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National Restaurant Association - A congressman walks into a bar...becue joint...

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A congressman walks into a bar...becue joint...

The 11 restaurant operators who attended a “Restaurant Roundtable” discussion last month with Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) made it clear that they’re worried about a constant string of new laws and regulations that are making it harder to run their restaurants.

“He gave us a platform to discuss our concerns and issues, which is pretty encouraging,” said Joe Reale, owner of That Meetball Place, who attended the event. “He seemed like he’s going to fight the good fight, but it’s an uphill battle at every turn.”

Eric Rifkin, owner and executive chef of Bobbique, hosted the roundtable at his restaurant. The event was organized by the New York State Restaurant Association and National Restaurant Association.

“[Zeldin] is one of us,” said Rifkin. “He’s a real person, and it’s important to have him on board as a new representative in DC.” Zeldin is serving his first term in Congress.

Wage levels were a major point of discussion, with restaurateurs concerned about the possibility of new increases affecting how they operate and hire employees—including first-time job seekers.

“You can’t afford to bet the house on people who are just starting out for you,” Rifkin said. “It would be very tough to stay in business if we had to start hiring people at $15 an hour. The money has to come from somewhere.”

Also on the agenda were health care costs and the Department of Labor’s recent proposal to increase the salary level that determines who must be paid overtime. “There are so many regulations we have no say in,” Reale said. “To compensate, we have to inch our prices up a little further. Suddenly, we’re a different kind of restaurant. That $3 meatball goes to $3.25 or $3.50, and it’s not such a great bargain.”

Patchogue’s restaurants often work together on community events, charitable causes and policy issues, Rifkin said.  

“When we sit together and bring in politicians, they listen to us, because they know we see 10,000 people a week between us,” he said. “It’s in their best interest to listen to what we have to say.”

Make your voice heard! Host a roundtable discussion with your member of Congress. Contact Jon Simons, jsimons@restaurant.org, for details.

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