Unless the Trump administration takes action, the Obama-era menu-labeling rule will be enforced on May 5. Based on my experience as a pizza restaurant franchisee in Kentucky with 10 stores employing 250 Americans, I know that more value would be produced burning the billions of dollars that the federal government wants businesses to spend complying with these useless regulations.
We want to be transparent and comply, making accurate calorie counts available to our customers as we have for years already. We just want to do so in a way that makes sense for everyone, without the fear of lawsuits and criminal penalties.
Right out of high school, in 1989, I enlisted in the U.S. Army and was selected for the prestigious Honor Guard and stationed at historic Ft. Myer, Virginia.
I met and married my wife Deanna in 1990 and soon realized that, living off post in the pricey D.C. area, some extra income would be good.
In 1991, I took on part-time work delivering pizza for a Domino’s in Alexandria, Virginia. I soon convinced Deanna to try delivery as well while she was attending George Mason University. After I ended my time in the Army, I started to make deliveries full-time while I too went to college.
As I proved myself, the legendary D.C.-area Domino’s franchisee, Frank Meeks, took me under his wing. He mentored me and convinced me to become a store manager. After three years as a successful manager, Frank made me the regional director for all downtown Washington.
After the birth of our first child, Deanna and I decided to go into business for ourselves – but not by ourselves – in a place that we felt would be a great place to raise a family. We bought a Domino’s franchise in Lexington, Kentucky in 2004.
Domino’s, by then, had already been providing nutrition information online for over a year.
So while we may have moved away from Washington, Washington wasn’t ready to stay away form us. When different cities and states began passing their own calorie-labeling laws a decade ago, restaurant chains voiced their support for a nationwide menu-labeling standard to avoid a patchwork of ordinances.
This resulted in four pages being written into the Affordable Care Act in 2009 requiring restaurants with 20 or more locations to provide calorie counts on their menus.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) managed to take these four pages and turn them into more than 150 pages of regulation and guidance.
FDA’s final rule mandated that pizza delivery restaurants include calories on in-store menu boards. Slight problem: More than 90 percent of orders into my stores are placed remotely. Fewer than three percent are placed using a menu board. This is equivalent to the government demanding that everyone with a phone number pay to have it published in a paper phone book despite society’s shift to using the internet to search for contact information.
Second slight problem: Wall space is less than ideal for representing a highly variable menu. There are more than 34 million possible combinations of Domino’s pizza. Boards also cannot be easily updated. The internet, fortunately, is not as limiting. But FDA is not allowing us to comply fully by providing information online. Because why would they allow us to provide a 21st-century solution to a 21st-century problem?
There are three other major problems with FDA’s approach.
First, FDA changed the definition of a “menu” to include coupons, advertisements, social media posts, and other communications that in no way should be confused with a menu.
Second, the law does not protect my employees or me from frivolous lawsuits and fines in the event we fail to label a Facebook post or accidentally put too many pepperonis on a pizza such that it fails FDA’s ironically named “reasonable basis” standard.
Beginning May 5, my employees and I could face class actions as well as civil and criminal penalties up to a fine in the thousands of dollars and/or one year in prison for violation of this standard.
Third, FDA gave my employees and me an enormous new paperwork burden. Now we must certify, under pain of those civil and criminal penalties, that we have met FDA’s Orwellian standard.
The Obama administration thought of franchisees like me as collaborators with big, bad, exploitative corporations, and my employees and customers as victims. But when you go to a franchisee convention and look around the room, you realize that 90 percent of the people there began their careers as hourly employees just like me.
My wife and I are sending our now-17-year-old son off to university this fall. The pizza industry and its franchise model gave us the structure to achieve this upward mobility.
If the government continues to burden the industry with insane regulations like menu labeling, they divert resources into compliance and away from the things we do best: making pizza and, most importantly, being entrepreneurs.