20 or more locations
  • Do business under the same name
  • Sell substantially same menu items
  • Sell food eaten on premises or food that may be taken away

So a gasoline franchisee of a major chain that also operates an independently owned mini-mart under a different name would not be considered a “covered establishment”.

 

The Wrap Up

 

Again, the Administration decided to take a more flexible approach in their rules regarding nutrition labeling, and work more cooperatively with covered establishments:

. . . our typical approach following an inspection would be to raise any compliance concerns with the most responsible person (e.g., the manager or owner) at a covered establishment during a close-out inspection meeting or in regulatory meetings with that establishment. If post-inspection issues remain, we may send a letter to the establishment asking for the firm to come into compliance. Any enforcement activities we pursue will be consistent with our public health priorities. . .

All in all, this seems like a much more feasible plan than the 2014 Final Rule previously published.

Barry Kurtz is the Chair of Lewitt Hackman's Franchise & Distribution Practice Group.

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Friday
Oct272017

Beep: Your Hamburger is Ready

CalBar Certified Franchise & Distribution Law Specialist

by Barry Kurtz

818-907-3006

 

Analysts predict robots may take nearly 40 percent of U.S. jobs – particularly the ones that require lower education levels – in the next 15-20 years. The study was released by PricewaterhouseCoopers, and was based on anticipated technological progress, which leaves a lot of room for error.

Not all jobs can be staffed with tech though, as Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates illustrates when talking about the fast-rising trend.

He supports a robot tax on businesses that use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to replace human employees. The revenues could be used to train people to fulfill other jobs, like those in teaching or elder-care, where a human component is much more important. It would also help slow the rush to acquire AI.

Gates told Quartz news outlet:

So if you can take the labor that used to do the thing automation replaces, and financially and training-wise and fulfillment-wise have that person go off and do these other things, then you’re net ahead. But you can’t just give up that income tax, because that’s part of how you’ve been funding that level of human workers...

Taxing questions aside, many hospitality franchisors find themselves facing a dilemma: Invest in people, or invest in tech?

Some Franchises Bet Heavily on Tech

Drone Delivery RoboticsReplacing humans with AI is still relatively expensive today, and not exactly a guarantee of larger profits at this time. But some franchises are throwing down a lot of chips on AI development. Why?

For one thing, restaurant jobs, particularly those around a hot grill or spitting fryer can be dangerous. And it’s hard work that not everyone wants.

Burger bot “Flippy” developed by Pasadena-based Miso Robotics with franchisor CaliBurger can cost upwards of $60k, according to TechCrunch. But it will never report to work tired, hungover, or in any state that may result in workers’ comp claims. It also won’t demand higher wages.

Domino’s delivers, as we all know. But food delivery can also be dangerous, which is one reason the chain invests heavily in tech.

The pizza franchisor developed Domino’s Robotic Unit (DRU), a four-wheeled autonomous delivery vehicle. Though DRU will be able to navigate the best route to a customer’s door, it has not yet been activated to serve, as the robot vehicle is still being tested. The DRU Drone is also in development, and may lift off for first deliveries in New Zealand in February.

Restaurant chain (not a franchise) Shake Shack opened a high traffic location in New York’s East Village. The restaurant features kiosk-only ordering and cashless transactions. When the food is ready, the diner can opt to receive a text message to pick up a tray, or go with the old school shout out.

Shake Shack still employs humans to provide customer assistance, cook, and expedite the food at this restaurant location.

Hoteliers are also embracing a new wave in AI services. AURA is the first robot in Asia to provide room services – delivering towels, water and more. And a Marriott in Belgium deployed a bot that addresses vacationers and business travelers in 19 different languages.

What Should Franchisors Know About AI?

Hi Tech Burger

As always, when considering upgraded tech for a chain, consider the needs of individual locations. Right now there are more questions than answers:

  • Will a loyal, profitable franchisee balk at having to deploy AI?

  • Will the leased or owned property of the franchisee accommodate robot workers?

  • Will the costs for AI create substantial reductions in comparison with employee-related expenses, and more profits for the operators?

  • Will the public accept AI as a substitute for smiling wait staff and cashiers?

  • Will ordering kiosks and robotic workers be a turn-off (in locales where unemployment rates might be very high), or a draw (like the hotel mentioned above attracting millennial clientele)?

But also remember that some AI can be used behind the scenes, e.g. in certain food prep tasks, to analyze marketing trends, fold hotel linens, etc.).

Whatever the industry, don’t be afraid to embrace the tech. Just be sure to look both ways before crossing fully into the digital realm.

Barry Kurtz is the Chair of Lewitt Hackman's Franchise & Distribution Practice Group.

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Friday
Sep012017

Franchise Litigation Rising Over Dietary Considerations

Chair, Franchise & Distribution Practice Group

by Barry Kurtz

818-907-3006

 

Rising concerns over food sourcing and preparation is leading to more and more litigation for restaurants and franchises.

Most of the lawsuits claim discrimination, which makes sense as many dietary strictures are rooted in religious tradition. Other restaurant lawsuits are based on disability discrimination, as some plaintiffs suffer physical hardships when their dietary needs are not met, or are blatantly ignored.

Then there are franchisor-franchisee lawsuits, generally over how restaurants are allowed or not allowed to market, and regarding suppliers of specialty foods.

Here’s a closer look at the litigation menu:

First Course, Gluten Free

Gluten-free Diner DiscriminationRecently, a living-history museum in Virginia forced a fifth grade student on a school field trip to eat his home-prepared gluten-free (GF) meal outside in the rain – the museum’s restaurant had a strict “no outside food” policy. The boy’s father tried to talk to the restaurant employee who was enforcing the rule and then to the manager, who steadfastly refused to make an exception.

The family’s GF discrimination lawsuit cites violations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Virginia Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act.

Here in California, a gluten-free class action lawsuit was recently dropped by the lead plaintiff. In this case, Anna Marie Phillips was contesting P.F. Chang’s $1 surcharge for GF menu items, pointing out that customers who asked for vegan substitutions, or peanut and peanut oil-free dishes, were not similarly charged. Phillips dropped her suit because of complaints from a group who advocates for celiac disease victims.

But even though the suit was dropped, a legal question looms: Is Celiac Disease considered a disability under the federal ADA or various state laws?

Restauranteurs wanting to avoid ADA suits may be best advised to accommodate GF diners whenever they can – without surcharges, unless the extra costs apply to all special requests. (We can hear the revamped Burger King commercial now: “Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us…if we can charge you just a dollar more…”)

On the other side of the healthy food coin, a customer in Massachusetts brought a class action lawsuit against 20 Dunkin’ Donuts stores last year. His complaint?  He asked for real butter on his bagel but was served a butter substitute instead. The point in this case, according to the plaintiff’s attorney, is the need for truthful representations.

Point taken. At the point of a butter knife.

Second Course: Religious Concerns

Food and Cultural ConcertsAlso of note recently are the lawsuits initiated by those concerned with kashrut (kosher) or halal diets. Though pork is forbidden in both of these, the lists of allowed and forbidden foods diversify a bit for Jews and Muslims.

A Muslim customer in Michigan sued Little Caesars for $100 million last May, alleging he accidentally ate pepperoni, which is strictly prohibited by Islamic law because it is composed of pork. The plaintiff specifically ordered halal pizzas, and though the boxes were labeled halal, they were topped with regular, non-halal pepperoni.

On the other hand, many Hindus believe in non-violence, including non-violence toward animals. Thus, many practitioners are vegetarian, or lacto-vegetarian, if not fully vegan. Some Hindus will eat meat, but draw the line at beef.

Remember the lawsuit over french fries? McDonald’s labeled their fries vegetarian, but litigation ensued when customers realized the fries and hash browns were cooked in a vegetable oil containing “the essence of beef” to enhance flavor. The franchisor paid over $10 million to settle the complaints.

It’s important for franchisors, franchisees, distributors or suppliers, and employees to know the differences between halal, kosher, Hindu, vegetarian and vegan diets. Wait staff, food expediters and kitchen staff should be especially aware of legal consequences when making a simple mistake, like putting meat-filled samosas in a vegetarian-labeled container.

Even if such mistakes don’t lead to lawsuits, they definitely lead to customer mistrust and injured reputations for the restaurant.

Third Course: Franchise Agreements and Policies That Just Won’t Fly

Unauthorized products, particularly in the food industry, can cause system-wide problems. One of the primary purposes of franchisors approving suppliers is so that the corporate office can trace problems in food quality or sanitation. Outbreaks of food poisoning, a discovery that a unit’s fries are cooked in oils containing animal byproducts, or that a hot dog isn’t really kosher all lead to an injured reputation for the unit as well as the franchise system.

Further, consistently ignoring the franchisors requirements regarding ingredient sourcing can lead to an agreement termination, and possibly, litigation.

But here’s another twist on the food supply problem:

KFC Franchisee Halal Chicken

The KFC Corporation (franchisor of Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants, or “KFC”) was recently accused of enforcing an allegedly unknown policy that prohibits religious claims regarding KFC products.

The plaintiff, a multi-unit franchisee owner, alleges he has sold halal chicken for 14 years with KFC’s help; the religious claims prohibition is not part of the franchise agreement or disclosure statement; and at no time since opening his first restaurant did the franchisor ever mention the prohibition. The franchisee claims he was first made aware of the provision in December 2016, and that KFC’s policy violates the Illinois Halal Food Act. He expects to lose $1 million in revenue annually.

Boxing It All Up

It’s easy to sum up the lessons – be respectful, be aware, and be proactive.

To avoid potential litigation, restaurant operators should ensure all employees handling food are well trained. It may be difficult to instill knowledge about every ingredient in every menu item, but at least train workers to ask management or kitchen staff when they don’t know the answers to customer food questions. Front of the house staff should never tell the customer what s/he thinks the customer wants to hear, or provide the easy answer when busy.

Also, be very wary of triggering discrimination complaints like the ones mentioned in the gluten-free lawsuits cited earlier. There shouldn’t be one set of rules for GF requests, another for people with allergy concerns, and others for halal or kosher diets. If imposing surcharges for one type of food modification, impose the same surcharges for all. (Though it’s probably best not to initiate extra charges at all.)

Franchisors, ensure franchisees are using approved suppliers only. If making policy changes about food supply or anything else, first consider whether or not those changes are going to cause economic hardships for the franchisees, and whether or not the changes are contractually enforceable.

Franchisees, don’t go off menu with ingredients. The suppliers pre-approved by the franchisor are generally well-vetted. Their ingredients may cost a little more, but you can probably assume the higher costs are due to better quality, legitimate certifications, and the like.

Barry Kurtz is a California Bar Certified Specialist in Franchise & Distribution Law.

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Monday
Jul172017

So You Say You Want a Revolution? Franchises Evolve as Retail Declines

Franchise Distribution Attorney Barry KurtzBar Certified Franchise & Distribution Law Specialist

by Barry Kurtz

818-907-3006

 

You’ve seen the news: retailers are struggling. Traditional anchor stores like Macy’s and Sears are closing up shop, creating a domino effect of fiscal death for shopping malls across the country. The Los Angeles Times reports over 8,000 retail stores may close before years’ end. 

Empty Food Courts Hurt Franchises

This is bad for Quick Serve Restaurants (QSRs) that have done a booming business in traditional mall food courts. But like all threatened species, there is a solution: Evolve. Though the traditional mall may be singing a swan song, other types of shopping complexes are doing good business.

Brick & Mortar Restaurant Locations

Not all malls are dead or dying, of course. And some properties will attempt a comeback through “experiential retail”, converting large anchor stores into movie theaters, restaurants, gyms, laser tag playgrounds or other facilities, which will hopefully lure back the smaller retailers as well as consumer foot traffic. But for franchisees leasing space in malls that are truly facing a decline, it may be time to revise a franchise agreement to accommodate a move to a more lucrative location. Consider alternative venues:

Outlet Malls: These still draw customers and generally have booming food courts filled with QSRs and other casual eateries. Many of them also lease space to family-friendly, full service restaurants as well.

Lifestyle Centers: Also known as boutique malls, these are mixed use commercial properties and popular draws for more upscale consumer spending. CityPlace in West Palm Beach or The Grove here in Los Angeles are prime examples. Single location restaurants and chains that are a little higher end tend to set out shingles in these locations. But QSRs may have opportunities in the surrounding areas.

Marketplaces: These settings are also on the rise in the U.S. Check out Grand Central Market in Los Angeles, or a venue like Underground Atlanta in Georgia.

Franchisees, consult with your franchisor regarding pulling up the stakes.

Franchisors, don’t allow franchisees to relocate at will; however, if a franchisee can make a convincing showing that relocation will be in the best interests of both franchisee and franchisor, the franchisor’s consent may be forthcoming. Consider the economic realities – franchisees who turn good profits make for a healthier system.

Food Delivery Services Help FranchisesOther Options for QSRs

Hanging on at the traditional mall food court to the bitter end? That’s understandable in some cases, as moves can be very expensive in terms of cash, lost customer bases and good employees who simply can’t commute to a new store further down the road.

Though foot traffic may be declining, digital sales are up. Consider a mobile delivery service or curbside pickup (consult with the mall’s management for this option) to bolster the account books.

A Morgan Stanley report says $210 billion in restaurant food is consumed outside of the restaurant from which it is ordered each year – though currently, only about five percent of that spend accounts for deliveries of online orders. But a writer for The Motley Fool projects a 15 percent growth in digital deliveries annually.

Whatever a QSR or other franchises decide to do – there are still plenty of options for business growth. You just have to embrace the change.

Barry Kurtz is the Chair of our Franchise & Distribution Practice Group.

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Monday
Jul102017

Trimming the Fat: Restaurant Menu Labeling Rule Under Further Review

Franchise LawyerChair, Franchise & Distribution Practice Group

 

by Barry Kurtz

818-907-3006

 

In 2010 as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act a/k/a “Obamacare”, the federal government set provisions mandating restaurant chains provide nutrition information for menu items. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA or Agency) was supposed to come up with guidelines for compliance.

FDA Menu Rules for Coupons

The Agency did so, issuing its final rule in December 2014. Certain parties requested extended compliance deadlines in July 2015, the FDA announced the following December that concerned restaurants should meet requirements by December 1, 2016; however, on December 30, 2016 the Agency decreed menu labeling enforcement was to begin May 5, 2017.

Or not. In May, the FDA extended the menu labeling compliance deadline once again, pushing everything back to May 7, 2018 to give the Agency time to “consider how we might further reduce the regulatory burden”. Interested franchisors have until August 2, 2017 to weigh in on the interim final rule.

Current Menu Label Requirements

As the FDA Interim Final Rule for restaurants stands now (see: 2016 Labeling Guide for Restaurants), succinctly covered in a mere 58 pages, menu labeling will be required of all covered establishments – restaurants and similar retail food sellers with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name and selling substantially similar menu items. 

Covered establishments may include bakeries, coffee shops, convenience stores and concession stands that meet the above criteria. Eateries that are not considered covered establishments generally don’t meet the 20 location rule. But there are also exemptions for hospitals, schools, transportation carriers (food services on planes and trains), food trucks and sidewalk carts.

Restaurant nutrition labeling will be required on standard menu items, combination meals, variable menu items, side dishes and beverages. Foods that will not require labeling under the current rule include alcoholic beverages (unless they appear on a menu or menu board), condiments, daily specials, temporary market items, custom orders and market-test menu items.

In house and takeout menus and menu boards should include: 

  • Number of calories for each menu item for sale, adjacent to the item or the item’s price, and listed as “cal” or “calories”.

  • Statement similar to: “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.”

  • Statement similar to: “Additional nutrition information available on request.” 

More Food for Thought (and Rule Commenting)

FDA Nutrition LabelingMany of the provisions in the menu labeling rule have to do with remote points of sale and consumer impulse choices. Generally, these situations occur on premises.

But offsite, the general thinking is this: if a consumer sees restaurant marketing that lists menu items and provides info like a phone number or web link for the consumer to order immediately, nutrition information should be provided for that menu item. For example: 

  • If a pizza chain offers a discount or BOGO (Buy One Get One) offer attached to a takeout menu that already provides nutrition labeling, no further information for that discounted food item is needed on the coupon. On the other hand, if the offer is a “stand alone” coupon, e.g. paper flier without nutrition info affixed to a pizza delivery box, that coupon could be in violation of the menu labeling rule as currently written.

  • Topping options, e.g. mushrooms for pizza, chocolate sprinkles for ice cream, etc. should also have calories listed.

  • Restaurants that offer appetizer or catering platters, should consider listing calories for the entire platter, or per discrete serving unit: “appetizer sampler: 80 cal/buffalo wing, 5 wings”.  

If you plan to weigh in on these or other aspects of the Agency’s proposed plans for nutrition labeling, follow these FDA commenting instructions for written and electronic submissions. Again, input should be properly delivered to the Agency before August 2, 2017.

Barry Kurtz is a Certified Franchise & Distribution Law Specialist in California.

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

LEWITT HACKMAN | 16633 Ventura Boulevard, Eleventh Floor, Encino, California 91436-1865 | 818.990.2120