Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Want To Own A New York City Restaurant? Health and Safety Basics

I recently had a friend contact me about a possible purchase of an existing restaurant in New York City. My first thought was "Why?", given the COVID-19 pandemic. But, his questions got me to thinking about this piece I had written back in June of 2016 about multi-leveled state and local health and safety considerations that many entrepreneurs looking to get in the restaurant industry simply do not anticipate in their decision making process, and how COVID-19 has further complicated and already-complicated topic. 

Starting a restaurant in New York involves significant consideration of state and local health and safety regulations.

Because restaurants and eateries are all about serving food, New York subjects restaurants to significant regulations regarding food health and safety. The New York State Department of Health has many regulations for food service establishments, including coverage of:

1. employee cleanliness issues; 

2. employee hand washing and food handling;

3. employee health issues, such as prohibition from working if they have certain illnesses;

4. washing of fruits and vegetables;

5. reheating and thawing food;

6. cleaning and sanitizing utensils; and

7. garbage storage and disposal.  

The NYS Department of Health has a guide and other resources that can help you ensure you are meeting regulatory requirements.

In addition, if your restaurant is in New York City, there are additional handbooks containing local guidelines that you must follow, including how to obtain a New York City Food Handler's License. New York City takes health inspections seriously, requiring restaurants to post health grades in their front doors and windows. 

The Federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) also has regulations relating to eye and face protection, hand protection, and workplace facilities.

With the above New York regulations in mind, you can expect regular inspections from your local health department, sometimes without notice. Health inspectors, especially in New York City, generally have a lot of latitude regarding what they can inspect, and health department inspections can cover a wide array of items in your restaurant. Inspectors can examine the food itself, food storage, cleaning stations, cooking equipment, facilities, building structure, and look for signs of insect and vermin infestation. The penalties for failing such inspections can be high fines and penalties, and even the shuttering of your New York restaurant. 

Moreover, the stigma that follows with health inspection issues and failures will damage any good will your New York restaurant has created in the local community.

As you can imagine, the restaurant industry in New York City has been one of the hardest hit since the COVID-19 lockdowns started last year. I had a bit of fun looking at the innovative ways entrepreneurs tried to creatively circumvent Gov. Andrew Cuomo's directives for bars on my political satire blog. But, these are serious times for restauranteurs. Keeping up with the latest regulations and orders is a job unto itself. New York City has resources for the rules about restaurant re-opening as well.  

If you take only one thing away from this post, let it be this:  look before you leap. Do all the due diligence you can. That includes consulting with an attorney to not only about your bottom line business decisions, but also the special needs and requirements of the industry you are entering. 

Gene Berardelli is a street-smart attorney with with over fifteen years of experience in civil and commercial litigation. Gene has achieved several career achievements, including successfully settling a seven-figure personal injury claim, successfully arguing before the New York State Appellate Division and successfully representing clients in trial litigation, mediations and arbitrations against such recognizable entities as the City of New York, New York City Transit Authority, JPMorgan Chase, TD Wealth Management Services, Inc., The Long Island Railroad, and Macy*s. Gene is also a noted New York Election Law expert who has had his opinions cited in scholarly works and published in news and feature articles.


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