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5 political developments restaurants should be watching

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With the intense current focus on national politics, restaurateurs might be excused for missing a few state and local developments. But they ignore some of these ripples at their own peril. What are now merely regulatory or community proposals could become hard-and-fast realities for the industry in short order.

Here are several that merit attention because of their implications for the business.

A deeper toke for restaurants in Colorado

Restaurants in Colorado could apply for a permit to allow recreational use of marijuana within their dining rooms and lounges under a bill that’s just been passed by the state House of Representatives. 

Although buying marijuana from approved dispensaries has been legal in the state for several years, the benefits for restaurants have largely been limited to tapping the upswing in tourism that resulted. The bill heading to the state Senate would allow restaurants to participate more fully in the boom by serving as places where consumers could toke up while savoring a coffee, snack or full meal.  

They still couldn’t sell weed or products infused with THC unless they’re separately granted permission by local authorities to do so, but at least they could invite in users to partake on-site, which is currently illegal. Some businesses have complained that all the tourists descending on Colorado for legal pot are technically unable to enjoy it because consumption is forbidden anywhere but in a consumer’s home; hotels, restaurants and even dispensaries are not OK consumption sites.

But there are a few hitches, one of them major: Places with a license to sell alcohol wouldn’t be eligible for the pot permit. That means quick-service restaurants or places with a “dry” lounge would be the main beneficiaries. In addition, local jurisdictions can countermand the state rules and forbid on-site consumption inside their borders.

Minneapolis eyes drive-thru ban

The City Planning Commission is expected to consider a proposal May 16 to ban development of new drive-thru restaurants within city limits, a measure intended to eliminate the “undesirable impacts” of “noise, extended idling, proliferation of curb cuts, conflicts with pedestrians and traffic generation,” according to a memo from Senior City Planner Mei-Ling Smith. Drive-thrus would also be banned for new banks and drugstores.

Smith indicated that the number of drive-thru proposals submitted to the commission has been on the rise. Regulators could nix plans on a case-by-case basis, but Smith called for the more definitive measure of a blanket prohibition.

Public assistance meals from Illinois restaurants?

Some Illinois participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the assistance initiative commonly known as food stamps, would be able to spend their credits in quick-service restaurants if a measure passed by the state House of Representatives meets a similar fate in the Senate. 

In the bill’s current form, restaurants would only be a redemption option for disabled, elderly or homeless SNAP recipients. All others would still be limited to using the assistance for purchases at grocery stores and farmers markets. 

In addition, restaurants looking to accept SNAP funds would need the approval of the state.

The proposed plan is modeled after programs that are already in effect in California and Arizona. 

Alcohol delivery from Texas restaurants?

The Texas Restaurant Association is championing a state proposal to allow restaurants with a “mixed beverage license”—essentially a liquor license—to include alcoholic beverages in delivery orders. The bill approved by the state Senate sets a number of restrictions. The drinks would have to be transported in sealed, single-serving containers and would only be permitted as an accompaniment to food. Orders could only be handed to delivery customers who can prove they’re at least 21 years old, and sign a receipt attesting that they were the recipient.

The state’s House of Representatives has yet to vote on the proposal.

California environmentalists push for 1% restaurant surcharge

Proponents of sustainable agriculture are urging restaurants in California to voluntarily tack a 1% surcharge onto guest tabs as a way of improving the state’s farmland and climate. The initiative, Restore California Renewable Restaurants, is being pitched to operators as the logical next step to purchasing with sustainability in mind. Farmers would be paid to reduce the amount of carbon they produce, with funds also apparently going toward improving soil conditions. 

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