1. Food safety & sanitation laws
This is the most important aspect of working in the culinary industry. It’s more than just ServSafe certification now. Yes, there are laws about basic food temps and cleaning andsanitizing, but there are laws governing temperatures for the walk-in and freezers, laws that tell you that gloves always need to be worn when handling specific foods, how garnishes can be applied, and much more. As a restaurant employee, it’s your job to know what these rules and regulations are, and adhere to them. As a manager or owner, it’s even more important. How do you keep your grill safe for use? What about food allergens and cross-contamination?
The cost of foodborne illness is high. Not only can people become terribly ill, even dies, but it can cost your restaurant thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars and potentially close your place of business. There are lawsuits, legal fees, medical costs, an increase in insurance premiums, negative media exposure, damaged reputation and loss of customers and sales.
2. ADA laws
According to the 2000 census, more than 58 million people in the United States have disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination and requires equal access and opportunity for employment and services.
As a restaurant manager or owner, it is your responsibility to make sure your restaurant is compliant with federal, state and local guidelines. This means for your employees, potential employees and customers.
For customers, this typically means a wheelchair accessible route not only into the restaurant, but around the restaurant as well. It means that there are ADA accessible restrooms. If you have self-service selections, they need to be accessible to someone in a wheelchair. If your restaurant was built before a specific time period you may be grandfathered into an exemption, but keep in mind you may also be effectively limiting a large portion of customers as well.
3. Anti-Discrimination laws
Tying in with the Americans with Disabilities Act, are the anti-discrimination laws. Are you able to refuse service to someone based on their appearance? What about if they have no shirt or shoes on? Are you able to refuse service based on your religious or philosophical beliefs?
Restaurants are considered a public accommodation, and therefore are not exempt from anti-discrimination laws. The short answer is you can refuse service to an unprotected individual, but not an entire group or class of people. You may outline that customers need to have shoes, shirt and tie, but you may not ban women as a whole. Religious exemptions can be very challenging, so it’s best to speak to your lawyer before you act in any capacity.
Anti-discrimination laws can be tricky, so it’s always important to speak with your lawyer and make sure you – and your business – are covered in any circumstance.
4. Hiring and employment law
As a chef, owner or manager, it’s your job to familiarize yourself with employment laws in your state, as well as the federal laws – especially those relating to minimum wage, overtime and tips.
Do you know what happens with regard to overtime for tipped employees? At what age can a young person work in a kitchen or in the front of the house? How many hours a week can they work? What about migrant or immigrant workers?
Some common beliefs (and practices) are charging a waitperson for a customer walkout, for broken dinnerware, tip pooling, billing for a service charge and tips concurrently, and many more. In some states these practices are legal, in others they are not.
If you are responsible for the hiring and payroll of any staff at all – you need to understand these laws as they apply to your restaurant. The failure to comply with employment statutes are some pretty hefty fines, and can result in closure of your restaurant.
5. Contract law
This may not seem like a big on, but consider this: you have a lease with a building owner and have operated your restaurant for six years very successfully. You’ve worked hard and built up a stellar reputation in conjunction with a great, central location. Suddenly, your landlord sends you a notice that you have to vacate within ninety days. Now what?
If you own a restaurant, if you are a chef that has a contract of employment, if you have vendor contracts – then you should completely understand what you are signing. You need to understand how they work and what your options and clauses contain. Yes, you absolutely should have a lawyer, but you should also know that your landlord is required to provide you twelve months’ notice to vacate and first option to purchase the building in the event of sale. Knowledge is power and will save you an immeasurable amount of stress and headaches if you know your rights ahead of time.