Mandated vacation time, bring-your-own to-go packages, a warning on service fees

A review of recent legislative and regulatory activity finds government officials eyeing a number of measures with implications for restaurants.
restaurant legislative roundup
Recent state and local developments will have an effect on restaurants. / Photograph: Shutterstock

Governing may be hampered at the national level by fierce partisanship on Capitol Hill, but there’s considerable sausage-making underway in a number of state and local jurisdictions. Here’s a look at four recent developments with strong implications for the restaurant business, along with an early glance at a workplace issue that is likely to pop up more and more among politicos at all levels.

Illinois mandates paid leave. Some might call it vacation time.

Illinois went further this week than most jurisdictions mandating paid leave, omitting any restrictions on how the time can be used in the bill signed into law Monday by Gov. Jay Pritzker. Workers in the state will accrue one hour of paid time off for every 40 hours they work, up to a total of 40 furlough hours per 12 months.

The time can be spent however the employee wants. Usually, with non-salaried employees, paid time is provided solely to handle specific situations, like the severe illness of a family member or the adoption of a child. Proof of the circumstances is usually required. No such documentation is required by Illinois.

In the instance of tipped employees, restaurants are required to directly pay the workers the legal minimum wage.

The state has estimated that 1.5 million workers will start accruing time off when the program officially begins in 2024.

Oregon considers letting to-go patrons bring their own to-go containers.

The Oregon Senate approved a bill Wednesday that would allow restaurant customers to provide their own containers for to-go orders, an option already open to supermarket shoppers in the state.

Proponents say the measure would cut packaging waste by giving durable takeout containers unlimited subsequent lives. There is no cap on how many times a package can be used. The law merely requires that the containers be clean and dry when presented to the restaurant sending food home with the bearer.

The bill also promises to cut restaurants’ costs. Throughout the pandemic, to-go packaging was frequently difficult to source and costly, a result of increased demand and supply-chain issues.

SB 545 will now be taken up by the state House of Representatives.

D.C. restaurants are warned to be transparent about service fees

With Washington, D.C., set to begin the phase-out of the tip credit in May, district officials are warning local restaurants to be completely forthcoming with guests if the businesses switch to a service fee. 

Consumer Protection Director Adam Teitelbaum sent a letter stressing that local consumer-protection rules mandate consumers be informed of a surcharge either vocally or in print before they order.

Dining establishments are also required to explain why the charge is being levied, and to use the proceeds solely for the stated purpose, such as making up for lost gratuities if tipping is discontinued. 

Teitelbaum observed that service charges are likely to become more common as employers lose the tip credit.

Chicago restaurants get the OK to add walk-up windows

Restaurants in Chicago have been given a green light to add walk-up to-go windows without the hassle of changing the zoning for the location. The City Council approved a bill on Wednesday that eliminated the need for that time-consuming and sometimes costly effort. The new rules prohibit the use of the window between midnight and 7 a.m.  Alcoholic beverages cannot be sold via windows except in such tourist-heavy locations as Navy Pier, the Riverwalk and the lakefront.

Congressman tests reaction to a 32-hour workweek

Following comprehensive tests of a shortened workweek in the United Kingdom and North America, U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) has introduced a bill that would cut the standard stretch for American workers to 32 hours per week.

The bill has not been assigned to a committee or otherwise designated as a proposal House leadership intends to move forward.

In the U.K. test, 61 companies cut their employees' hours to 32 hours per week without reducing pay. Revenues for the participating corporations rose 1.4%, while turnover dropped 57%.

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