Street Talk

Street Talk: Too many government cooks spoil the broth

Book nooks.

November 15, 2013
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A couple of government-related issues have Michigan restaurateurs worked up. One is the impending IRS rule ending the “automatic” 18 percent tips added to group tabs (see page 3). The other issue involves Michigan’s unique state law prohibiting bars and restaurants from serving booze in a glass that has the booze company’s logo on it.

For years, Michigan’s bar/restaurant people have been seeking the right to serve Bud in a Bud glass, Jack Daniel’s in a Jack Daniel’s glass, etc. As a practical matter, sometimes the retail establishments can get those glasses free from the booze companies and wholesalers.

In early November, the Michigan Senate approved legislation that would allow the retailers to use logo glasses — but only if they buy them from a glassware retailer, and they have to get the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to approve the purchase order.

“Apparently, free market principles and the elimination of frivolous government intrusion are no longer priorities of Senate Republicans,” said Brian DeBano, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant Association, which represents almost 4,500 foodservice establishments.

His next comment is dripping with sarcasm.

“I will be sure to consult with the caucus the next time my members want to change ketchup brands to make sure they approve.”

DeBano is no amateur in the political arena. According to the restaurant association website, before he was hired in 2011 he was, for eight years, chief of staff and COO for the Michigan Department of State under former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land.

Before that, DeBano served five years on the staff of former Gov. John Engler, the last two as Engler’s director of state government affairs, where he worked with state agencies to implement Engler’s policy initiatives.

Jeff Lobdell is a Grand Rapids businessman whose Restaurant Partners owns 17 restaurants and food service places from Traverse City to Kalamazoo, and he is well known in the industry, both on the state and national levels.

Lobdell said some bar operators would be happy to buy logoed glassware directly from the manufacturers or wholesalers, but having to go to a glassware retailer and getting government approval adds extra hurdles.

Bar owners might buy a particular logoed glass “to show they support local beers,” he said. He said he might, for instance, buy beer steins bearing the North Peak Brewing Co. logo — his brother is one of the owners of that Traverse City brewing company.

Coors was one of the sponsors of ArtPrize, so “we might want to buy Coors Light glasses because they helped our town,” he said.

Lobdell said the booze wholesalers in Michigan are against logo glasses because it represents more potential cost trying to compete against other wholesalers.

“In some states, they’re kind of expected to provide free glassware with logos, and free beverage napkins and free server uniforms,” he said. “In Michigan, they’re not expected to do that.

“We feel like the wholesalers aren’t true partners with us to help move more product,” he said, and in this case, “they’re kind of blocking efforts for us to be able to buy those things because they fear eventually they are going to be asked to provide those.”

This got him on the topic of how government intervention in business usually leads to still more government intervention.

“One thing comes after another,” he said. “It just seems like everyone’s got their thumb in the pie and they keep making new rules that crack the door open a little bit to what’s going to happen down the road.”

Lobdell is a non-smoker and said he personally likes the ban on smoking in restaurants. He said 15 of his restaurants were smoke-free before it was mandated by law.

But he recalls listening to old-timers in the business talking about when the first law was passed requiring a non-smoking section in every restaurant. Some fought it, but most thought it was a good idea. They just didn’t want it made a law for fear it would lead to a total ban on all smoking.

“And other people said, ‘Oh, no, they would never do that,’” said Lobdell.

Board worthy

A human services agency in northern Kent County is looking for a little boost from the business community — but not necessarily in financial form.

North Kent Community Services is seeking members to serve on its board and four committees for the next year, and business people are at the top of the wish list.

“I think this is just perfect for business people,” said Claire Guisfredi, executive director.

“I am looking for people who are dynamic and have a passion for our ministry. We are launching our new empowerment plan, called ‘From Survive to Thrive,’ and would like to involve people who have expertise in finance, development, law, business, health and human services, human resources and media/public relations.”

North Kent Community Services serves struggling families with basic life needs all over northern Kent County. The committees, which will meet every other month, are finance, building and grounds, development and personnel.

“It’s a great opportunity to give back, whether you are at the beginning or middle of your career, or even retired. Committee members will be the first ones we look at when recruiting new board members,” she said.

Applications must be received by Dec. 1 and can be completed at www.nkcs.org.

Sticky situation

The Michigan Business and Professional Association is pleased that individuals will be allowed to keep existing health plans for another year, but said the action is merely a bandage on a complex situation that requires more significant action.

“We definitely support the delay regarding the cancellation of individual health insurance plans, but we are disappointed with the continuing rise in premiums across both individual and group health insurance plans regardless of the new health care law,” said Jennifer Kluge, CEO of the association.

She added that a one-year delay in one aspect of the system isn’t very helpful. Even though the latest action directly affects only individuals, Kluge said there are still repercussions for businesses in terms of their benefits strategies.

Home run

Amway Corp. is a global force in the direct sales industry. It’s also celebrating its Universal Children’s Day on Wednesday, part of the manufacturer’s One by One Campaign for Children, which has helped 10 million children globally by mobilizing 2.7 million volunteer hours and raising $190 million, according to Jesse Hertstein, a senior specialists in corporate social responsibility for Amway.

But the Ada-based company never forgets its roots. Last week it unveiled a dozen “reading corners” it built in Grand Rapids Public Schools as part of a partnership with Heart of West Michigan United Way, according to Ellen Carpenter, United Way vice president of marketing.

John Helmholdt, executive director of communications and external affairs for GRPS, said United Way’s Schools of Hope Program trains Amway volunteers to become reading tutors for children in grades 1-3. The volunteers spend 30 minutes each week with the same child in an effort to improve his or her reading skills.

Now, they’ll be able to enjoy those tutoring sessions in some comfy new digs, as well.

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