Few would argue that the odds are against success in this industry. So, it's particularly unnerving when city officials create unnecessary roadblocks to success. Two recent examples got headlines last month. The first took place in Washington, D.C., when a 42-year-old attorney and mother of two was handcuffed, arrested, put in jail and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.
As it turns out, the woman had a glass of wine with dinner. A breath test found a .03 blood-alcohol content, well below the legal limit of .08.
Meanwhile, in Cleveland at 7:30 on a Saturday night, two health inspectors popped in on Fire, one of the city's better restaurants, to conduct a three-hour inspection while the kitchen was preparing dinner for a full house. The prime-time inspection was so unexpected that chef/owner Doug Katz called security officers to verify the validity of the inspectors' badges.
Though public safety is job one for both police and health inspectors, neither of these incidents suggest their actions would benefit anyone. What they've done, in fact, is needlessly scare the public while unjustly punishing restaurants.
Fortunately, in Washington, D.C., following the aforementioned D.U.I. incident, city council passed emergency legislation to stop police from arresting motorists whose blood level is below .05. Council is currently considering a permanent change in the law. Before the emergency bill was passed, D.C. law allowed police to arrest drivers with blood alcohol between .01 and .08.
Unfortunately, D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey is not happy with the change, saying the controversy might deter police from arresting dangerously impaired drivers. He said in news reports that under the proposed law motorists would feel "free to drive unless they're just falling down drunk."
His argument is ridiculous. No one wants intoxicated drivers on the road, but any policy that scares people from having a glass of wine or two with dinner is dangerous. The woman arrested with the .03 blood alcohol level spent five months fighting the D.U.I. charge, which was eventually dropped. The incident borders on police harassment.
The old law was so unreasonable that even Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Washington Regional Alcohol Program spoke in favor of the emergency legislation and proposed law change.
Back in Cleveland, the city's chief food safety inspector said nighttime health inspections are new and designed to check restaurants, such as Fire, that open only for dinner.
Certainly, no one will argue that inspections are a matter of public safety. However, there is no reason why inspections can't take place before customers arrive. As a customer, if I see a health inspector sticking a thermometer in my food before it comes out to the table, I'm going to have second thoughts about the safety of the restaurant I'm in. Again, this sort of municipal action borders on harassment.
Have you had similar problems? Email me with your thoughts and comments.