Oregon restaurants face new labeling and wage laws

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By Alyssa Williams, BIZ Reporter

Oregon Restaurant Association (ORA) Director of Government Relations Bill Perry is looking out for our waists and wallets as he works on implementing legislation for restaurant menu labeling and questions minimum wage increases in the poor economy.

As of March 12, 2009, legislation requires chains in Multnomah County with 15 or more locations nationwide to display calories counts for food, drinks and condiments that are not provided free next to the item name on menus, menu boards, drive-through order boards and food tags at buffets and self-service stations. This will affect over 500 restaurants in the county.  “It is better for a consumer and a business to have a uniformed standard,” said Perry.

While some of the food industry has protested such standardization and the prospect of having different menus for different jurisdictions, Perry maintains requiring calorie information on menus does not negatively affect business, but only helps to solve America’s obesity problems and allow people to better monitor other harmful health conditions.

For example, Noah’s Bagels offers an interactive web site with nutritional information about each product. Bigger chains have other methods to indicate health information about the food. Chili’s Grill & Bar heart symbols indicate healthy choices and Applebee’s has a Weight Watcher’s menu. No report currently proves a decline in these restaurants’ sales due to the release of nutritional information.

In other legislation, although Oregon’s minimum wage rose 45 cents as of January 1, 2009, making minimum wage at $8.40 an hour (and with the federal minimum wage to increase to $7.25 effective July 24, 2009), Perry is still discussing the disadvantages of this legislation in the current economy.

The index which calculates the minimum wage puts too much emphasis on inflation, leaving other factors unaccounted for, said the ORA lobbyist.

As the second highest minimum wage in the nation, Perry claimed that the raised minimum wage may prove to be difficult for employers in this recession. He suggested if employees were given the choice to lose their job or be paid at the non-increased minimum wage, people would choose the latter.