Betzy Gaetz, Owner,
Anton’s Restaurant, Waite Park
As the state slowly inches out of the recession, Minnesota restaurants and their 178,000 employees are still facing daunting challenges.
The improving economy has resulted in soaring food prices; the cost of beef is up almost 12 percent in the last year, while the prices of pork, bread, potatoes and dairy products have also increased significantly. Minnesotans feel the burden of rising food prices every time they go to the grocery store, and restaurants, too, are hindered by food costs every day as they strive to prepare quality meals for their customers.
While the economy is improving, consumer confidence is not yet back to the pre-recession levels and restaurants are by no means seeing a flood of customers through their doors. Restaurant customers continue to tighten their belts; in fact it is projected restaurants will have 3 percent fewer customers in 2012, and those remaining customers will spend 5 percent less than in years past.
Amid challenging economic times, restaurants continue to strive to provide the best service in a clean and safe environment for their customers. However, restaurants from city to city or county to county have a wide discrepancy in the amount they are required to pay annually for local health and safety inspections and licensing fees.
While a restaurant in St. Cloud pays the city health inspection fee, a restaurant in neighboring Waite Park is subjected to the Stearns County fee and, to make it more complicated, a restaurant in Sauk Rapids is assessed by the Minnesota Department of Health fee. This means three local restaurants that are only a few miles apart could pay a difference of hundreds of dollars for the exact same inspection.
The varying health fees cause an unlevel playing field that makes it difficult for restaurants to maintain and create quality jobs, a significant factor in the recovery of our state’s economy.
Not only does the discrepancy in health fees hurt the stability of restaurants, it can also have an impact on the choices restaurants make. Restaurant owners that have a higher health fee may choose not to hire new staff, install new equipment or open a second restaurant because of the hindrance of their health fees. These factors have an impact on the local economy in Greater St. Cloud communities.
Minnesota restaurants welcome health and safety inspections, but restaurant owners are perplexed by how fees for the same service can dramatically vary from one community to the next. Just as restaurants are expected to meet health and safety standards, licensing authorities should be expected to be transparent about the fees that are charged restaurants for inspections and licensing.
Restaurants provide vital contributions to the local economy through jobs and by purchasing commodities from local vendors. To ensure the stability of our local restaurants, St. Cloud area legislators should learn more about what is really happening with the health and licensing fees in our communities and how it impacts restaurants.